Email continues to be the greatest revenue driver in fundraising – but that also means that it’s become an incredibly cluttered, busy channel. Digital communications have gone the way of direct mail, in the sense that quality and a holistic view make all the difference. You can’t just put out sub-par, sporadic messaging and expect the same response as a well-thought-out, consistent email program.
So, how can you build a best practice email program that generates revenue all year long while strengthening donor engagement? You use the four building blocks – four kinds of messaging that, when combined, make for a well-rounded program that gives donors what they want and need to hear from you.
I often encounter organizations with nascent digital programs, for whom solicitations are the only emails they send. As a result, they’re often not the most successful revenue generators – and their program metrics have a tendency to be saved by list size more than message quality.
But asking is a key part of a balanced email program! Giving donors lots of opportunities to make a difference throughout the year can improve renewal and retention rates and increase the number of gifts a donor makes per year. It also helps demonstrate ongoing need, showing that the work is never done without you needing to say so.
The key is to make each ask feel unique and timely. Don’t be afraid to jump on a media bandwagon and capitalize on the moments when your cause aligns organically with larger conversations. You never know which ask might resonate with a donor (and this can be a great way to collect data about the types of asks that your donors best respond to!) What’s the right amount to ask? It varies from charity to charity and cause to cause, but I typically suggest at least once per quarter.
This is a pillar of a strong nonprofit email program that is so often overlooked! It’s vital that you regularly make the time to thank donors, report back on the change they’re making, and help them to feel like a part of a greater whole.
Like any best practice stewardship, these emails shouldn’t contain a donation ask. But they should contain some kind of value for the donor – a personalized video, a downloadable poster, or a link to a game. These emails are powerful tools for driving website traffic, which deepens engagement with your cause (if your website rocks, that is!). And of course, these emails should employ best-practice donor-centricity – pack ‘em with gratitude and ‘you’, and keep your organization’s role to a minimum.
Everyone wants to feel like they’re in the know. Your subscribers are no different! When you have news to share, a stance to take, or an opinion to express, email is a great tool to get your message out promptly.
It’s a chance to talk about a new program or service rolling out, respond to larger public conversations that pertain to your work, or share a great success as it happens. If they’re executed nimbly, update emails help donors feel like your nonprofit is an active agent in the world – responsive, reflexive, and proactive – and not just an intangible organization.
The trick, as with any email, is to start by asking yourself if a given update is something your donors care about – or if you can frame it in such a way that they will. Make sure you weave the subscriber themselves into the email, making it relevant to them and positioning them as a part of the work that’s taking place.
These emails live somewhere in between a solicitation and a stewardship email. They ask a donor to take an action and do a little work, but it’s not necessarily in the form of giving. That might mean asking the reader to sign a pledge or petition, fill out a poll or survey, or get involved in other ways (like volunteering or mentorship programs). It could also be an invitation to an event – online or offline – where they can connect with other like-minded donors like them!
The goal here is to activate the donor in other ways than just giving. This deepens their relationship with you, bringing them closer into the fold of your work and providing a diverse gamut of ways to be involved.
The perfect email mix
So, you have your four building blocks. How do you put them all together? While there isn’t a perfect answer, a good rule of thumb is to send 3 non-solicitation emails for every donation ask. This gives you enough chances to report back and build the relationship, and accounts for the fact that not every subscriber will read every email.
Then, as you build up your email program, you can play with this 3:1 ratio and see what fits your subscribers the best!
Charlotte Field is a Philanthropic Counsel and Digital Specialist at Good Works, a national consulting firm that specializes in helping charities build highly loyal donor constituencies. Charlotte is a writer at heart and crafts everything from e-appeals to cases for support with the donor in mind. She’s passionate about helping charities embrace digital to connect with donors online. Contact Charlotte at email@example.com.