How to Run an Effective E-mail Campaign

Marketing and Social Media

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Even with the ever-rising prevalence of social media, e-mail remains one of the most popular and effective way for nonprofits to raise money and connect with donors. E-mail can be relatively inexpensive, which is good for nonprofits with smaller budgets, and e-mail addresses are common enough that most donors can easily be reached online. There’s more to running a successful e-mail campaign than writing a quick blurb and pushing “send.” Boost your e-mail’s effectiveness with these techniques!

Make the most of your e-mail lists.

A while ago, we talked a bit about increasing your e-mail list to reach more people and spread your mission more effectively. Once you’ve got your e-mail list, put some time and thought into how you’re going to use it. Are you sending a newsletter? You can probably send that newsletter to everyone on your contact list, not just major donors and active volunteers. Are you sending out an appeal to get people enrolled in a recurring donation program? You probably want to avoid sending that appeal to people who are already donating monthly. Major donors don’t need to receive an introductory appeal letter; you would be better served if you directed that e-mail only to people who just recently signed up for e-mails. It can sound a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but dividing your e-mail list into segments and targeting those segments with different campaigns is incredibly valuable! Not only does it result in more effective campaigns, it also lets your donors know that you’re paying attention to their past donations, their level of involvement, or their interests.

Make your campaign donor-centric.

If you read fundraising blogs and experts even semi-regularly, you’ve probably read about how important donor-centricity is for nonprofits. Professional fundraisers may harp on it a lot, but that’s because it works! Keeping your campaign’s content focused on your donors is an effective way to make them feel connected to your mission and the people you help. Think of it this way: why do donors actually give money to your organization? Is it because they think your branding is super-cool? Do they really like your employees? Or do they give because they’re passionate about the work your organization is doing? Chances are very good that donors are motivated by that last reason and not by the others. Your organization is the middleman; you’re completing the transaction that gets their money to the cause that they care about. Next time you send a newsletter or appeal to your donors, take yourself out of the equation. Don’t ask donors to give to you, ask donors to give to the people you help. Appeal to donors’ emotional connections by telling them how they — not you — are changing peoples’ lives. When you send thank-you e-mails to donors, don’t stop at thanking them for donating to your organization. Thank them for how they’re changing the world and tell them how they’re doing it. That’s what they care about!

Find your focus.

It’s easy to lose focus when you’re banging out an appeal letter between meetings or putting together a newsletter on a Saturday night. But it’s important! Most e-mail campaigns are sent out with an objective in mind; that objective can range from just saying “thank you” to getting volunteers involved to asking for donations. Not being focused in your e-mails can result in donors being distracted from the point of the e-mail. Keep it simple. If you want to say “thank you” to someone for their donation, keep it at that. Say “thank you!” and tell them how they’re making a difference. If you’re appealing for donations, be very clear about the fact that you need funding, tell people why you need it, and tell them how you’ll use their money. If you’re sending out a newsletter, keep subscribers’ attention on news from your nonprofit. Once you’ve made your point, give readers a clear call to action. Do you want new donors to subscribe to your newsletter? Give them that option. If you want people to donate to a specific project in an appeal, give them a button that takes them to that project’s fundraising page. Keep it simple, keep it clear, and keep your audience focused!

Write a really, really good subject line.

First impressions are everything, and that includes e-mails. Your e-mail’s subject line is the first thing people notice, and it has a huge effect on click-through rates. Taking a few minutes to write an interesting, compelling subject line can mean the difference between someone opening your e-mail or relegating it to their “deleted” folder. Writing great subject lines can take a while at first, but it gets easier with practice. So get to it!

Keep it simple. Keep it smart!

Humans are visual beings who are easily influenced by appearances. Keeping your e-mails smart and simple will help audiences stay focused and interested instead of clicking away in frustration. Use a clean, visually-appealing template, avoid walls of text, and include pictures that drive home the point of your e-mail. If you want to include something long or complicated in your newsletter or appeal, consider writing a short blurb about it and linking to the full text on your website. Stay smart, too! Make sure you proofread your e-mails, or have someone with writing know-how look over your copy to make sure it makes sense. Avoid WRITING IN CAPS LOCK or using tons of extra punctuation — lots of unnecessary exclamation or question points will make you look unprofessional! (SEE???!?!?!)

Give readers a way to communicate.

The fact that your readers signed up to hear from you should be thrilling. They want to hear from you! They care about your work! You connected with them and inspired them to get involved! Keep their enthusiasm going strong by helping them communicate with you. Give them an e-mail address they can reply to your newsletter with questions or comments. Include links to your Facebook or X account in your e-mail. If you’re able, provide a phone number in case supporters want to volunteer or see your nonprofit in person. And, obviously, make sure you’re there to keep in touch if they do contact you. Encouraging people to tweet at you or e-mail you with their questions is useless if they never get a reply. The biggest step to take, though, when running an e-mail campaign, is to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Send a copy of your e-mail to your personal e-mail address and open it when you’re at home. Pretend you’ve just signed up for these e-mails and look at your message. What do you see? Do you love it? If you were a donor, would you be delighted with this e-mail? Would you glance at it and get bored? Would you unsubscribe? Would you forward it to your friends and family? And when you finally love it, then press send!

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