Email isn’t dead yet - it’s still an important tool for engaging your supporters. And whether you have an email list of 12 or 120,000, there’s always room for improving how you engage these supporters. At our June Toronto Net Tuesday, Eric Squair joined us to share what he’s learned from years of experience on email campaigns with organizations such as Greenpeace Canada and Make Poverty History. He focused on two main areas: how to grow your email list, and how to keep people reading what you send them.
1. How to grow your email list
The key idea that Eric emphasized was to offer people something they value. After all, why would you (personally) sign up for a newsletter if it didn’t give you something you wanted? That could be a whole range of things, for example:
- Upcoming events - e.g. theatre performances this weekend, political rallies in your community
- Ways to improve their lives - e.g. tips for green living
- Humour - Eric shared the example of DreamHost, who does a great job of making a boring topic (website hosting) interesting with their humourous writing style
If you’re not sure what value it is that you bring, ask yourself “what is your superpower?” What is it that you can provide better than anyone else? After all, if there are companies that can turn boring topics like web hosting into engaging newsletters, then chances are your nonprofit has something to offer.
Eric also mentioned that in some cases, a good approach is to “trade” something for an email address. For example you could offer people the opportunity to subscribe to your newsletter when downloading a report on your site - chances are that if they are interested in the report, they may be interested in other stuff you have to share.
2. How to keep people engaged
According to a study done in the US, the average open rate for a nonprofit newsletter is 14%. Depending on your situation that may be exciting or depressing, but it goes to show that on average there are lots of people who sign up and then stop reading emails. So how do you keep your open rates up? Eric said that the open rate is based on two factors:
- Your subject line
- Previous experience with the sender (this one is the most important)
In other words, if people find that your emails don’t provide the value they expected, they may unsubscribe or they may just stop opening your emails. This is most likely to happen if you focus entirely on yourself. This is why FreshBooks (a company that makes invoicing software) uses their newsletter to share tips for running a small business, instead of hyping their product. Similarly, if all you do is constantly ask for donations or stuff your newsletter full of every update/event that every department in your organization wants you to include, then your subscribers are likely to find less value.
Here’s a few suggestions on how to make your email by, for and about people:
- Include pictures of real people (not stock photos, not robots)
- Try reading your email aloud. If it sounds weird, then revise it.
- Sign your email (at the bottom) with your name and possibly a picture. After all, most of the emails we like are from individuals (friends, family). (A few notes on this: your ED probably isn’t a good choice unless they actually wrote the email, as it’s not very authentic. It might also make sense to switch up the name depending on the topic of the email - e.g. fundraising vs. upcoming events).
A few other tips when creating emails:
- Make your email easy to scan. People don’t read emails, they scan them.
- Don’t put long blocks of text (see previous point). All you need is some short text that will bring people to your website to read more.
- Make sure your email works with images turned off (as this is often the default). To do this, include key information in text headers instead/as well as in images.
What do you put in your newsletter to provide value for subscribers? Share your thoughts in the comments.