Is Your E-mail Message Getting Through?
Is Your E-mail Message Getting Through?
August 30, 2005
By Jon Biedermann
In its relatively short life, e-mail has gone from a neat way to send a joke to a powerful medium where individualized messages can be broadcast to many people at once. This success has led to some negatives, such as SPAM and an avalanche of information that piles up in "inboxes" everyday, but e-mail marketing is still an important tool.
Now, people's use of e-mail has matured to the point where they only want to see important information from a select group that they choose to contact them. So how can your organization become one of those select few that your constituents want to hear from? You must make your contact with them important every time; in other words, the e-mail you are sending needs to contain information they want to receive. Sending them information they want to read will significantly increase your success. According to a DoubleClick survey, the "likeliness to respond to e-mail was most increased by content based on specified interests (72 percent), while 68 percent cited relevance. Recipients clearly desire to state their preferences."
So, the first step is to define what your goals are for contacting your intended audience -- e.g., bringing visitors back to visit your Web site, taking prompt action such as contacting elected officials, getting recipients to read an article or request more information, increasing attendance for an event or obtaining donations. Then, using your fundraising software or contact-management system, you should segment the list of people who are applicable to this goal. A good system should be able to track, filter and sort the different attributes that match your desired audience, and be able to export that list to your e-mail marketing service. You should only send to a permission-based list, meaning people who either have a prior relationship with your nonprofit or who specifically requested to receive e-mails from your organization. [Quick Tip: Ask your e-mail recipients to put your e-mail address in their address book; this will help get you past many SPAM filters.]
Once you've identified your goal and your audience, the next step is to craft your message. You should engage your constituents and deliver on their needs. Use what you know about these people to determine how, and in what order, to describe and illustrate the benefits of your message. If you're sending a special-event announcement, they'll want to know the "what, when, why and how much." If you want to alert them about an action you want them to take, it makes sense to describe the issue and provide links that allow them to take the action you hope to drive (e.g., a link to your Web site that allows them to fill out a petition or automated letter to an editor). Many nonprofits tie their offline and online activities together. For example, e-mail a reminder notice to send back the donation form they received in the mail (or "click here to donate now").
It's important that the e-mail format you use matches your message. For instance, many people have become leery of large HTML e-mails -- they can look canned and impersonal, and have become associated with SPAM. For this reason, just a short, plain text message that gets right to the point can have much higher success rates. However, there is some content that recipients don't mind (and, in fact, expect) in HTML, such as full-color e-newsletters, holiday or seasonal promotions, event invitations, holiday greetings and more. That's why it's important to match the message with the vehicle. Many e-mail services offer templates that make creating these e-mails a snap. Plus, several of them host and manage your e-mail database (including unsubscribes and bounces), automatically format for HTML and text, meet SPAM-law requirements and provide instant reporting on opens, bounce-backs and other critical measures.
With everything set to go, you have to remember the old maxim "timing is everything." You should determine when your constituents are most likely to open and read your e-mail. Mid-day delivery is better than mornings or evenings, and Tuesday and Wednesday achieve better results than the beginning or the end of the week. Your audience might be different, so do some testing to determine the delivery timing that is right for you.
With the right goal, e-mailing list, message, e-marketing format and timing, you can achieve the success you're looking for -- in time. Just like with traditional direct-mail efforts, it takes time and testing to determine what works best. Don't be discouraged if you don't get the results you're looking for in your first campaign. Sometimes just a few small changes to the content, delivery method, format or timing can greatly improve success. [Before you hit "send," download a free checklist to maximize your e-mail's success: http://www.donorperfect.com/emailchecklist]
Jon Biedermann is vice president of SofterWare, Inc., developer of DonorPerfect Fundraising Software (PC/network and Web-based solutions). He can be reached by phone at 800.220.8111 or e-mail at email@example.com.