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TechSoup Battles: The Newsletter Challenge

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It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for all week: TechSoup Battles are back, and ready for our first challenge! Our challenge this week was to send out an e-newsletter to let people know about our upcoming Net2 Toronto event. As we each tried to find the best tool for the challenge, we both ran into a similar problem: how do we pick which tool to try out?

(Wondering what we're talking about? Find out why there is turmoil at TechSoup Canada)

Since Tierney and I are duking it out for this challenge, we came up with this framework for deciding on the tools and then picked our tool of choice:

a) Ask an expert

Why do a detailed review of every tool out there when someone’s already done it for you?

I love Idealware because they break down your choices based on the size of your organization, the cost of the email campaign tool, the complexity of your needs as well as the technical knowledge required to use some of these tools. What the article doesn’t offer is a side-by-side comparison of the popular tools.

For a comparison of features of cloud applications (which is most email newsletter tools), Platformation’s review is a good place to check. What I love about the Platformation Project is their focus on reviewing the terms and conditions of the privacy policy on all tools. This is something that most organizations do not have the time for and is a valuable service to our sector.

Noorin from Platformation submitted a video overview of her review for the email campaign tools. Have a look and let us know what you think! Better yet, make your own video response about the tool you are using!

b) Ask the community

Since Tierney’s the community manager, she beat me to getting feedback from the community.

Tierney: I put out a call on Twitter and Facebook to find out what newsletter tools people had tried and liked. Here were some of the responses I got:

MailChimp and Constant Contact Feedback from Twitter: MailChimp

Feedback from Facebook Input from Facebook: Vertical Response and MailChimp

Seeing that MailChimp came up so many times (and I have also heard about it from many nonprofits previous to this) was a key factor in deciding to choose it as my newsletter tool of choice for this challenge.

c) Test features that are key for your organization

This was not an easy decision, both Benchmark and Vertical Response offers most of the key features we are looking for:

  1. We wanted the ability to have multiple email lists (“By the Cup” Newsletter, Product Alert, and for this challenge)
  2. We wanted a robust tool that had high deliverability and is reasonably priced for high volumes of emails and contacts.
  3. Mostly because I am a data nerd, the ability to create segments that are based on if people have opened and clicked through an email as well as if they fit with a pre-defined criteria made Vertical Response a front runner for us.

Tierney: One of the key features that I was looking for is the ability to allow my subscribers to manage their subscription to different types of emails. Of course if all I’m using MailChimp for is to send out an invite to my event attendees, then it doesn’t matter. But I know that down the line I may want to add By The Cup and our Product Alert as well, so I want to make sure the system is flexible enough to handle this.

Bringing it all together

So after all that, we dove in and tried it out! Here’s a few of the highlights (see Tierney’s review for more details on MailChimp and my review for a look at Vertical Response):

Tierney reviews MailChimp

Jane reviews Vertical Response

Cost Free for under 2,000 subscribers and less than 12,000 emails per month.
Cost/month increases based on the # of subscribers. 15% discount for Canadian charities and possibly nonprofits (see comments on this page)
Free for under 10,000 emails per month for registered charities. 15% discount for amounts over 10,000 emails.
Quick description Extremely easy to use, lots of features, integrates with a lot of other systems. Main caution is their terms of service Relatively easy to use, robust segmentation that allows you to create targeted list based on if people have opened or clicked on previous emails and allow you to combine different lists.
Might be a good fit if... You are a small nonprofit and want to get started with enewsletters.
You already have a bunch of systems in place and need something that will integrate with what you already have
You are running multiple campaigns and need to send different types of emails to different target audience. Or if you are a small nonprofit and would like to use the same tool for email campaigns, surveys, managing events and social media.

Now, in order to make a compelling newsletter that people will actually read and respond to, here’s a couple of resources to help you with a newsletter strategy:

Our next challenge is to organize an event. We need to coordinate the event details and track RSVPs. This time, the stakes are raised... not only do we need to carry out the challenge, but we need to (ideally) integrate with our newsletter tool.

What tools do you recommend for us to try out? Share your thoughts on Twitter (#TechSoupBattles), Facebook, below in the comments or send us an email. Thanks to everyone who has shared thoughts & ideas so far!