Effective communication is a vital component of relationship management. This is especially true with relationships between nonprofits and their donors. If an individual, company, or foundation contributes a donation of any kind, they deserve to know where their money is going and how it’s helping your mission. If a donor is “in the know”, they feel they are a part of something important. That morale boost might lead to larger and more frequent donations down the road.
The trouble is, some nonprofits don’t have the resources to provide impact reports for every donation: “10% of your gift helped this department, 20% went to building this new facility, 12.5% is dedicated to…”
It would be a mistake to spend too much time analyzing how a major gift helps your nonprofit instead of actually putting that money to work.
Even while you may not have the ability to share every detail with donors, it is important to provide updates about your organization’s progress. One of the most effective methods of doing this (and thankfully one of the easiest and most affordable) is an email newsletter.
Here are a few ways to optimize your newsletters for better communication. You may also find opportunities to use newsletters as a “prospect nurturing” device to convert unknown prospects to major gift donors. More on that near the end of this post.
If you work for a nonprofit, you’re probably very passionate about the work you do. You would expect everyone on your mailing list to feel the same, right? That might be true for some, but consider that every recipient has to read dozens (or hundreds, gasp!) of emails a day. That means many emails will be discarded without even being read. Don’t let your nonprofit’s newsletter be one of those casualties!
Think long and hard about the cadence of your newsletter — meaning the day, time, and frequency of your emails. Do you want readers to react to a call-to-action first thing Monday morning, or browse an easy-reading roundup of news and updates on Friday afternoon? There are best practices for send times, but ultimately it is up to you and your team to determine this step.
Also consider each email’s subject line. Look through your own inbox and analyze what grabs your attention. Maybe there were special keywords that stood out, or the subject line offered an intriguing statement or question.
According to Salsa Labs: “Research has found that a subject line with 29-39 characters gets the best click-through rate and that a 4-15 character line has the best open rate.”
In case you’re unclear, open rate is the percentage of emails recipients opened versus how many emails you sent in total. Click-through rate indicates how many recipients clicked on links or images within your email (typically this suggests the recipient not only opened the email, but read the email’s content).
Newsletters can help or hinder your nonprofit’s brand image. If your emails include formatting errors, spelling mistakes, or generally seem to be thrown together, this can have a negative impact on readers. Try to follow the four c’s:
Simply providing news updates won’t be very enticing for every reader. If you can, try to share helpful information or upcoming events that will enrich the lives of your readers. Examples might include:
Social media can increase the visibility and engagement of your nonprofit newsletters. Be sure to include your organization’s social media links and icons within the email. At the top or near the bottom of the message are often the most effective places. Ask readers to forward emails to friends, family, and colleagues. You might even consider offering incentives for readers to do so, such as entry into a giveaway contest.
“Email messages are increasingly including options to share content on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. What’s more intriguing is that options to share on these social platforms generated a 115% better CTR (click-through-rate) than emails with no options to share the message.”
Your newsletter offers a tremendous opportunity to “nurture” unknown prospects. You can provide more information about your organization and mission that helps newcomers understand your nonprofit’s value to the community. You might include call-to-action links or buttons (such as “Donate Now”) at the bottom of each email. These are “soft-sell” techniques that aren’t as direct as, say, a phone call from a fundraiser.
If you have an email management system that allows you to view how individual readers interact with your emails, you might be able to establish a process for qualifying prospects based on their email activity.
Imagine an unknown individual signs up for your newsletter. They consistently open your emails and click on links about recent success stories. It might be a good time to gather some fundraising intelligence via a research platform like iWave.
Now you have a prospect profile and a report on the prospect’s digital interactions with your nonprofit. If these two pieces of the puzzle support each other, a major gift officer could reach out with a personal email or phone call to discuss donation opportunities.
Remember that newsletters are also an effective tool when stewarding current donors. By updating donors with information about your nonprofit’s work, you can keep your nonprofit top-of-mind until it’s time for a major gift officer to engage with the donor again.
Check out these additional resources to help you optimize your nonprofit newsletters and start thinking of email communications as another tool to assist your prospect research and fundraising efforts!
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About the author: Ryan McCarvill joined the iWave team in 2016. Ryan enjoys meeting and learning from nonprofit professionals, researching trends in the nonprofit community, and offering strategies for development teams to use iWave’s solutions to meet and exceed their fundraising goals.