Many experts agree that email marketing is still one of the best ways to communicate with your audience and reach supporters directly to keep them engaged in your cause.
But for email marketing to work effectively, you need to follow a few best practices. Although email is a direct channel to your supporters, you’re still up against a lot of competition for inbox space and attention on-screen -- and that means making your emails quick and easy to read, interesting, entertaining, and, ultimately, action-oriented.
Email by the Numbers
Based on a 2014 survey of 84 US-based non-profits:
2,463,594,725: Number of fundraising emails sent
14%: Open rate (% of people who opened the email)
.48%: Click-through rate (% of people who clicked through from email to website)
.06%: Response rate (% of people who donated as a result of the email)
Based on 2015 data from Mailchimp:
25.66%: Average open rate for non-profits
2.98%: Average click-through rate for non-profits
Why Email is So Effective
Despite the “old school” nature of email, there are many reasons email marketing is still so valuable:
Email updates must be requested: Privacy legislation in Canada only allows you to send email updates to people who have expressly opted to receive them.
While this might seem like a barrier to growing your email list, it’s actually a good thing, because it means the people on your list genuinely want to hear from you. They’ve indicated that you’re a welcome presence in their inbox, which is the first step to getting them to open -- and read -- your email.
Email effectiveness is measurable: Every time you send an email you can get almost instant feedback on how well it performed by looking at metrics like the open rate, click-through rate and response rate. You can also test the effectiveness of different subject lines, frequency of delivery and send times throughout the day.
Email is cost-effective: Sending monthly or weekly email updates is much cheaper than mailing print pieces, hosting events or buying advertising.
3 Essential Email Marketing Best Practices
Successful email marketing requires three key ingredients:
Quality content: Aim to include a few pieces of interesting, entertaining and informative content that your recipients will want to read -- or watch. Consider your audience’s needs when putting this content together: do they want to read about your charity’s summer BBQ or would they rather learn about all the ways their donations are changing the world? Try for three or four short teasers with links to read more on your website. And be sure to include compelling visuals.
Enticing headers and links: Spend extra time on your headlines, links, subject line and email titles to ensure they’re as compelling as possible. Interesting headers and links are more likely to get people to click through to read more. For example, what would you be more likely to click on: “2015 Impact Update” or “5 Amazing Ways Your Gift Changed the World”?
Compelling CTAs: In marketing speak, a CTA is a call to action that compels the reader to take action on your email. This may mean making a donation, registering for an event, signing up to receive more info or simply clicking through to read more. Think long and hard about what action you want people to take and write compelling CTAs that are impossible to resist.
3 Additional Considerations for Your Emails
Mobile compatibility: Statistics show that mobile now represents 45 percent of all email clicks. Your email update or newsletter must be optimized for mobile readers.
Social links: Encourage readers to share your updates quickly and easily with links to all of your social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)
Follow up: When a supporter takes the action you’ve asked them to take, don’t let the conversation stop there! Send them a note of thanks, or additional information, or a follow-up message acknowledging their commitment.
Free Email Marketing Tools You Should Try
Mailchimp: Lets you design, send and track email to up to 2,000 subscribers per month for free. As your list grows, you can opt to pay a small monthly fee.
Google Analytics: Track your click-throughs and see what content performs best with this free tool.
Hemingway Editor: Think you write clearly? Test out your writing with this app, which will let you know if your prose is too long, complex or just plain unclear.
Inspiring Charity Email Examples
These examples of charity emails show best practices in campaigning, thanking and putting together an effective email newsletter.
Campaigning: UNICEF provides an update on the #BringBackOurGirls campaign with a compelling personal story, and invites supporters to take action.
Newsletter: The British Heart Foundation’s Stroke Month newsletter offers five pieces of content related to strokes, along with calls to action to learn more and get involved in the organization.
Thanks: Comic Relief crafts a visual thank you email to supporters of its Red Nose Day fundraising campaign, including multiple options for further engagement.