Delivering Emails that Deliver $$
Turnkey deploys hundreds of thousands of emails each month on behalf of dozens of nonprofits. Email communication is cheap, and its effects are measureable. It is a great channel to nurture and deepen relationships with constituents on which nonprofits depend.
Crafting messaging involves selecting language that impacts people at an unconscious level beyond “just the facts.” Imagine if the selection of certain words could impact a person’s attention to your messages without them being aware of it. Imagine if you could use these words to increase the likelihood that they would convert—do what you ask of them in the email. Unless you have made a study of neurolinguistics, this is probably a new idea. You would probably be surprised how certain words can have this effect because these words are quite common.
I’ve used three of these words six times in the two paragraphs above: Imagine, you and because.
“Imagine” is a major power word. Look at popular advertising, and you will notice how often it is used. When you ask someone to perform an action, there is a natural tendency to push back on the request. Research has shown that the mere introduction of the word “should” in a conversation can have negative impact. Interestingly, this doesn’t happen when you ask someone to imagine something. “Imagine how great you’ll feel knowing that you helped find the cure for childhood cancer.” And as strange as it sounds, your brain can’t tell the difference between imagining something and actually experiencing something.
“You” is a placeholder for your name. Your name is important to you to a shocking extent. Research on sales demonstrates that people are much more likely to buy from someone who has a name that sounds like their own. Email marketers have tried to take advantage of the power of one’s name, starting emails with your name and repeating it several times in the copy. The problem is that repetition sounds artificial, forced. That’s because one’s name must be used very carefully; its overuse can make one feel like it is inappropriate, too personal.
“You” is different. It is easy to use in copy and avoids the heavy-handed feel that the use of one’s actual name produces. But it results in the same attention that happens when we hear our own name. As Bette Midler’s character said in the movie “Beaches,” “… but enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”
Finally, “because” tells us why things happen. It satisfies our need to hear narratives that put the world in order. In his book, “Start With Why,” Simon Sinek famously said, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
Classic Xerox copier research conducted at Harvard University showed what happens when you mention the word “because.” In the experiment, an worker cut in line at their office’s copy machine and said one of two things:
• “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
• “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”
The result? Virtually no difference; ninety-three percent of people let people offering either explanation go ahead of them and make copies. Even though the second explanation is nonsensical—after all, everybody was at the Xerox machine to make copies.
Our brains are great shortcut takers. What happens when we hear “because”? The presence of the word satisfies our need for a reason, and we rarely follow up and devote the time and attention that would be required to think things through.
Creating and deploying effective email campaigns is an example of that old quote, “It takes hard work to make things look easy.” There is a lot of strategy and thought that results in maximizing opens and conversions.
But, imagine how improving your supporter’s response just 15 percent to 20 percent would mean. How would you use that extra money? Because, after all, it’s all about helping the people your mission supports.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.