Email is the foundation of your non-profit resource development program

A few days ago, while vacationing in Michigan for the Labor Day weekend, I started reading “The Social Media Bible” by Lon Safko. As the pages turned and I read about marketing within a social media framework (including tactics, tools and strategies), I can’t tell you how many “ah-ha” and “hmmmm” fundraising moments that I experienced. On Tuesday, the book inspired me to post about the costs associated with bad word of mouth and how this should evolve into a “generative question” around which to organize your board meetings. Yesterday, the book had me wondering how many of your donors are “lurkers”.  Today, we end this week’s series with a tip of the hat to the importance of email.

Safko reminds readers on page 62 that email is a lot older than you may remember. Sure, the first email was sent “around 7:00 pm in the autumn of 1971 as a test . . .”  However, when you stop to think about it, many of us have actively and heavily been using email as an information tool (and many times inappropriately as a communication tool) for two decades.

On page 63, Safro shares a chart comparing direct mail to email marketing. I’ve tried to re-create that chart for you below:

Table 3.1

Direct Mail versus E-Mail Marketing

(Source: The Social Media Bible 3rd edition, page 63)
Measurement Direct Mail E-Mail
Development Time 3 to 6 weeks 2 days
Cost per Unit $1.25 $0.10
Response Rate 0.1 to 2 percent 5 to 15 percent

In the table underneath this one (table 3.2), Safro lists a number of primary goals that businesses reported in a benchmark survey on

Can you guess which primary goal topped the list for companies email marketing programs?

If you guessed “Build relationships with existing customers,” then you are correct!

So, I suggested in today’s blog post title that email is really the cornerstone of most non-profit organization’s resource development programs. I came to this conclusion (kind of like those old forehead slapping V8 commercials) after reading the last few data points. Let’s do the math . . .

  • It takes less time to develop a stewardship piece that you email compared to the one you drop-off at the post office.
  • Communicating ROI to donors via email is significantly cheaper than a paper newsletter or mail piece.
  • More people will read your email piece; whereas, your letter or newsletter is likely bound for the shredder before it is even opened.
  • Our for-profit cousins (who have all of the money and calculate every ROI angle) have determined that email marketing programs are great for “building relationships”.

As I think back to my days on the front line, I start counting how many emails and html email documents I sent donors compared to stewardship letters and paper newsletters. From a pure “tally ’em up” perspective, it is now obvious to me how important email has become to most non-profit organization’s resource development programs.

So, here is the kicker . . .

When I speak to the average small non-profit organization about how many email addresses they have in their donor database and the size of  their email house file, it is typically very small.

  • Are you asking donors to provide their email addresses on your annual campaign pledge cards? Maybe.
  • Are you including an email field on your special event registration forms? Not typically.
  • Are you asking donors to provide their email as part of an eNewsletter request on your website. No.
  • Do you use online donor surveys as a way to capture donor email addresses? Huh?
  • Do you run online contests to secure donor email addresses? Never.
  • Do you flat-out just ask donors to provide their email address to you? No.

If email marketing is a relationship development tool according to the for-profit industry, then non-profits need to focus their efforts and start catching up.

In fact, email is more than just a cornerstone for your organization’s resource development program . . . it forms the foundation of your agency’s social media strategy (which is the funnel you need to get donors to the info on your website and that coveted “Donate Now” button).

Before some of you burn me at the stake for this blog post, please understand that I am not advocating elimination of your more traditional marketing and mail strategies. I am suggesting that the future is all about cross-channel communication and putting the decision-making into the hands of donors. THAT is what I call being “donor-centered”!!!

How many email addresses does your organization have in its house file or donor database? How did you acquire them? What strategies worked better than others? Have you tracked and compare your donor retention rates between donors who receive ROI info via email versus other traditional methods? Do you see a difference?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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