Tips on Customizing E-mail Communications
What information do you collect from constituents when they sign up for your e-mail communications? Do you use the information you ask for to create more customized communications?
The study Telling Stories, Building Relationships: How Non-Profits Can Create More Engaging Email Marketing Programs, recently released by e-mail deliverability firm Return Path, analyzes how nonprofits use the data they collect from constituents who sign up for e-mail communications and found some results that point to missed opportunities to enhance constituent communications. While 81 percent of advocacy organizations involved in the study requested geographic data from constituents, for example, only 12 percent actually used that data to customize or segment their e-mail campaigns.
FundRaising Success recently had a chance to speak with Bonnie Malone, director of response consulting for Return Path, to find out more about the study and what tips it yields for nonprofits.
FundRaising Success: Your company recently did a study of the e-mail practices of nonprofit organizations. What was the key finding?
Bonnie Malone: There are some things nonprofits do very well with e-mail — like sending a prompt welcome message to new subscribers. But as a whole, nonprofits aren’t fully embracing the opportunity e-mail provides to develop a one-to-one marketing relationship that informs and engages new subscribers with the organization and primes them to later contribute to the cause.
FS: Why do you think nonprofits aren't doing this well?
BM: To e-mail marketers (both for- and nonprofit), customization seems hard and time-consuming. Developing and implementing a strategy can be daunting to those overwhelmed with a lot of data at subscribe, especially when time and resource constraints are present. (Where do I start? What should I use?) However, there are small tweaks that data can help guide that, when implemented, can leave a big impact on subscribers — and response.
FS: What are some key benefits of customizing messaging using constituent information? Where does customization take place?
BM: The point of subscribe is a great place to start — but only if you collect information that is relevant and that you plan to use. For example, simply asking the subscriber’s level of interest (e.g., education about the cause, donation, community involvement, etc.) can inform the content strategy of your e-mail cadence. If a subscriber chooses community involvement, make local events a prominent portion of their message flow. This taps into the exact need and expectation of the subscriber and quickly develops an advocate for your organization’s cause.
FS: What kind of information are nonprofits currently gathering? What information should they be gathering?
BM: Of the 50 organizations included in our research, 34 percent required full online registration in order to subscribe to the e-mail program. This included 76 percent that asked for name, 70 percent that required geographic information (like address or state) and 20 percent asking for demographic data. That’s a lot of personal detail to disclose in order to receive an e-mail. We recommend only collecting the data that is relevant and will be used, which will vary from organization to organization. If a nonprofit is collecting geographic information, for example, at least some of the e-mail content should be focused on local issues/events.
FS: What are some recommendations you can offer organizations on how to better their e-mail practices by adding this strategy?
BM: Start small. Identify the data that is most informative and useful for your program — it may be geography, or interest level, or some other key component. Prioritize your subscribe form to include the key data points, and eliminate any nonessential form fields. Be clear with your subscriber on exactly how the information will be used — and fulfill that promise within the e-mail content. Use the data point to identify groups of similar subscribers (everyone located in Florida, for example) and send localized content to that group only. This recognition of community creates a more personal relationship with the subscriber, engages them more quickly with your cause and primes them for involvement.
Nonprofits are uniquely poised to develop and nurture an emotional connection with their subscribers. These organizations should think of e-mail as a personal communication tool that builds subscriber trust and personal involvement, rather than another media vehicle to extend a direct-mail strategy. This change in perspective will set these organizations up for long-term success in the e-mail channel.