When marketers think of their email newsletters, they may be placing too much emphasis on “news” and not enough on the “letter” aspect, and Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs, sees this as an opportunity.
“Email is the only place where people — and not algorithms — are in control,” Handley said. “And what I mean by that is when someone signs up for your email newsletter, for your email program, they're raising their hand and they're saying, ‘I want to hear from you.’ And that, to me, is a special place to be.”
Handley presented the session, “The Future of Email Newsletters — Next-Gen Newsletters for a Chaotic World,” at the Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization (NIO) Summit in Dallas yesterday. And while she, at times, spoke of broad insights, they can easily translate to the nonprofit space. Here are five email newsletter makeover tips that she shared.
1. Assign an Emcee
Don’t just assign a writer to your organization’s email newsletter, but make someone the name and face of the effort. Handley subscribes to the daily email newsletter from The New York Times, which David Leonhardt, senior writer for the publication, authors.
“The New York Times, a major brand, major name recognition — why do they have David writing me every single morning?” she said. “Because now I rely on David to tell me what's what. David is the guy who tells me what I need to be thinking about that day. He sets the stage for my day. And in a way, when David doesn't show up for a day, I'm like, ‘Where's David? Where'd he go? What happened?’”
In another example, Anand Sanwal, the CEO of CB Insights, a financial technology intelligence platform, sends the email newsletter from his actual email — not “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “do not reply.”
“I believe that the ‘from’ line matters way more than your subject line does, especially in our business, because it's the relationships that we have with our donors, and our prospects, and our employees and our volunteers that ultimately is what fuels our business,” Handley said.
2. Provide a Warm, Relatable Tone
While names and faces are important, so are voices. At times, it can feel like nonprofits are writing to a segment, but each donor feeling like the email newsletter is written to only them is key.
Handley read an email newsletter from Best Buddies International, a Miami-based nonprofit that aims to eliminate isolation for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Her example came from Mikayla Holmgren, the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in a state Miss USA pageant, whose letter is personalized with Ann’s name and includes a personal story that got her attention.
“It's a story that's involving me and it's not just because she's saying, ‘Hey Ann,’” Handley said “It's because it feels personal. She may be writing to thousands of people on this email list but it feels like she's speaking just to me.
3. Create Netflix-Like Momentum
Handley shared three ways to build momentum — through open loops, pattern breaks and scroll magnets. And she used Jacksonville, Florida-based nonprofit media outlet, Jax Today, to showcase these.
Toward the top of its email newsletter, one email newsletter had a teaser that said, “Coming up, one less taco spot in Riverside. But first …” before jumping into the first article. This is an open loop.
“Now if you are part of the Jacksonville community, wouldn't you scroll down to find out where it is?” she said. “Who's closing? Who's abandoning us? How do we not support many more taco spots? Think about how can you actually build that relationship with your reader — even within the email itself, even within the individual email?”
Make your email newsletter skimmable with sharp headlines, compelling images, clear structure hierarchy and reader cameos.
“One of the things that Jax Today does super well is they have an “AskJaxToday” hashtag, and they're pulling in questions from social, and they're covering it in their email ecosystem between social media and the newsletter itself.”
A scroll magnet is what gets the reader to scroll to the bottom of the email newsletter. Handley enjoys Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland’s scroll magnet in its email newsletters.
“At the bottom of every email newsletter, they have what they call the photo of the week. It was National Bowtie Day, so of course that's worth celebrating in their community.”
As a bonus, it has a guinea pig at the top of the section, alongside the title, “Photo of the Wheeek,” with the spelling serving as a nod to the sound guinea pigs make.
“So good,” Handley said. “You'll never unhear that. Never.”
4. Have Obsessively Empathic Onboarding
Only 60% of organizations globally send welcome emails after a new reader subscribes to their email newsletter, Handley said, noting doing so drives four times more opens and three times more transactions. For her email newsletter at annhandley.com, the welcome email invites recipients to tell her, “Why did you subscribe to my newsletter?” and “What do you hope to learn” And 31% of new subscribers reply to her.
“And by the way, when they respond to me and tell me, I always write back,” she said. “And people say to me, ‘Doesn't that take a lot of time?’ Yeah, it kind of does. It's like an hour a week. But do I have an hour a week to build on subscriber relationships for the most key opportunity that I have to connect with my audience? Heck yes, I do.”
5. Build a Bridge, Not a Tower
North Carolina’s Currituck County Economic Development gives web visitors two prompts on its website — “Find Property” and “Call Larry.”
Curious, Handley clicked the latter option only to get Larry Lombardi, executive director of the Currituck County Economic Development. Larry’s the face of the organization.
“So they want you to have a relationship with Larry, but especially what I love from a newsletter standpoint is guess who writes the email newsletter?” Handley asked. “Larry! It's not boring either. It's folksy. It's accessible. It's playful. It's so much fun.”
In her conversation with Lombardi, he explained their approach this way:
“When they come to your website, they know what you do. You have to sell them on who you are.”
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