All Hail the Mighty E-mail

Relationships with your constituents are built on respect, trust and communication – qualities realized when you demonstrate that your organization is worthy of supporters’ time, energy and money. As nonprofits embrace the Internet’s power, e-mail is emerging as an increasingly important communication tool. Nonprofits that learn the communication preferences of their donors and prospects will have the advantage when competing with similar organizations for donations.

E-mail offers a cost-effective way for nonprofits to send personalized communications to donors, members, alumni and volunteers, and it enables constituents to respond to your call to action at their convenience. Once you determine which constituents prefer e-mail, use it as the vehicle for a variety of messaging. Assuming your organization already has a Web site, use e-mail to drive people to specific areas of your site, where they can learn more about your mission, register for an event, make a donation or search volunteer opportunities, review membership levels and benefits and join online.

Steps To Take
1. Build your address book. Before you can begin tailoring e-mails for specific groups of constituents, collect e-mail addresses. Don’t let the dynamic nature of e-mail accounts discourage you – many people prefer e-mail and will be more responsive to it. Implement ways to collect and update e-mail addresses. Add a subscription field to your homepage, and use any constituent interaction as an opportunity to collect e-mail addresses.

2. Identify the audience for your message. Begin by reviewing your data to determine the percentage of each constituent group for which you have e-mail addresses. Generally speaking, e-mail enables you to reach a younger, more diverse audience than direct mail typically does. However, this demographic is shifting, as seniors are the fastest-growing group of Internet adopters and e-mail users. A key benefit of e-mail is that it gives users the ability to quickly send customized messages at very little expense.

3. Define a goal for your e-mail campaign. Now that you know which group to contact, the next step is to define the goal of your message. Like direct mail, e-mails should have a specific purpose and/or a call to action. Examples include generating online donations for a specific campaign, building awareness of an issue, informing volunteers of the latest news, driving members to complete an online survey or soliciting registrations for an event. The success of your e-mail campaign will be based on how it helped you accomplish your specific goal.

4. Craft your e-mail message. Keep in mind that the more succinct and scannable your message is, the more likely it is that your audience will read it and take action. Customization makes your communications more personal and will demonstrate to your donors your eagerness to build a long-term relationship. Begin your message by addressing the recipient in the way he or she prefers, but don’t stop there. Incorporate other types of information, such as last gift amount, last gift date and to which fund the donation was designated.

5. Review and edit your message. Ask yourself the following questions during the review and editing process:

o Is the entire message pertinent?
o Is the tone friendly and professional?
o Does the message demonstrate that you value the recipients?
o Are there links to your Web site, and are they correct?
o Will the purpose be obvious to the recipients?
o Have you checked spelling?
o Is the subject line compelling?
o Who’s the sender?
o Did you include an opt-out clause?
o Should you encourage recipients to forward the message?

6. Distribute your message. With a polished and proofed final draft at hand, you can decide the best time to distribute your message. Depending on list size and your system’s bandwidth, you could opt to send the message in the evening to lessen the burden on your e-mail server. Such constraints can be eliminated should you choose to enlist a vendor to host some of your Web-related services.

7. Measure your success. E-mail communications help your organization track the effectiveness of the various messages and tailor future messages. By tracking “clicks” on e-mail links and tracking the activity your e-mails generate, you can report your results and act on what you learn.

Coordination between your e-mail database and fundraising-management system is important. Tag your constituent records to reflect each communication and activity. Maintaining donor information in one place will ensure your staff sees the “big picture” and can access the details, which will help build lasting relationships capable of sustaining your organization. u

This article was originally published in FundRaising Success magazine, March 22, 2006. www.fundraisingsuccessmag.com

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