Email's relevance and impact for nonprofit organizations continues to grow. According to the M+R Benchmark 2016 report, email lists for nonprofits grew by an average of 14% in 2015, outpacing their average churn rate of 11.4%.
The same benchmark report also found that email action metrics, like open and click through rates are all down.
Subscribers are growing, but they're engaging with emails less? Huh?
Don't take your list subscribers for granted. Getting them on your list is just the first step. If you want them to join, volunteer, or otherwise become active members, your emails need to inspire them.
Follow These Five Tips for a More Effective Email Strategy
1) Know your Personas
It always starts with your personas, right? You can't send compelling, motivating emails if you don't know what inspires and motivates your personas. Recognize that different personas may be more motivated by different messages, so tailor content that appeals to your personas' varying interests. If you haven't created your personas, or it's time to freshen them up, check out these persona templates developed specifically for nonprofit organizations.
2) Get Email Addresses the Right Way – Don't Buy Lists
Bad, aged information. Low conversion rates. Is the member application rate return on a cold list ever worth the squeeze? No. Even less so when you consider how you could have used that effort and resources to attract warm prospects into your database.
Attracting people to your organization and into your prospect database is why you publish all that great content. Instead of wasting money and energy on a purchased list, take a hard look at how your content is performing. Are people sharing their email addresses with you to access your best content? If not, then you need to reassess what you're publishing.
Perhaps your inbound list is light because traffic to your website and blog is light. Your gated content converts well — you're just not generating enough traffic to see the prospect growth you need. That should trigger a harder look into your SEO and PPC strategies.
You have many inbound marketing options to pull potential volunteers, members, and donors into your database, and all of them are better than buying a list.
3) Segment Your Email List — Not all Constituents are at the Same Level of Commitment
Your prospects and members are touched by different stories and messages. That's why you want to tailor email content by persona and behavior. They also differ in the level of commitment, financial or otherwise, they're ready to make right now.
While financial means are part of this equation, also keep in mind length and frequency of donations. Someone who made donation a month ago probably isn't ready for another fundraising email.
If you're trying to nudge semi-active members to increase their activity, then customize your emails highlighting past and upcoming events similar to those that have interested them in the past.
Whatever the nature of a specific email campaign, tailor the content based on the subscriber's expressed interests, taken from both their online and offline activity with your organization.
4) Make a Compelling Offer
The M+R Benchmark report found that nonprofits send their subscribers, on average, 50 emails a year, 19 of which are fundraising appeals.
You can use your non-fundraising emails to encourage other types of engagement, which strengthen the relationship the prospect has with your organization. Ideally, this leads to more engagement down the line.
In the meantime, you want your emails to each have a compelling call-to-action (CTA). You can offer new content that continues to tell the story of the work your organization is doing. You can ask them to share some links to your website through their own social media profiles. Are you looking to increase your volunteer ranks?
Whatever the email's CTA, make it the sole focus of the email and use action-oriented language on your CTA button.
5) User their Behavior to Trigger Relevant Follow up Emails
Once you have a prospect in your database, you can continue to gather data about their digital behavior. You'll know which emails they open and click through, and which they don't. You'll see which emails they open but which inspire no action.
Use this information to design campaigns targeting your most engaged users. Are some of them ripe to make the jump from content consumer to member? Target them in a membership drive campaign. Are some members consistently attending your events, but don't share your content? Maybe you can run an ambassador campaign and ask them to share some content you provide in the email? Don't overlook the unengaged. Test out some re-engagement campaigns.
And don't forget your thank-you emails! Whether they attended an event, subscribed to a new membership service, or volunteered – any offline or online action should trigger a tailored thank-you email.
As you master these tips, it might be time to test out automating some of your email campaign work. Then you can really scale your email fundraising. But first, work these tips to find out what sort of segmenting, triggers, and messages really move your people.
Originally published Sep 1, 2016 7:00:00 AM, updated May 27 2022