Clutter Can Kill Your Fundraising

It’s hard to argue with inbox clutter when we’re confronted with dozens of emails first thing in the morning, just waiting for us to interact with them. Like most of you, my typical interaction is to click “delete.” Nothing personal, but I can read emails all day long or do work. I bet you can relate to that.

But some lucky people get to read all the emails for a living,and as a result, they have some excellent insights. That’s why I was quick to download a report from NextAfter called “5 Ways to Cut Through the Clutter With Your Year-End Fundraising.” (If you didn’t download it, you can do so here.) It’s 10 pages of easy-to-read type and well worth your time.

The key message running through the report (in my opinion) is that over time, when everyone adopts “best practices,” they become overused. My personal beef is when a great concept that makes perfect sense for one organization is adapted — and jimmy-rigged — by another. Think about the dime used byMarch of Dimes; it makes perfect sense for that organization, but most of the other coin mailings seem to me to be a major stretch. Or the brown lunch bag used as the outer envelope for a food bank; it loses something when it’s used by an organization that doesn’t provide food, I think.

But proven facts outweigh my often-wrong-but-seldom-in-doubt gut reaction, so here’s a one-point summary of what NextAfter learned after analyzing more than 17,000 emails sent last year:

Everyone sends email on the same days at the same time. Be it day of week, time of day or time of month, there are clearly times of email overload. After all, we all read the same reports and then set up our email send schedules — seemingly in harmony with all the other nonprofits. I don’t deny I’m guilty on this. But at least I am in good company …

Last week on Giving Tuesday, I received a bunch of emails; only one came after 5 p.m. Half of them greeted me when I opened my inbox for the first time. Honestly, the only one I noticed was the lone one that came on Wednesday thankingsupporters for helping the organization make its 2014 Giving Tuesday goal. (Yes, this nonprofit also sent an email on Tuesday — at 3:18 a.m.)

It’s tough to test if you’re a small nonprofit that celebrates simply getting the email out the door (so to speak). But maybe testing a few options for sending is doable. At any rate, take a look at NextAfter’s report and see where it takes your strategic thinking.

Outside of the timing issue, the report also looked at subject lines, and — no surprise — certain words dominated. After all, as NextAfter reminds readers, the subject line’s one and only purpose is to get the email opened. And we have just a limited number of characters to accomplish that challenging task.

In my case, 85 percent of the Giving Tuesday emails I received had Giving Tuesday in the subject line. I admit it became “white noise” to me. (Granted, I’m not a very reliable focus group since I’m in the industry.) Half also used “gift” in the subject line. Most of the ones that arrived after noon said, “It’s not too late!” Bottom line: a lot of similarity.

So what can you do to maximize your year-end giving? In my opinion, do more! Don’t miss the “big ones” — Giving Tuesday (if you missed that, vow right now not to miss it in 2015) and year-end immediately come to mind. But sneak in a few more December emails in the days that fall between those two bookends.

This old dog knows that no matter what we do as fundraisers, it’s impossible not to second-guess ourselves (and third-guess many times, too). With nearly 1.5 million nonprofits in the nation, our competition for attention — let alone for dollars — is intense.

So this week, don’t kick yourself for missed opportunities. Instead, jot them down and vow to make them “new opportunities” in the months ahead. A good place to begin is by downloading and reading NextAfter’s report with a pencil in hand to make notes on how you’ll use this information going forward.

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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