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Email Marketing for Nonprofits: Best Practices

Email marketing has been through many iterations over the years, but it still remains one of the most cost-effective ways to reach supporters. Whether you’re reaching out to build issue awareness, share important news, or raise money for your organization, incorporating these best practices into your email marketing campaigns can help your emails reach your target audiences and keep them engaged with your mission. 

1. Make it Easy for Your Supporters to Get Information From You

Visitors almost always have a reason for landing on your site. Help them to engage with your mission more fully by making it easy for them to sign up for occasional updates like an e-newsletter or action alerts.

Email Sign-Up Form

Including an embedded form in the footer of your site, or on a specific issue page, is a set-and-forget way to grow your email lists. It requires very little management and is an easy, accessible way for people to get information from your organization.    

Popup Forms

Whether you like them or not, adding a popup form to your website can be a great way to encourage a visitor to engage with your organization. Customize when and where your forms show, like on a certain page or after a certain amount of time on your site. 

*Tip – Don’t have your form pop up immediately, consider pausing for 5-10 seconds to allow the visitor to gather more information about your organization. If a popup form shows immediately, it will likely be closed immediately. 

Knowing what your website’s best performing pages are can help you to determine the best placement for your email sign-up forms. 

2. Segment Users Based on Activity/Interest

Segmenting your lists is the best way to ensure that your supporters are getting information that is relevant to them. There are countless ways you can segment your audience, including last activity date, last donation date, last email clicked date, issues of interest, organization affiliation, and more.  

If you’re using email sign up forms on specific webpages or are utilizing issue-related popup forms to build your email list, as mentioned above, this can also be a great way to segment your audience. 

When writing email content, it’s important to make sure that each email is written for the specific segment to which it will be sent.  

3. Be Authentic + Share Relevant Content

Once you’ve started segmenting your lists you’ll be able to more carefully tailor your messages so they resonate with your target audience.

Lead with Your Mission

Your emails should always tie back to your mission in some way. Highlight only the causes, issues, or significant topics that you have identified for each segment. Content needs to be easily digestible and should be written in a way that reflects your brand’s unique tone of voice.      

Show + Tell

Asking for support of one kind or another is a big part of nonprofit email marketing, and it’s crucial to always have a place for people to support your mission in your emails. However, if you want to keep your audience engaged, it’s also important to show and tell them exactly how their support has helped your organization accomplish goals directly related to its mission. It’s easy to get in the habit of reaching out for fundraising purposes, but it’s equally necessary to engage your people with impact stories. 

4. Define Your Goal + Have a Clear Call to Action

Establish a goal for your email, and let your call to action be the mechanism that helps users accomplish that goal. Whether you’re sharing an impact story or appealing to a supporter, include your call to action fairly early in the email. Readers aren’t always going to scroll to the bottom of your email, so try to accomplish your goal early and often. 

Make the purpose of your email obvious to readers. Using links in text is fine, but make sure that there is at least one button that draws attention to your identified call to action. Is the goal of your email to get readers to sign a petition? Great, try using the text ‘Sign the Petition’ on your button. Use clear, concise instructions for your calls to action, and try to use no more than ten words.  

Minimize links to websites other than your own in your email marketing. Rather, drive traffic back to your organization’s site so that your reader can immerse themselves in your content. From there, it is absolutely appropriate to include outbound links, and is actually encouraged to maintain good SEO practices. 

5. Analyze and Find Ways to Improve

Sending a beautiful, well-written email is only as satisfying as its performance. Learn what motivates your supporters to take action by analyzing your email metrics, such as open rate, click through rate, conversion rate, unsubscribes, and revenue generated. 

Most email marketing providers have some level of analysis you can run on your emails. With the goal of your email in mind, take a look at what actions readers have taken to determine if the email is performing as expected. If your emails aren’t accomplishing what you’d hoped, you’ll need to understand where there is room for improvement and make adjustments as needed. 

* Tip – To better engage with your supporters, consider segmenting based on specific actions taken/clicks in your email marketing. 

6. Test, and Test Again

Is your targeted audience responding in the way that you’d hoped? Find out if there’s a better way to engage them by sending an A/B test of your email campaigns

If your open rate is low, consider testing one subject line against another to see which one prompts more people to open. You can try using different terminology on your call-to-action button to see if that improves click through rate, and thus,  ultimately the return on investment. Analyzing and measuring your A/B test email results will help determine which variation is optimal. 

Don’t become complacent once an email is performing well. There will always be room for variation and improvement, so consider testing your regular emails several times per year. 

7. Check + Clean Email List Periodically

Verifying your email addresses periodically will help reduce bounce rates and improve deliverability rates. 

During your email analysis, you should be able to see what percentage of your email addresses are bouncing. If you have a high amount of undeliverable addresses on your list, then your sender reputation can be damaged, and your emails are more likely to end up in the Spam folders of even your most engaged supporters. 

By using an email list cleaning and validation tool, you can easily improve the quality of your subscriber lists. These tools help to clear out old, outdated, and disengaged addresses by identifying undeliverable and at-risk email addresses, and will flag them so they can be removed from your lists. 

You might also want to consider using a double opt-in for your email sign-up forms. This route will help you to ensure that the people on your list really want to receive emails from you, and will also reduce the amount of spam emails on your list.

8. Mobile Friendly + Accessible 

Most people designing emails are doing so on a computer. But, most people who are reading emails are doing so on a mobile device. ALWAYS check your mobile view. Optimize your email so it’s mobile friendly, and while you’re at it, make sure your digital communications are accessible by using legible fonts and adding alt text to images.  

Try to avoid long sentences that go on for line, after line – those can be hard to follow for readers. Keep really complex language on the website, where people expect to read that level of detail. 

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