How to Make Email Campaigns Work (So They Actually Get Read!)

Quick stat: Ninety-one percent of U.S. consumers check their email daily. For nonprofits, this means countless opportunities to connect with “our people” in meaningful ways, through their inbox.

Rise above the other 120 emails office folks like you and I receive every day—and reap the rewards—with these 5 tips.

1. Let’s be clear, here.

Above all: Write with concise, friendly authority. Be clear from the start about the email’s intention, so readers understand its purpose and, more importantly, respond with action. Whether it’s a thank-you email, appeal video or newsletter, keep the email limited to one key concept and put it front and center. Other tips:

  • Write the way you speak. Adopt a conversational tone but accurately convey facts.
  • Lead with a clear call to action to set the stage and let readers know what you want them to do. Weave the concept of the CTA throughout the email to reinforce the need and reader response.

2. Subject lines are really subject teasers.

Leave the readers wanting more. The goal of a subject line is to grab readers’ attention, make a strong first impression and nudge them to click through to the heart of what you want to say.

Like all of your writing, approach even the simplest subject line from the reader’s point of view. Other ways to optimize subject lines:

  • Make it short. HubSpot recommends fewer than 50 characters.
  • Personalize, if possible, or simply try using subject lines with “you” in them. Remember: People connect with people, not organizations.
  • Convey urgency with words like, “We’re so close, Mary …” or “24 hours left to give …”
  • Weave in a little mystery. “You won’t believe this …” Or “BIG NEWS about our new building!”

3. Your email list is your golden ticket.

Make time to properly maintain it. Regularly update, segment and clean your email list. It’s not enough to be continually adding names to your send list (and feeling like your email list is growing) if those already on it never even see it.

How often should you clean your email lists? No right or definitive answer exists, but a good rule of thumb is to clean every three months for monthly emails. For weekly emails, clean your list once a month.

4. Make it easy to read on the fly—and on the phone.

On average, we look at our phone 80 times a day (rather embarrassing to admit) and over half of emails are opened via a mobile device. With that in mind, how do you ensure that your email looks good and is easy to read on a phone?

  • Stick with one column of text. While multiple columns retain an organized layout on a desktop or laptop, they can become jumbled on a mobile device. Mobile-friendly templates automatically resort to a one-column format, resize images and use optimal font sizes for easier readability.
  • Use bullets and copy “blurbs,” or shorter paragraphs, to break up the page.
  • Use 1 or 2 of your best images. A picture is worth a thousand words, but not always with mobile devices. Using too many photos can cause the page to become slow to load or not at all.
  • Use buttons instead of links. They’re easier to find and readers won’t have to zoom in to click a link.

5. Personalizing is priority.

Most of us still like to get a personal, handwritten mail. It’s a nice surprise between bills and anonymous junk mail. Our email inboxes are no different.

People will choose a personalized email, including their name and attuned to their interests and giving preferences, over a generic promotional piece any day.

The easiest way to make your emails personal: Write as if you’re talking to one person. Imagine your friend the donor, volunteer, board member sitting in front of you and picture him or her as you’re writing. What would you say to them?

Subtle but smart: A simple place to start email personalization is using people’s names. Using people’s first names creates instant affinity, a one-to-one story, and it feels like you’re telling it just to them.

We’re curious. What are your strategies for sending effective email campaigns? Feel free to share your nonprofit’s success story in comments, below.

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