Would you be happy with a return of .30 cents per address when asking your supporter base for money through an e-mail appeal? If you had 10,000 addresses in your list, you'd generate $3,000 in revenue from a single mailing. Subtract the nominal amount it costs to send the e-mail, and you're looking at a pretty good ROI. I bet you'd go for that, right? I think most nonprofits would.
Now, I know you can't live off your e-mail list alone, and I understand that getting a return on investment like the one above isn't always going to happen — that's not my point. My point is that while you can achieve a comparable ROI from your e-mail list, a lot of nonprofits shoot themselves in the foot by forgetting the basics of e-mail marketing.
I recently had the chance to review a few e-mail marketing campaigns. Each was focused on getting the organization's supporter base to take action by registering for a physical event or to support the event by making a donation.
Only one nonprofit did the correct thing and sent a series of e-mails over a period of time. The result? More than 3,000 paid event registrants and $10,000 in revenue (donations plus registration fees).
Sadly, the other campaigns I reviewed didn't do much right at all. In fact, I was actually quite surprised by what I saw. Based on my review, here are five reasons why e-mail campaigns and the individual messages within those campaigns fail to connect with their target audiences.
Weak Subject Line
The subject line is the first thing people see. It's what gets their attention. It's what captures their imagination. Simply put, it's what gets people to open your message. Knowing that should make you think long and hard about the subject line in all of your outbound e-mail communications.
A few tips:
- Keep it short — people are bombarded with messages and need to filter them quickly; moreover, with the rise of mobile computing, the real estate available for subject lines is shrinking.
- Tell them what they are about to get/read — don't try to trick people into opening your message. You know the old saying: "Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice..."
- Make it interesting — the title of this article could have been "E-mail Tips," but that wouldn't have been very interesting. "5 Reasons Your E-mail Was Deleted" is much catchier title and hits my target audience, nonprofit development types, where they live. You should apply the same principal to your e-mail subject lines. Make them interesting, then back them up with great content.
Four of the five e-mail designs I reviewed were plain text — i.e., they didn't have a design. Now I firmly believe in the importance of keeping your e-mail free of unnecessary images (as well as unnecessary content), but going 100 percent plain text is a step in the wrong direction. Every major e-mail reader (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) can handle images just fine.
The one tip I've got for you when it comes to e-mail design is to make sure your outbound e-mails are designed to align with your organization's brand. Include your logo and make sure the color scheme conforms to your brand guidelines. Remember, you have a chance to reinforce your mission and messages every time you reach out to a supporter.
In our always-on, hyper-connected world, people are getting used to reading less. Twitter only lets you type 140 characters. The Facebook status update being used by over 550 million people is training us to both write and read in bit-sized chunks.
As a nonprofit, you need to take this phenomenon into consideration when you craft your e-mail content. I briefly touched on how e-mail communication is changing at the beginning of the year, and by now those trends have solidified.
In other words, it's time to start reviewing your e-mail content with an eye for length. Be a stickler about making your messages short, clear, and valuable to your audience. Remember, if you've got more to say, you can always link to content on your Web site.
No Call to Action
This one kills me. I actually read a few nonprofit e-mails not too long ago that gave me no way to take action. Not even a link to the organization's Web site. This is one of the five e-mail sins that can't be forgiven, so make sure you're not guilty!
While not every e-mail is intended to drive event registration or a donation, every e-mail should have a call to action. Even if it's simply driving people back to your Web site, where they can learn more about your mission and programs, engage with you more deeply, and see how your nonprofit is changing the world.
The takeaway here is simple: Always include a call to action in your e-mail messages. Thinking along these lines will help you refine your e-mail content and messaging so that you are clearly pointing your readers to the action you'd like them to take.
As with anything you're trying to do better, if you don't measure it, you'll never know whether you are improving.
As I reviewed a few e-mail campaigns, I noticed something very surprising — even though each nonprofit had the ability to track basic things like open rates, clicks, actions taken, money raised, and registrations, they didn't take advantage of it.
First, make sure you are using an e-marketing tool that allows you to track basic e-mail statistics.
Second, use the tool correctly so that you both capture the metrics you need and use the data to make educated decisions about what to do next.
Third, get into the habit of reviewing the metrics. Analyze your data to see whether your e-marketing efforts are in line with industry standards. NTEN and M+R have developed a great report on nonprofit e-marketing benchmarks that provides guidelines for open and click-through rates, response rate, and unsubscribe rates.
While it is important to benchmark against industry standards, it's equally if not more important to benchmark against previous performance to make sure your campaigns are improving. A good way to start is by addressing the five problem areas above.
By Frank Barry, manager of professional services at Blackbaud and blogger at NetWits Think Tank.