Email tools for your non-profit organization

With all of the social media services out there, sometimes you miss the one right in front of you. The one that most people use every single day. No it’s not Facebook. It’s not twitter. It’s email.

I know many of you are probably scratching your head and thinking that email isn’t part of the social media family, which is the position Peter Kim takes in his blog. Derek Halpern at DIY Themes blog makes the case for the other side. While I don’t want to engage in a debate over this question, I know these two things when it comes to email:

  1. People seem to use it for social purposes all of the time (e.g. organizing meetings, polling opinions, marketing, etc)
  2. People seem to use it to drive online traffic to their website and social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc).

Email can be used in many of the same ways as many of the social media sites. It is a great way to get news out to your organization’s supporters, share photos and redirect people to your online platforms.

The great thing about email is that it is a tool that people are used to using, and it is something about which they don’t need to learn anything new. Why does this matter? Well, it significantly increases the likelihood of people reading your content.

Today, we are going to take a brief look at a few services that can help your agency make the most out of email.

Constant Contact

Constant Contact is a paid service that can provide email marketing services to non-profits. They are a trusted name in email services for small businesses as well. Here are some features Constant Contact offers:

  • Email templates
  • Coaching & support
  • Social media links
  • Social media stats / analytics

Click here to access an online manual about how to access and use more advanced features associated with this service.

Other email marketing services

It feels like Constant Contact is the “Gold Standard” of email marketing services, especially if you pay attention to the television, radio and online advertising. However, I see a number of my non-profit friends using other services such as:

There is even one company out there — VerticalResponse — who offers a free service for non-profit organizations. While I suspect it is a scaled back version with limited features, it is something you may want to check out.

Develop a strategy

As with every other aspect of your ePhilanthropy and marketing program, you need to develop a strategy because “hope is not a strategy”. The following are just a few questions to help you get started:

  • Who is our target audience?
  • How should we build our agency’s email house file?
  • How often should we communicate with this group?
  • How does email marketing fit into our agency’s cross-channel communication strategy?
  • What type of content should we develop for this communication tool?
  • How do we prevent this tool from feeling like “one-way” communication and turn it into more of a two-way communication vehicle?

Our friends at published a great article titled “Nine Strategies for Smart Email Marketing” that you may want to check out.

Does your non-profit agency use email marketing as part of its marketing and ePhilanthropy plan? How is that going for you? What service do you use? Are you happy with it? What would you do differently if you had a chance to do it over again? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

What’s in your mailbox? Part 2

We started a conversation yesterday about direct mail when I posted “What’s in your mailbox? Part 1“. We looked at a political fundraising piece that showed up in my mailbox from Michelle Obama and dissected it. Today, we’re going to my mailbox and pulling out a newsletter that I recently received from Michael Noland, who is my state senator.

As I said yesterday, I believe “the average American can become educated about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to direct mail if they only pay attention to what is being sent to them, what they are opening (or not opening), and how and what they’re reading (or not reading).”

So, let’s open this newsletter and see what we’ve got.

The front page is actually quite simple. It contains a two paragraph letter from the senator explaining that the legislative session that just ended was busy. It essentially invites me to open the newsletter for an update on “what’s happened, the legislation he sponsored, and what he’s done to fight for me.”

Hmmm . . . the feel and tone of the letter makes this newsletter seem more like campaign literature. To be honest, I am hesitant to turn to page two; however, I will do so for you, my dear reader.  😉

This is a four page newsletter. So, when I turn the page I am looking at the middle of the newsletter — pages two and three. Here is what I am starting to notice:

  • Lots of pictures (four to be exact)
  • 18 point font headlines and 14 point news copy
  • Headlines are in color

I suspect the senator is concerned about senior citizens not being able to read his newsletter, which is why everything is so big.

You’ve heard it a million times . . . a picture is worth a thousand words. All of the pictures are of the senator doing something. He is talking to a concerned older couple. He is delivering the commencement speech at Elgin Community College (ECC). Since most people won’t spend more than as few seconds with this mail piece, pictures become very important in conveying quick information. In this instance, the senator obviously is trying to send the message that he is working hard on your behalf.

In a previous life, when I ran a weekly newspaper, we learned from reader surveys that big pictures and headlines were the first thing to which people paid attention. If the picture or headline was interesting, then they would make the decision to read the article. It is obvious that this newsletter is designed with thatsame principle in mind.

I don’t believe people read much anymore, which is an ironic observation for a blogger like myself to make. What I do believe is that people skim, and I suspect the senator believes the same thing when I look at his newsletter copy.

