The Direct Marketing Association recently stated that the overall e-mail marketing ROI for 2011 was a staggering $40.56 for every $1 invested. For nonprofit organizations, that investment is money well spent; yet this continues to be a highly underutilized tactic.In a survey taken of nearly 1,300 non-profits worldwide, nearly 77% said they utilize their e-mail list at least once each month. However, to generate a presence yet avoid e-mail fatigue, creating a bi-weekly schedule is recommended.

Initially, the bi-weekly schedule may seem overwhelming, but here are
a few recommendations on designing a campaign to reach donors easily and effectively:

Segment your list
It is highly recommended to analyze and segment your list, regardless of its size. Catering messages to the various segments will allow you to customize messages to certain groups, rather than throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.

To illustrate: A university wouldn’t send a mass e-mail requesting $1,000 – $5,000 donations to everyone in its database. Alum and corporate sponsorships may contribute, but current students or recent graduates may take offence and unsubscribe to all future messages. This would result in a valuable segment of the list becoming unusable.

Discover the segments that would be valuable to your organization: from donor level, volunteer activity, gender, geography, income or interest.  Ask your list to update their profile, attracting them with a small “thank you” gifts for their time—like a magnetic photo frame or a sticky note pad that says “thanks.”

Test your list by designing two versions of the same e-mail and delivering them to the different segments. You can then track the results to determine the preferences of each segment.

Create highly noticeable calls to action
The call to action is the most important component contained within your e-mail. Be sure to prominently place the CTA (call to action) and phrase it differently and obviously throughout.  Use action verbs to create a sense of urgency: “Help Now! Spring Pledge Drive Ends Saturday!” or “Donate today to receive your welcome package put inside a large tote ($100 value).”

When placing them into the context of the e-mail, don’t oversaturate them with text. Make them colourful or contrasting from the rest of the message.

Engage your audience with content
In an age of information overload, it is crucial to share relevant content.  Content isn’t limited to written copy, so utilize photos, infographics and videos to convey your message. Show people receiving help, success stories and donors contributions.

On average, people spend 4.4 hours each week reading e-mails and they are constantly looking for ways to reduce that time, so keep your message simple. Remember that many e-mail systems block images, so ensure the text is visually appealing and concise to make the message easily readable. For example, one disaster relief agency recommends becoming a donor because they provide “warm blankets to cold disaster victims.” This is short, sweet and evokes emotional imagery.

If creating content sounds overwhelming or expensive, consider crowdsourcing in the form of a contest. The guidelines can be specific to your mission and offer a cash prize or swag to attract participation. Participants will generally join to generate exposure for themselves, but depending on the marketing budget, a cash prize, an iPad® with a carry case/sleeve or MP3 player with ear buds, would sweeten the deal.

Multi-faceted campaigns
In an effort to create a stronger reach across all online mediums, invite members of your list to follow you on your social media pages. Woo people to your page(s) by offering small tokens of gratitude to the first 500 people who like, follow or connect to your organization with a mouse pad or a USB Drive.

With a little foresight, e-mail campaigns can be the best tool in your toolbox. Consider San Diego’s Invisible Children, Inc.: Although steeped in controversy, their Kony 2012 campaign did several things correctly according to one blogger. First, their compelling video used a child to tell a simple story about a complex message. Second, the video effectively engaged social media users. And third, their call to action was simple: spread the word—and the people obliged. With proper execution and a solid message, a well-planned campaign could go viral and bring your organization heightened exposure and donations.

Magill, Ken. “e-mail Remains ROI King; Net Marketing Set to Overtake DM, Says DMAThe Magill Report. 4 October 2011. 2 April 2012.

Painter, Harrison. “Nonprofit Communication Trends 2012 (Infographic)CoffeeWithHarrison.com. 7 February 2012. 2 April 2012.

Hopkins, Lee. “More time spent on social media than e-mail worldwideBetter Communication Results. 4 November 2010. 2 April 2012.

Tunheim. “Kony 2012 Case Study: Three Things You Can Learn From the Viral Video” perspecTive. 23 March 2012. 2 April 2012.

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