Four Ways to Level Up Your Nonprofit’s Email Marketing

6 min read

You know how important it is to stay top of mind for your stakeholders and encourage them to take action, and email is just one of the many ways you can do that. But is your nonprofit using email to its full potential?

There are some email strategies you’re probably already using, like sending regular email newsletters and holiday asks. How can you take these strategies even further to ensure your emails aren’t getting lost in a sea of messages your stakeholders receive from companies they patronize, organizations they support and other media they consume every day?

Here, we recommend some ways to evolve your current email marketing practices and take them to the next level.

Don’t just build up your email list; segment and send well-tailored messages to each of your stakeholder groups.

Sending mass emails to your entire database is never the most effective way to communicate with your stakeholders. At the very least, donors and volunteers should be in a separate list from people who benefit from your services. If possible, be even more specific with your email list segmentation. Email is one of the only marketing platforms where you can truly segment your audiences and send specific messages to each segment, so be sure your organization is using this capability to your full advantage.

Common donor groups for email segmentation include:

  • Recent donors
  • Lapsed donors (i.e., have not donated in 3 years or more)
  • Major donors
  • Corporate donors and sponsors
  • Peer-to-peer donors, or those who have raised money on behalf of your organization

And beyond donors, your organization should also segment your list to send specific messages to stakeholder groups like:

  • Staff
  • Volunteers
  • Beneficiaries
  • Event attendees
  • General subscribers (non-donors)

How you segment your email lists should align directly with your marketing strategy, and how you communicate with each of these groups through email and other communications should directly serve your organization’s strategic goals and marketing goals. Conducting qualitative research through focus groups, interviews and surveys can help you land on the ideal messaging for each of these groups to include in every email you send.

And with email marketing automation, you can not only send specific messages to different stakeholder groups, but you can even send automatic emails and series to people based on actions they’ve taken, like making a first-time donation or downloading your Case for Support or another resource on your website.

Don’t just ask for donations and share statistics and blog posts; cultivate stronger personal relationships.

If someone has donated to your organization or signed up to receive marketing materials in another way, they want to hear about the impact you’re making, and they want to feel as though they’re part of that impact. 

For your new subscribers, an automated welcome email series that helps them get to know your organization more deeply before receiving regular messages like newsletters can be an effective way to help them feel invested in your mission before you work in donation asks. These welcome messages can clearly articulate why your organization is special and share stories about your impact in action.

Email marketing studies have shown personalized emails receive both higher click and conversion rates, highlighting the need for email to be more about building a personal relationship than delivering information. So, at the very least, use your email marketing tool to include a recipient’s first name in each message and use second-person language (using the word “you”). Depending on how your lists are segmented, you should also include information that is specific to programs and events you know a person has given to, attended or expressed interest in.

Every person your organization comes in contact with via email (or any other communications channel) has the potential to become a donor, and building those more personal connections with every single one of your stakeholders today can result in greater fundraising outcomes tomorrow.

Don’t be afraid of sending too many emails; send your emails at more strategic times.

Overall email engagement rates fall every year as the channel is saturated with messages from just about every company and organization. But that shouldn’t stop you from sharing crucial information with your stakeholders via email during key times throughout the month or year.

To be sure your email marketing practices align directly with your organization’s strategic and marketing goals, ensure your messages are going out at the most important times for your organization. For example, many organizations conduct end-of-year fundraising campaigns because people are more likely to give during the holidays, and those organizations send more email messages during this time. Or, if your organization hosts a big event at some point during the year, or your focus area has a specific awareness month, you may choose to ramp up communications to promote it. Some organizations will simply choose to send emails at a regular cadence throughout the year, like a monthly newsletter. No two organizations are the same, and the most important thing is to align with your strategic plan.

For each individual email, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the most common days companies and organizations send emails, so sending on a Monday or a Friday instead can be a good way to break through the clutter. Additionally, according to HubSpot, emails with calls to action tend to perform better on Saturdays, so if you’re considering a major donation ask, don’t be afraid to send it during the weekend when many of your stakeholders aren’t busy at work.

It’s also important to keep in mind your sender reputation and deliverability. It’s estimated a nonprofit can lose about $14,000 per year because 12 percent of its emails go to spam folders. To help improve your engagement, you can create a list of people who are currently disengaged with your email messaging and suppress them from most emails as part of your segmentation strategy. This can help improve your email engagement metrics and ensure email inboxes don’t mistakenly categorize your emails as spam. After giving those disengaged contacts some time without hearing from you, you can try to get them involved again with a compelling message, or simply ask them if they’d like to stay subscribed to your organization’s emails.

Don’t just measure your email metrics; use your findings to make improvements.

At Prosper Strategies, we’re constantly reiterating the importance of marketing measurement, because it’s the only way to be sure your marketing plan is delivering on its goals and, in turn, contributing to your organizational goals.

It’s not enough to simply track your email open rates and click through rates over time and hope they get better. Think critically about how you can improve your emails based on what you learn from those metrics. Assess which subject lines and calls to action receive better results, and use those learnings to make every email you send more engaging and effective than the last.

Depending on the email platform you use, you can also gain some valuable insights into your email subscribers, like where they live, whether they’re more likely to use a mobile device or a computer to view emails, and what content they’re most likely to engage with. You can use these insights in addition to more general open and click rates to deliver engaging content.

And finally, don’t underestimate the power of A/B testing to learn more about what messages resonate most with your audiences. You can use A/B testing to assess the effectiveness of subject lines and calls to action on a small group of recipients before sending it to the rest of your list to ensure your emails are as engaging as possible.

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