Fundraising and a Glimpse Into My Electronic Inbox

Like many of you, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day brought many e-appeals to my inbox. I tend to make my donations via check and the U.S. Postal Service because I am a direct-mail junkie, but a few brave souls still email me.

But compared to Larissa Peters from Catholic Relief Services, I am unloved; she received 131 emails the six days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Despite my poor showing, there were several similarities between our lists — not just in the sense that we got some of the same emails, but in the messaging and the methodology. Here’s what I learned from studying my end-of-year inbox and Larissa’s detailed list.

Time is short
Many organizations realized the window was narrow, and they didn’t waste a day. The most I received from one organization was three emails over six days. (I am a deeply lapsed donor to the organization, so I was not a hot prospect.) Larissa, on the other hand, received nine from Defenders of Wildlife (one a day from the 26th through the 29th, and two a day for the rest of the year). Environmental Defense Fund sent her three just on New Year’s Eve.

While we can argue all day long about how much is too much, those who only mail once in these last six important days of the year should challenge that thinking for 2015. What happens if your one and only email is overlooked, swallowed by the waves caused by the organizations sending out five, six, even nine emails? Year-end is a key time for donating; it’s an opportunity not to be squandered.

Need more proof? Network for Good reported that the 10,000 charities it reports on received 13 percent more online gifts in December 2014 than in December 2013 — and giving on Dec. 31 was more than double the giving on Dec. 30. And the cherry on top? Giving on Dec. 31 accounted for 22 percent of all December giving.

Be clear
Subject lines for year-end emails tended to be unoriginal, but there wasn’t much doubt what was being asked of me:

  • “Hours left to make a difference.”
  • “Pamela, you can still help in 2014.”
  • “Midnight deadline.”

Not a one that I received had a “business as usual” subject line, though a few reverted to their standard format in the body of the message.

I was a bit confused by an email from Kiva that teased me with “36 hours left,” but began the body copy with, “Help us start 2015 strong.” I have no idea if that strategy worked, but my initial response was to set it aside until 2015.

Numerous emails that came to both Larissa and me mentioned a match — 2X, 3X, 4X … even 8X. One organization offered me a chance to double my gift on Dec. 30, but the match was gone on Dec. 31. In many cases, the match wasn’t mentioned in the subject line. I am assuming that was the result of testing, but (at least for me) the promise of a match was a bit of a nudge to read the email. Your thoughts?

Reduce your risk
Things go wrong. No matter how hard you try, some things don’t work out as well as you hoped. For example, I got three year-end emails on Jan. 2 — two from one organization and one from another. I have no idea if this was a glitch on their end or mine, but that doesn’t matter. The emails came too late for me to give before year-end.

Fortunately, both organizations had sent emails that arrived as scheduled. Their wise strategy to send more than one email paid off; the one and only year-end email arriving on Jan. 2 is a tragically lost opportunity.

A mishmash of other observations

  • Very few emails included video.
  • Using my name in the subject line helped break through the clutter.
  • Getting too artsy on graphics can backfire; one email was totally unreadable because of the color screen behind the text. Another looked more like a New Year’s greeting e-card than an appeal.
  • There were several new (to me) players in the inbox this year.
  • Short emails with easy-to-follow links still trump the rest for me.

My two favorites are shown above, with the “above the fold” view when I opened them. The first, from National Parks Foundation came on Dec. 31 with the subject line, “Midnight Deadline.” There are so many opportunities to give in just a few inches of real estate. The second, from Save the Children,arrived on Dec. 26 with “We can’t do it without YOU!” as the subject line.

Personally, I think the ability to make eye contact with its photos is a huge strength of Save the Children, and this email is no exception. However, its Dec. 31 email (photo above with the subject line “FW: URGENT: Midnight Deadline”) was all text unless I scrolled down. Additionally, all I saw on my screen was kind of a weird half-photo that looked like a child picking his nose. There was no handy hyperlink to donate at first glance. As always, I have no idea if this worked or not, but it didn’t stand out among the several I received that day.

This old dog knows one thing: Seeing what others are doing with their fundraising is one of the best ways to jump-start your own creativity and find new things to try or test. If you haven’t done it recently, make some donations to nonprofits that you think you can learn from; reading about fundraising is good, but actually being a recipient of it is great! And maybe next year, your inbox will trump Larissa’s!

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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