Email Best Practices & Tips

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You need your nonprofit’s emails to break through inbox clutter so your supporters will open them and take action. Especially since the 2015 M+R Benchmarks Study shows 22% of all online donations are from emails (and it’s growing).

The best way to do that is to make the emails relevant. Include information your readers care about. Keep them opening your emails by timing them well and sharing information they didn’t have before—so they’re inspired to pay attention whenever your name shows up.

Let’s take a look at three key steps for creating effective emails.

1. Planning

Set a schedule that taps your supporters with the frequency and for the reasons and occasions that strategically match your fundraising approach.

For best supporter retention, pay attention to your ask to thank ratio for emails. Lynne Wester, The Donor Relations Guru, recently wrote a good blog post about this.

Select a dependable, responsive email provider, and take advantage of all its services. JustGive uses the VerticalResponse (VR) platform. VR has a full suite of online tools to manage and track marketing programs, including email. In a special offer for nonprofits, Vertical Response includes 10,000 emails per month for free, and a 15% discount on monthly plans for high-volume senders. It also offers a wealth of email tutorials, webinars and articles to help you.planning_ux-787980_1280

Use a mobile design for your emails to make them a quick read and skimmable. Latest stats show that up to 66% of emails are now opened on a smartphone or tablet.

Build and maintain your email list using your donor database. Ask them to opt in and give permission for emails (either through sign ups on your website or in a direct mail appeal), and include the unsubscribe choice in every email. Lists could be a blog topic by itself . . . but here are a few free guides and more information from Vertical Response. Don’t forget to get donor information from your JustGive Donation Report to keep growing your email list!

2. Writing & Sending

Write content that’s clear, compelling and action-oriented. Short and sweet, with words that speak directly to your reader (use “you” and write as if you’re talking to a real person). A simple rule of thumb for content: around 20% images and no less than 80% text.

Take time to develop attention-getting subject lines and headlines. If you keep the subject line to around 45-50 characters, readers will see all of it on mobile devices. For subject lines, check out this list of 21 words that came from analyzing billions of emails—to get you rolling or help if you’re stuck.  For headlines, you may be surprised to know that Upworthy’s editorial process is to write 25 headlines for each article before selecting one . Twenty five seems extreme to me, but you get the idea.fonts and colors

In your content and design:

  • Limit your overall color scheme to 2-3 colors and use basic fonts to keep the email professional-looking. Colors from your logo work well. For high readability, consider 12 point type, and check out this study about fonts.
  • Use prominent call-to-action buttons. Try different colors, shapes and words in your buttons to see what works best. And hyperlink phrases or sentences for easy clicking from mobile devices.
  • Integrate social media icons to connect with supporters through your other channels.
  • Add Google Analytics links to buttons, images and key phrases to see what gets readers’ attention and most drives action. If you don’t know how, here are get-started instructions. Test and double check those links!

When to send your email? Studies suggest 10 am in a reader’s time zone, Tuesday through Thursday. But the real answer is it all depends. Your best bet: Experiment with different times of the day, chart the performance you get, and see what your audience prefers.

If you’re converting direct mail fundraising appeals to email—Check out these 8 Commandments from Kivi’s Leroux Miller’s Nonprofit Blog.

3.  Measuring Results

analyticsAnalyze your Google Analytics stats and Reports from your email provider to monitor results. Review open rates, click through rates, unsubscribes, and most importantly, conversion.  Nonprofit benchmarks give you a good idea if you’re moving in the right direction.

Drilling down to what links, buttons and visuals draw clicks can also help you create more effective emails.

  • Do some testing (A/B). Split your mailing list randomly to test one change at a time—the subject line, time sent, message or image (positive image vs. “needy”)—and see what generates the best response.
  • Identify what’s working, what’s not, and adjust. On a regular basis. Bottom line: How much did the email generate in donations or bring in new donors?

For more info, check out the Nonprofit Tech for Good’s 10 best practices and the Top Takeaways and Strategies article from the 2015 Marketing Sherpa Email Summit.

Don’t miss out on more fundraising tips and tools: Subscribe to our Nonprofit Blog today.

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

Nonprofits: M+R Benchmarks Study

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M+R Strategic Services, founded in 1991, helped nonprofit clients raise $159 million last year. Through their work in 2014, M+R reached 33 million people, mobilizing supporters, and moving the media, the public, and decision-makers.

Each year, the consulting firm conducts a nonprofit study to identify industry standards for online fundraising, advocacy, and list building. The 2015 M+R Benchmarks Study, conducted in partnership with the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), analyzed the social media practices, website giving, and email fundraising practices of a diverse mix of 84 nonprofits.

Information from participating nonprofits—located in the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa—was examined in eight categories:  environmental, health, international, rights, wildlife and animal welfare, domestic hunger and poverty, cultural, and miscellaneous. This year, data from cultural organizations (museums, libraries, history groups) was included for the first time.

A look at the stats below and a deeper dive into the complete study will answer the question for your organization: Are we “normal”?

Overall giving trends

Online giving to organizations in the study increased 13% from 2013 to 2014. This is attributed to a higher number of gifts, not larger gifts.  Actually, the average size gift fell by 2% to $82. change in online revenue

Monthly giving grew at a much faster rate than one-time giving, with revenue increasing 32%. Monthly giving as a part of total online revenue grew for nearly all sectors, and the average size gift was $22. By comparison, one time revenue saw 9% growth over 2013. (If you don’t yet have a monthly giving program, JustGive’s downloadable Give Monthly button or link can help you start collecting donations.)

More to the story

Here are some 2014 key benchmarks analyzed by the channels we use for giving. Results vary by sector, so you’ll want to check out details in the complete study that best relate to your organization.

Website Engagement

For every 1,000 website visitors, nonprofits in the study raised $612 – and one visitor was worth 61 cents.

  • On average, 7.6 of every 1,000 visitors became donors. This is a slight drop from last year.
  • Monthly visitors grew by 11% over 2013.
  • 13% of visitors to a main donation page completed a gift.

Emails

Emails continue to be a key communication channel for nonprofits. While email lists grew by 11% in 2014, they have been growing at a slower pace the past few years. On average, 22 emails were sent per subscriber per year. And 22% of online revenue is coming from emails—a growing piece of the overall giving pie for nonprofits. email list growth

Every 1,000 fundraising message delivered raised $40. This differs significantly for nonprofits with small, medium and large lists, and you’ll want to use the tool M+R provides to calculate your specific results. (Organizations with email lists of under 100,000 raised the most, generating $124.12.) Every 1,000 advocacy message delivered generated 29 actions. Here are the open and response rates for each type of email: table

Social Media

Facebook audiences grew by 42% and Twitter audiences grew by 37% in 2014.

  • For every 1,000 email subscribers, participants had 285 Facebook fans and 112 Twitter followers.
  • Post frequency: organizations averaged 5.4 tweets and 1.1 Facebook posts per day.

Summing it up

These benchmarks give you good baseline numbers, and an idea of how your organization stacks up. Taking a closer look at your own benchmarks and what they mean best guides what you need to do.

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For more on the participating nonprofits, the specifics behind the stats, and to use the M+R tool to calculate your own benchmarks, download the full study.

How are your experiences different? And how are they like others?  Most importantly: What can you learn from nonprofits who are having success in ways that matter most to you?

– Andrea Lloyd
Director of Programs