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Engaging Your Email List May 8, 2012

Filed under: individual donors,strategic fundraising,young donors — fundtimes @ 3:53 pm

In the February issue of Fund Times, I interviewed my colleague Zach Ragbourn on best practice strategies for using social media to raise money online.  In that post, Zach affirmed the validity of email as the most cost-effective way for a nonprofit to begin cultivating new donors.  But, as in face-to-face relationships, I’m a strong believer that this online interaction can only be successful when you keep in contact with the people on your nonprofit’s email list.

Now I know that we all get inundated with emails each and every day.  I mean, do I really need to be notified every time that store has a sale?  Is that birthday coupon I got for $5 off from Uno’s really going to sway me from making my own dinner this week?  As interesting (and yummy) as these corporate emails are, I’ve often wondered how much thought the nonprofit community puts into their email blasts?

At the moment, I receive emails from about six nonprofits, both local and national.  While I don’t know the thinking behind their online fundraising strategies, I have considered how these messages impact my willingness to both give and become involved in their cause.  The following is a quick list of “do’s and don’ts” to guide you as you consider how your email fundraising strategy may help – or inhibit – folks from giving to your nonprofit.

  • Do: Set up an email marketing strategy – Never underestimate the power of planning when it comes to crafting and sending emails to your list.  The best time to do this planning is alongside your yearly fundraising plan; this way, your messaging is directly aligned with actual fundraising goals.  For example, if your nonprofit is planning an event, you can cater your emails around this occasion, highlighting its importance, encouraging people to buy tickets in advance and inviting friends to come.
  • Do: Segment your list – It pays to understand your nonprofit’s interaction with the people on your email list.  To illustrate, I’ve received emails in the past inviting me to participate in some in-person activity or meeting.  More often than not, I RSVP, but things have come up where I wasn’t able to make it.  The nonprofit’s follow up email to me? Thanks for attending.  Not only does this show that the organization is not paying attention to their constituency, but they also have no idea who was actually present at the event.  This carelessness could easily turn a potential supporter away so it’s best to invest in a system that allows you to easily divide your list for more targeted emails.
  • Don’t: Beg – It may be very tempting to start – and end – every email with a pitch for money.  This is after all the ultimate goal of a fundraising email right?  While it’s okay for some messages to make direct asks for funding, first consider the interests of the people opening your email.  Perhaps, they’re really curious about the direct impact your organization has made on the people it serves.  Maybe they would like to know more about how your organization came to be or what your staff enjoys the most about the work.  Engaging your list first through stories about the human experience can often provide the emotional charge needed for someone to make a gift when you finally do decide to send that direct ask email.
  • Don’t: Ignore the power of smartphones – According to Microsoft Tag, by 2014, mobile internet is slated to surpass desktop internet usage.  So what does this mean for your nonprofit?  It means that the people on your list are probably going to take action in response to your email campaign if they are able to look at your message through their smartphones.  As I said earlier, we all get inundated with emails all day long so ensuring that your messages are mobile-friendly is just another way to stay relevant in your reader’s inbox.  Trusted programs like Constant Contact and MailChimp provide mobile-friendly templates, while also allowing you to track the impact of your email messaging in real time.

Now it’s your turn.  What types of strategies have you used to effectively engage potential donors through email?  What hasn’t worked for your nonprofit?

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