Email marketing and fundraising can be difficult for small nonprofit teams without a dedicated digital marketing team member or email marketing guru. In many nonprofit organizations (including in some of my past roles!) email marketing is viewed as a necessary burden to maintain visibility, but it often did not have a strategic focus and little pay off for the proportionate effort put in. Ample time and effort is spent gathering all sorts of information for our monthly newsletter, rushed to get sent out on deadline, and then the cycle starts again, without much in the way of results to show for it.
The key to making your email marketing and fundraising more effective is first to spend some time diagnosing what your problem actually is. This isn’t a difficult task but can be easy to skip if you just go looking for resources to help you “raise more money through email” and rush into implementing something just to check it off your list.
Three of the most common hurdles faced in nonprofit email marketing include:
While there are multiple ways to address any one of these issues, I am going to highlight three today that directly target the issues listed above. They are each simple to implement and provide you with a starting point for improving whichever of the issues you are experiencing. They are also largely automated processes, adding the benefit of no extra staff time to implement!
Have you ever downloaded something for free by typing in your name and email address on a website? Then you have downloaded an opt-in! This strategy is widely used across almost every other industry — how many times have you seen a pop up that said “get 15% off your next order by signing up for our newsletter”? Unfortunately, far too few nonprofits employ opt-ins in their work. This effectively makes their website visitors less likely to engage with a nonprofit’s email communications. What’s more, nonprofits have the opportunity to make their opt-in a mission-focused double whammy rather than something that feels spammy or salesy.
By focusing your opt-in on something mission-oriented, you are furthering your mission (by getting needed information out to people who need it!) and growing your audience at the same time. Some real-life examples of a mission-related opt-in a nonprofit could employ:
An animal welfare organization that offers a free downloadable list of low-cost veterinary services in their area
A health clinic that offers a free “heart healthy” grocery list
An organization focused on helping women succeed in the workplace offering a guide to negotiating a salary increase
The options here are endless, and will make your email newsletter much more appealing than the standard “sign up for updates” we are so wont to do in the nonprofit world. The best part is, as you start to think about what this might look like for your organization, I am going to bet that you could come up with several ideas that are already created materials you use in your day to day programmatic work. That worksheet you use in the classes you offer? There’s your opt-in!
Adding a mission-focused opt-in is a readily available strategy that will make website visitors more likely to sign up for your email list and it has the added benefit of expanding the reach of your mission to people who are inherently in need of your organization’s services or expertise.
This is another simple fix that many nonprofits gloss over in their email marketing. The “welcome sequence” is simply a single or string of emails you receive after first signing up for an email list (after you submit your contact info for that first freebie opt-in!) So many nonprofits take a person’s email address and only ever communicate with that person once they send out their next newsletter. For some past clients of mine who sent a quarterly newsletter, that meant someone could sign up for their list and not hear from them for three full months before receiving any communication. That does not make for a positive start to a relationship with this potential supporter!
So, enter the welcome sequence. A simple email that helps the person orient and better understand your organization and thanks them for being engaged in your work.
The real magic of a welcome sequence, though, comes with the ability to get these people to respond back to you directly! Ask a simple question that gets at why they are interested in your organization’s work. Most people will not respond, but those that do represent a gold mine of highly engaged, highly interested potential supporters, and their response gives you direct access to start a conversation with them. What more could you ask for when you are looking to build relationships and find support for your work?
The welcome-sequence-with-a-question is an easy way to start your relationship off with subscribers on the right foot. It sets the stage for how you will communicate going forward, highlights that there are real humans on the other side of the emails you send, and gives people a natural avenue to connect more directly with your organization. If you want to better understand how this might work, you can download a free template welcome sequence email for nonprofits right here. (Did you guess that this is an opt-in? You guessed right!)
Finally, if you have a large audience but are struggling to get them to regularly open and click your emails, my suggestion is to up the mystery. While entire careers and industries are devoted to understanding and “hacking” how best to get people to actually click through on email, a few starter tips can help you:
A little bit of mystery goes a long way. Make your subject line a question that gets their wheels turning.
Focus on one transformation. Tell a single story of your mission at work.
Highlight their direct impact. What difference would their $5 or $10 gift make?
Use the word YOU more than we or our. Remove your organization from the equation – how would the donor’s support directly impact those you serve?
Make it as clear as possible where they can go to support your work. Link to your donate page early in the email, in hyperlinked (underlined and bolded) text, rather than as a button at the bottom of the email.
Copy can be the trickiest part of email marketing and fundraising, and unfortunately it can often a process of trial and error. But with these starter tips, you’ll be starting off on the right foot to engage people in continuously supporting your work. As you engage further with your audience, you’ll be able to test and refine exactly what messages and cadence of email communications your subscribers respond to. (Looking for more help with fundraising copy? Check out this post.)
Nonprofit email marketing and fundraising is an important part of your organization’s ability to connect with today’s audiences. While it can take specific education and experience to dive deep into what works and what doesn’t in email, these starting points can help your team to make their time spent more effective. By first identifying WHAT your problem is, and then strategically working to address that problem, you can work through step by step how to better serve your audience through your email communications (and make your emails fundraising more worthwhile in the process!)
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Share your story with the right person at the right time in the right way to better connect with your audience and further your mission.
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