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September 3, 2014
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September 17, 2014

5 Easy Ways to Boost Fundraising With Your E-Newsletter

RadhaToday’s post on e-newsletters is from Radha Marcum, fellow Boulderite and content marketing guru who works with mission-driven organizations and businesses, including local and national nonprofits, such as Growing Gardens, The Center for Resource Conservation, and The Wilderness Society.

In the work I do to help mission-driven companies and nonprofits tell better stories and grow their communities, e-newsletter strategy is often overlooked. Shouldn’t we focus on growing our social media presence, instead? they ask. The answer is no. Why? In a nutshell, e-newsletter subscribers are more engaged with your organization than folks who like your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter. Subscribers are more likely to attend your events, share your content, and make donations.

According to a 2014 Content Marketing Institute report, 84 percent of nonprofits use e-newsletters as a primary marketing tool . However, in my experience, only a small percentage of organizations use e-newsletters effectively to build brand awareness, show thought leadership, and cultivate new donors. So, if your organization is within that 84 percent, bravo! But don’t stop there. Fine-tune your strategy with these tips.

1. Inspire, inform, inspire, inform … then ask.

Does your organization use its e-newsletter primarily for event promotion and fundraising? If so, you are missing a huge opportunity to make an emotional connection with your supporters. Use your e-newsletter to inspire and inform your community by sharing personal stories of those who benefit from your org, providing thought leadership and education (not just about the org itself, but illuminating key issues in the community), and revealing the behind-the-scenes hard work and dedicated people of your organization.

Follow the 4:1 rule – 4 parts inspiration to 1 part promotion.

  • Consider separate promotional e-blasts. You can certainly include promotional components in your e-newsletters, but you may get more action on emails that don’t distract from a primary call to action: Attend this event. Donate today.
  • Focus on content that instantly useful and relevant. For example, if your organization works to educate at-risk communities about nutrition, use your education materials to inspire your supporters—such as healthy snack tips in September, when kids are going back to school.
  • Remember: It’s a conversation. An e-newsletter is not a one-way download. Talk with your audience. Ask questions and reflect on insights from your community.

2. Adopt a friendly tone.

Tone falls along the spectrum of dry and impersonal (reporting) to overly friendly (cheerleading). Many nonprofits that I work with err on the side of dry because they want to be taken seriously. A friendly tone will not hurt your organization’s credibility! Instead, it enhances rapport—and nothing is more valuable than rapport during fundraising. So strike a balance. Don’t hide behind statistics and information.

  • Don’t fear the “I.” Do you have multiple people in your org and tend to speak as “we”? Consider if there is one person who can speak as “I” on behalf of the team, when appropriate.
  • Celebrate; don’t ruminate! Celebrating the solutions rather than ruminating on the problems promotes trust and rallies support for your org.

3. Design & Flow: Keep. It. Simple.

Many organizations make the mistake of cramming everything possible into one e-newsletter, resulting in awkward design and overflowing text that strains the eyes and scatters readers’ focus. First, start with a clean, uncluttered e-newsletter template.

  • Always include a short personal message, signed by you (or an organization leader).
  • Don’t include the full text of an article or announcement in your e-newsletter, unless it is very short. Instead, write compelling headlines and short teasers with links to your website or blog.
  • Keep event info and promotions concise. Make calls to action clear.

4. Optimize hot spots.

Do your e-newsletter open rates suffer because of boring subject lines? Does the email have poor placement of “hooks,” such as an important call to action buried at the very bottom? Optimize these four areas, particularly, to build engagement.

  • Subject line. Avoid generic the “September Newsletter from ______ [organization].” Be specific about the content included in the e-newsletter, e.g. “Photos from the Orchard + New Fall Classes” or “How often should you send an e-newsletter?” (Psst … Front Range Source’s e-newsletters have excellent subject lines!)
  • Opening line. Don’t bury your main idea. Include the hook for your first story or message up front. This text may show before a reader opens the email, so make it catchy.
  • Photos. Use visuals to support your call to action. One great photo is better than five mediocre photos. Use quality images (that your organization owns or has purchased) and link photos to your website. Focus on faces, food, and favorite things.
  • The footer. Readers often scroll quickly and end up at the bottom of your email, so place something surprising – even personal – there, to leave them with a great feeling about your organization. Perhaps it’s a quote, your nonprofit’s inspiring tagline, or a photo of someone in the organization.

5. Commit to consistency.

It’s surprising how many organizations seem to send e-newsletters whenever they get around to it or have an ask to make. With busy schedules and marketing time stretched thin, I know it can be difficult to commit to regularity. But without it, your org will lose supporters’ attention—and trust. Don’t be like the neighbor who shows up randomly, only when he wants to chat or needs something. Commit to publishing something of value to your audience on the same week(s) of the month, same day of the week.

  • Plan well in advance – a month or two, at least. Use a content marketing calendar to track.
  • How often should you send? As Leslie says in this recent blog, it depends. I see good results for nonprofits that publish at least once per month, but twice per month is better. Every week may be appropriate if you have weekly events. Daily is appropriate during critical campaign weeks. Remember the 4:1 rule, and your supporters will generally welcome your emails.
  • Sync your e-newsletters with your fundraising cycles. Remember: It takes approximately three to seven “touches” for a person to pay attention to the same message. (Note: E-newsletters work well in conjunction with other marketing vehicles, such as print mailings.) Plan to announce and remind your readers about important events and calls for donations starting 6 to 12 weeks in advance.

To subscribe to Radha’s Content + Strategy newsletter and learn more about her work, click here.


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