There are seven mini-articles with topics ranging from public employee pension costs and healthcare to child welfare and veterans. Nothing is more than one paragraph in length. It is written in the first person and very action oriented with phrases like:

  • “I co-sponsored . . .”
  • “I fought . . .”
  • “I believe . . .”

To translate all of this into non-profit terms, the senator is demonstrating to the voting public the return on investment for your vote. This is simply the senator stewarding voters in much the same way you steward your donors. The only difference is that you want your donors to renew their financial support and the senator wants people to vote for him again.

Let’s turn the page and look at the back of the newsletter.

I am invited to stay informed and encouraged to routinely visit the senator’s webpage for updates, news and email access. There is a monstrously large QR code on the page that I can scan with my cell phone, and it will take me to his website instantly.

Here are a few best practices that we can take away from our dissection of the senator’s newsletter today:

  1. Be mindful of font size, especially if your donors are older.
  2. Use lots of pictures to communicate information quickly.
  3. Use color and big headlines to make things pop off the page and generate interest in reading the newsletter copy.
  4. People skim . . . so keep stgories short and snappy. Short sentences and very few paragraphs.
  5. Cross-channel marketing . . . use the newsletter to drive people to your website where you can spend more time with them and go into more detail.

Personally speaking, I really dislike newsletters like this one. I believe that the typical slick/glossy, one color, four page newsletter is a thing of the past. I really liked the previous piece sent out by the senator. It was a one page bulletin that looked like what Penelope Burk describes in her book “Donor Centered Fundraising“.

If you are interested in learning more about what donor bulletins looks like and why they are more preferred by your donors, then I suggest that you go back and read the following three blog posts from last year:

If you want to see a copy of Senator Noland’s most recent newsletter so that you can compare it to what you read in these three donor-centered newsletter posts, then click here.

Does your non-profit organization use a newsletter to steward supporters and donors? Are you happy with it? What have you found in your experience works or doesn’t work? Please use the comment box below to share with your fellow non-profit professionals.

Here’s to your health!

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

Beyond newsletters

My last two blog posts have been about transitioning your boring, ineffective newsletter into something more “donor-friendly” and effective. Today, I will attempt to put a cherry on top of this “donor-centered” sundae, but talking about those things that non-profit organizations need to do IN ADDITION TO just mailing a newsletter. Again … I want to give credit where credit is due. Penelope Burk is the author of “Donor-Centered Fundraising” and she does a much more eloquent job of discussing all of this in her book.

So, after Penelope goes in-depth on her ideas on how to transform your newsletter into a donor-centered communication tool, she gently reminds us that our work is just now beginning. Briefly, here are some of her other thoughts (pages 104-108):

  • Use email to communicate with those donors who give you permission to do so. Talk about the IMPACT a donor’s contribution is making.
  • Use your website to post important information for your donors and demonstrate to the world how to be transparent and accountable. (See page 106-07 for Penelope’s website content ideas)
  • Visit your donors in-person and invite them to visit you and the programming in which they are investing.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told by resource development and non-profit professionals that they are hesitant to bother their donors because they are too busy. The next time you hear this from anyone, I encourage you to share this data quote from page 107 of Penelope’s book:

“72% of study donors have been invited on-site to one or more not-for-profits they support to see their work first hand. 77% of this group said that this is appealing and that the invitation is appreciated even when they are unable to go.”

It is true that we need to be respectful of our donors’ time, but we need to balance that with being respectful of their investment.

I will end today’s blog with a “tease” … tomorrow we will talk about which donors we should focus more of our energy on? In the meantime, please use the comment box below and weigh-in with your thoughts on the following questions:

  • What does your non-profit organization do in addition to a newsletter to inspire donor loyalty?
  • What did your last donor stewardship visit look like? Were there any surprising revelations or actions that came out of the visit?
  • When a donor has told you that they’re too busy to meet with you or visit your program, how have you handled it and made lemonade out of lemons?

We can learn from each other … please jump into the conversation.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

Donor centered newsletters Part two

On Friday, I used my blog post to start addressing a question posed by Susan Rudd from the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington in Indiana about donor-centered newsletters. Both Friday and today’s posts are based completely on the work of Penelope Burk’s book “Donor Centered Fundraising“. While I spent Friday sharing Penelope’s survey data in an effort to “make the case for change”, today I will share some thoughts (specifically from Penelope’s work) on what donor-centered newsletters look like.

