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Feb 13, 2014 | Insights

Email Marketing

As a nonprofit professional, you appreciate the fact that email campaigns are an affordable and effective way to reach as many clients, donors, members and media as possible. So you’ve made the jump to a timesaving, more efficient email-sending program. But now you need a clear message to communicate your needs. What is it going to take to elevate your email correspondence to the next level? You need to identify the purpose of your email marketing outreach.

How do you do this? Ask yourself if you are trying to raise funds, inviting longtime supporters to your annual walkathon or updating active donors on the status of your endowment campaign. Determining your specific messaging goal is the first step to saving time and elevating your email campaign effectiveness.

Define Your Purpose

Determining the purpose of your email marketing tells you what kind of email messaging you should be sending. “Email marketing,” as you may already know, is a rather broad term covering a range of electronic mail communications.

Email marketing activity is also subject to constant changes in advice, approach and technology. Given this subjectivity, your campaign can easily lose its direction, its intended purpose lost, thus rendering your time and investment as ineffective.

Many email marketing campaigns send out the wrong type of message. To help prevent this effect in your messaging, here’s a quick table graph to determine which elements need to be present in your message for an effective email campaign.

Offer the following things to support your goals

  • Offer fundraising items online: Product promotions, discounts, printable coupons, sale dates
  • Campaigns for active funders: New special campaign information

  • Keep supporters in touch: New program announcements, expansions of programs and services, new service coverage areas, retirements, new personnel welcomes, rewards and recognitions for your programs

  • Drive traffic back to website: Article “teasers” (first paragraph of articles or announcements with hyperlinks leading readers back to website page for entire story)

  • Registering people for workshops or conferences: Announcement, updates on speakers and workshops, “thank you” message sent immediately following registration and then after the conference, special discounts. Hyperlink in email leads back to online registration form

  • Publishing newsletter: Articles using clear, well-edited copy that’s extraordinarily relevant to your readers (i.e. donors, members or prospects)

Define the purpose and determine the goals of your email marketing, then draft an appropriate message. Follow the formats in this section with minor adjustments. If your goals aren’t being met within a reasonable amount of time, adjust your goals or try another email format.

Email Message Formats

Once you decide your email campaign goal, and the elements needed for your message, determine the format your email messages should follow. Here are some email formats which prove successful for many small businesses, along with some of their pros and cons.

Email Newsletters

The email newsletter involves a little more commitment than a standard, immediate action-driven email message. It needs to be more informative and useful to your readers than a direct marketing email (see below). Email newsletters need to be sent with regular frequency to be effective, and that’s where the challenge begins for many nonprofits.

An ongoing newsletter deadline, which comes around with almost time-bending frequency, can soon overwhelm organizations which have promised a newsletter frequency to their members that is too high. The best advice for any businesses sending email newsletters is to start out slowly. A monthly or even bimonthly email newsletter would not be considered an over-aggressive frequency.

Another popular rule: Newsletters are not a direct marketing tool. If you are trying to pitch volunteer service, direct and immediate action, or donating, ongoing challenges with maintaining the size of your subscription list are in your future. In other words, you risk a high unsubscribe rate if you promised to send email newsletters to customers and started sending email ads instead.

Announcements: Something New

Nonprofit organizations without monster-sized promotional budgets should be using email to announce almost anything new about their mission or service. Are you adding a new service? Let your clients know with email. Did an industry veteran leave the private sector to join your cause? Put it in a special email announcement. Did your meeting room owner finally put in new carpeting? Email your “improved board meeting environment” announcement immediately!

Service-based organizations usually find the announcement format easier to compose, month after month. This approach usually requires a little creativity, but it also continually keeps your missions, message and services in the minds of your clients.

Printable Email Coupons

If you sell mission-related items, clothing, giftware, books or even gift memberships, email coupons can be a real boon. They are typically issued either as an online coupon code, which can be used on a website ordering form, or they can be in the form of a printable coupon. Printable coupons can be simple .PDF files made with Adobe Acrobat, or they can be web-based, HTML documents composed using minimal design features, for easy printing.

Common elements of a printable coupon include your organization’s logo, specifics of your offer, your phone number and street address, the URL address to your website, and an expiration date.

Constituent Surveys

A final unique format of email campaign is the customer survey, using email to invite supporters to participate in a short survey about their recent experience with your nonprofit organization. Your email can be used in conjunction with a powerful online tool called SurveyMonkey, which easily builds surveys that you can use to gauge existing service performance, a new service, solicit client service feedback, and more.

Make It Good

Define the goals of your email campaigns ahead of time, and format appropriate email messages that will best help you achieve this goal. Choose goals that will give your supporters a reason to frequently revisit your website for new program information, new services, program accomplishments, sectorwide news, new staff and more.

Don’t slap your message together and send it out at the last minute just because you’re meeting an email newsletter deadline. Prevent this by not over-promising the number of emails you’ll be sending. Take it slow at the beginning, because email message deadlines have a tendency to sneak up quick, and having them coming at you back to back to back can be cannibalistic to the precious time you need to run your organization.

About the Authors

Steve Delgado is marketing director for Arial Software, a developer of email marketing solutions for enterprises, organizations and small businesses since 1993. Arial Software customers include New York Philharmonic and the National Genealogical Society.

Denise Moorehead is TSNE’s former director of communications, integrating email campaigns into the organization’s overall communications and marketing strategies.