E-mail That Matters

Since Sept. 1, I have received 55 e-mails from 19 charities. Some are informational or educational. Others are purely to raise funds. I received a high of seven from two charities and only one each from five others.

I have no idea if I am “normal,” as this is certainly not a scientific study. However, I do know I am seeing an increase in fundraising e-mail — no surprise there given that we are now in the all-important last quarter of the year. E-mail is an important player in our overall fundraising strategy.

At the same time that volume is increasing, it’s getting harder than ever for our e-mails to “survive” the journey from our computers to recipients’ computers. Gmail (Google) — which also powers a lot of business domains — provides sophisticated sorting of e-mail by the service provider, and our e-mails may not end up in the main mailboxes of the people who receive them. (Click here to read a helpful article byKerstenDirect.)

And even if our e-mails manage the uphill fight to arrive relatively unscathed in the inbox, much of them are likely to be deleted … unopened and unread.

What this means for fundraisers is that we have to focus on sending e-mail that is relevant and addressed to people with whom we have true relationships. Our subject lines have to stand out. Our e-mails have to have value.

Yeah, yeah — everybody knows that. So why are some nonprofits still sending me boring e-mails with boring subject lines? Why am I hearing from some nonprofits that I have no relationship with? Maybe they’ve forgotten …

Cheap is no excuse for no value
Yes, e-mail is much cheaper to send than direct mail or newsletters. And because of that, we are content with low open rates and even lower response rates. Instead, let’s become champions for e-mails that have purpose, a purpose that helps move people closer to making donations. Some may directly ask, others may be more for information and education, but they all should be part of a total strategy to recruit, retain or reactivate your donors.

Let’s insist on content that is interesting and talks to the recipient. Donors are looking for solutions to problems they want to resolve, be it hunger, global warming, education or a myriad of other causes being addressed by nonprofits.

You have just seconds
Subject lines are important players in our e-mail marketing. No big revelation there. But again, knowing isn’t always translating to doing. Long subject lines are truncated on mobile devices (and studies have shown that half of all e-mails are read only on mobile devices). Your carefully crafted subject line may be reduced to a few words that are meaningless, not to mention uncompelling.

I heard a great tip recently — look in your own inbox. What did you open? What was simply “white noise” in your busy schedule?

The call to action needs to be obvious
Whether it’s on a computer screen or a mobile screen, it belongs on the first view, not buried deep down in the dark recesses of the e-mail basement. Also, that call to action must be large enough for those who weren’t born with trackball expertise built in to land on it and take action.

Bottom line: If your e-mail isn’t mobile-friendly, you risk losing half your potential readers even if your subject line is great and your content is valuable. Every recipient is a potential donor, so make sure your message is accessible. “Optimizing for mobile” is a hot topic, and you will likely want to bring in an expert to help you accomplish this if you don’t have the internal expertise.

E-mail is an important part of our fourth-quarter fundraising strategy, but this old dog sees too much wasted opportunity in her inbox. And given the competition for contributions, we can’t afford to squander a single opportunity. So here’s to e-mail that matters — to the recipient as well as to the nonprofit sending it.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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