On pages 99 through 103, Penelope Burk does a tremendous job of laying out her vision:

  • Turn the multi-page length newsletters into one-page bulletins complemented by a lengthier year-end annual report.
  • Sharply focus content on programmatic impact while taking great care not to turn it into a parade of yawn-inspired statistics (e.g. use success stories, client and/or donor testimonials, sporadic stats, etc. that has a “features news story feel to it”). Avoid fundraising news because donors see through it as blatant advertising. They want to know how their last contribution is making a difference not how they can make another contribution. The key here is always focus content on your organization’s “IMPACT AGENDA”.
  • The format of a one-page bulletin will mean there is very limited space after the masthead, a photo with cutline, list of board members, and contact info is included. So, content needs to be professional, crisp, compact and impactful.
  • The publication frequency can be driven by a well laid out schedule, but Penelope encourages us to be more organic and publish a one-page bulletin every time something newsworthy occurs. So, a bulletin could go out a number of months in a row and then go silent until something else of significance happens.

OK … so this might sound a little radical to some of you. It also might sound intimidating because this approach requires time, tender loving care, and professional writing skills (which many non-profits don’t have a lot of). It is for this reason, Penelope encourages those wishing to move in this direction to do the following (page 102):

“Newsletters, like all communication pieces produced by not-for-profit organizations, need to look sharp and professional but not expensive. In-house publishing software makes this entirely achievable today. The savings you can accrue through shorter production time, lower printing costs, cheaper postage, etc. can be turned back into programs and services or devoted to other communication enhancements. My choice would be to put that savings into contract writers.”

As a former writer and editor for a weekly newspaper and currently a non-profit / fundraising consultant and coach, I find it hard to argue with Penelope probably because it is in my best interest to agree with her. LOL.

With that disclosure, let me say this … I am happy to provide a free consultation to anyone investigating how to shift from boring ineffective newsletters to something more donor-centered. Who knows … you might even be able to engage my services, produce and mail your new donor-centered news bulletins for what is currently in your budget. Please contact me if you wish to talk.

So, what do you think? Does this new approach sound too radical? What are your barriers to change? Please use the comment box below and share your thoughts.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

Donor centered newsletters Part One

A few days ago, Susan Rudd from the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington in Indiana emailed me and asked: “Do you have any suggestions on how to make our newsletter more donor-centered?” I promised her that I’d think about it and blog about it this week. So, I immediately cracked open my copy of Penelope Burk’s book “Donor Centered Fundraising” and started researching. As you can imagine, there are lots and lots of data points (based on Penelope’s survey data), and I’ve decided to break my response into two separate blog posts.

Today’s blog post focuses on the case for changing your non-profit’s newsletter. Monday’s post will look at specific ideas on how to change this critically important donor communication tool. I again want to thank Penelope Burk for her groundbreaking research and reiterate that none of what I am about to share with you are my original thoughts or work. Please go out and purchase a copy of “Donor Centered Fundraising” … it will change your life!

The following is a quick summary of survey data on the current state of affairs regarding non-profit newsletters (please note that these results are based upon “survey respondents” and hopefully I don’t need to go into any detail with you about the limitations of survey research):

  • 66% of donors reported that “they don’t have time to read newsletters thoroughly”.
  • 58% of donors said they believe non-profit newsletters are “too long”.
  • The average newsletter dedicates 52% of space to programs/services and 24% of space to fundraising.
  • 99% of non-profits participating in the study produced printed newsletters and 22% also produced an e-newsletter.
  • Only 19% of donors reported that they were “satisfied” with the current length of the newsletters they receive.
  • Only one-third of donors said newsletter content is “exciting and compelling” with approximately the same number of respondents reporting that there is “too much fundraising content”.
  • 54% of donors feel that newsletters can be improved if “more targeted information on how donations are being used” was included.
  • 53% of donors said they are “concerned about the cost of newsletters”.

There can be no doubt after reviewing this research that there is but one conclusion — something must change if non-profits want to make the transition to a new donor-centered paradigm of resource development.

So, this is where I will leave the “cliff hanger” and ask that you take time this weekend to ponder the case for change. While digesting the facts, please ask yourself the following questions … How do my donors feel about our newsletter? Have I asked donors how they’d improve it?  What have I heard? If I haven’t asked, what is stopping me from doing so? How much of our content is focused on programmatic ROI versus fundraising? How “stale” is the newsletter content by the time donors receive it in their mailbox? If you get a chance, please share some of your observations in the comment box of this blog.

Stay tuned for part two of this series when I share some possible solutions with you on Monday.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653