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Nonprofit Email Communication Truth: Quantity Is As Important As Quality

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I’m guessing you put a lot of effort into crafting your nonprofit’s email messages. You carefully consider the subject line and preview pane, email copy, images and design, and call to action. At least I hope you do!

And you can learn how to do this here, here, and here.

However, a quality email message, be it an appeal, thank you, gratitude report, or other call to action, isn’t the whole story. 

Standing alone, the best email in the world won’t accomplish much.  

  • Won’t get your message across.
  • Won’t improve your branding.
  • Won’t persuade people to take your desired action.
  • Won’t get shared with constituent networks. 
  • Won’t move people along a continuum of connection with you – from awareness… to interest… to engagement… to investment.

Unless the email is paired with a very important action… people must open your email.

And guess what?

Despite what you may think, here’s the ugly truth. 

Mostly, people won’t open your email.

It’s not because it isn’t high quality.

It’s because most people are swamped with emails. 

Here are some vital statistics:

  • Employed people receive an average of 126 emails/day to their business in-box. The average person has 1.75 email accounts. Many folks have a professional account, a personal account and an ‘extra’ account they use to sign up for stuff. So that’s 200, 300, 400 or more emails/day to wade through!  
  • GenZ receive an average of 20 emails/day, though they may be no more likely to open your email and/or act on it (especially if it’s urgent) because they visit their inbox infrequently.
  • The average nonprofit email open rate is 23%. So more than three-quarters of the folks on your list will never see your beautifully crafted, compelling message.
  • 85% of all emails are spam.

Yes, you can increase the odds your email will be opened by crafting a super winning subject line and preview pane, but people are still busy. You’re not their priority.

So how can you increase the odds your message will be received?

Send email more often to better your odds.

This is pretty much common sense.

But we have a tendency to leave our common sense at the door when we cross the thresholds of our nonprofit offices. 

We fall prey to all sorts of myths and the calamity of opinion over knowledge. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Your boss says “People will be ticked off if we message them too much.
  • Your marketing director says “We don’t want to risk people unsubscribing.”
  • Your board member says “Let’s not bother people too much.”

What informs these opinions? Generally not much beyond what these folks feel personally, but I hope you know by now you are not your donors.

And, really, what does it matter if someone who doesn’t give to you unsubscribes? Sending email more often may lead to more unsubscribes, but that actually results in a cleaner, more targeted and engaged list. And it keeps you from wondering why you’re not raising more money from your 10,000 email list – which really should be whittled down to half that size.

REMINDER: It’s good practice to purge your list annually to remove folks who haven’t interacted with you in some time. You can choose the period, based on the size of your list and the number of times you email. If you email monthly or more, you can probably remove folks who haven’t opened anything for 12 – 18 months. Before you purge, email folks first, one or two last times, to ask if they’d like to remain on your list!

Your loyal supporters love to hear from you.

Truly, they do!

Provided the point of the email is not endless solicitation, but rather to:

It makes people feel good when their affiliation with your cause and community, their personal values, and their sense of identity as a helpful human being are reinforced. This keeps the keeps the warm glow of giving going, making them more receptive to continuing to stay engaged with you. And when you do send a fundraising appeal, they’ll be receptive.

Keep priming the pump.

I often say “if you want gifts, give them.” To assure a steady flow of contributions, engage in a thoughtful cultivation strategy.

Need proof? The folks at NextAfter conducted a controlled experiment where they increased the number of emails sent to a client’s file. There were no additional solicitations, just feeding back and nurturing messages. The result? After six months they showed a 42% increase in online revenue from the group receiving the cultivation series.

More is more.

Practical advice: How often to message people?

Provided you’re offering up content that’s relevant, useful, hopeful, and inspiring, mail as often as you can afford to do so (taking into account both human and financial resources). I recommend:

  • Quarterly appeal mailings (not including newsletters) is just about the minimum I’d recommend for any nonprofit if you want to stay top-of-mind.
  • One or two emails monthly is certainly not out of bounds. As you expand services and need to raise more money, expanding the number of mailings you send makes a lot of sense.
  • Layering on social media to reinforce the message in your mailing is generally a good idea. Have you ever heard the maxim that someone needs to see an ad seven times before it sticks? In our digitally revolutionized world, I’ve heard marketers say this number has increased to about 21 times!

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what Erica Waasdorp of A Direct Solution has to say:

“I recommend at least four appeals per year with direct mail, at least one email per month, and then of course once you have email, you can do as much as you like on social media. For email, I like to see at least one email newsletter a month, and then one appeal a month; one story with a specific ask, but every organization is different. But you can do a lot more. I worked with an organization that mailed 15 times a year, and they make money every time.”

If you’re still getting resistance from your “powers that be,” gently lead them toward the truth of what is most effective in fundraising. Share articles like this one with them. They may still refuse to see it, but at least you’ll have fulfilled your responsibility.

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