Plenty of marketing and fundraising bloggers will lead you to believe that email marketing is not an effective way to build donor relationships. Sure, it might help increase awareness of your cause. But according to some critics, as far as generating long-lasting support goes, there are more effective outreach strategies available that help nonprofits connect with supporters on a deeper level.
While it may be true that certain email strategies or approaches are dead (or dying), it’s clear that email marketing as an outreach mechanism is alive and well. In fact, average nonprofit email open rates have increased in recent years, rising by almost 5% in 2019. The key to effective email marketing is connecting with donors as individuals, optimizing your content through careful research, and making your emails more natural and compelling.
Here are the top strategies for boosting donor loyalty and engaging new donors with your email campaigns:
- Use segmentation to create relevant content.
- Humanize your communications.
- Conduct A/B testing to choose design elements.
- Create the right cadence.
If your organization has an email marketing professional on staff and a strong email list, you can easily adapt these strategies into your own practices. However, if you feel you need more support when it comes to building your email marketing list, maintaining a clean dataset, and managing ongoing campaigns, there are plenty of email marketing firms that offer these services.
Either way, you’ll be set up to drive more loyalty with your email marketing campaigns. Let’s get started.
Use segmentation to create relevant content.
Not all individuals within your organization’s donor base share the same characteristics. They vary in their backgrounds, involvement histories, donation type, interests, and other traits. It’s important to treat donors like the unique individuals that they are.
According to AccuData Integrated Marketing’s digital marketing guide, you should avoid sending uniform content to your entire email audience. Instead, craft tailored campaigns for each segment of your audience. This allows you to create relevant content for each group, while still taking advantage of the benefits of bulk outreach (such as saving time).
To create your segments, group supporters by their shared characteristics. Create segments composed of your:
- Prospects: Prospects are the individuals you’ve identified through the prospect research process who have both the ability and willingness to contribute a larger donation to your cause. These audience members would appreciate introductory information that helps them get to know your organization better and motivates them to become donors.
- New donors: The period right after a supporter has donated for the first time represents a critical moment to capture their ongoing attention. New donors would also benefit from introductory email campaigns and a welcome series that explores your organization’s mission and history.
- Long-time donors: Long-term supporters are already on board with your cause and don’t need the intro spiel. However, these individuals are likely interested in discovering new ways to engage with your cause.
- Recurring donors: Your monthly donors engage with your organization regularly and would be interested in your organization’s ongoing projects and fundraising progress.
- Lapsed donors: Just because a certain supporter has stopped giving doesn’t mean they never want to give again. Your email campaigns can recapture the interest of lapsed donors.
- Volunteers: Volunteers are often overlooked as a donation source, but these supporters are likely to contribute their funds to your organization in addition to their time. Create a volunteer segment to share both donation and volunteer opportunities.
Once you’ve finalized your segments, think about how you can craft creative, engaging content for each group. For instance, your new donors might enjoy an email campaign that focuses on introducing key staff members and community members who drive your organization’s mission, while long-time donors may want to hear about your new programs or events.
When you work to understand your audience segments, you can connect them with opportunities that align with their interests and preferences— whether it’s donation opportunities, volunteer experiences, or any other engagement opportunities. This can lead to greater supporter satisfaction, and in turn, a stronger sense of loyalty to your nonprofit.
Humanize your communications.
No one likes feeling like they’re just a cog in your organization’s machine. If your email campaigns feel cold, robotic, or impersonal, donors won’t be inclined to continue engaging with you.
The solution? Put a human touch in all email correspondence.
Double the Donation recommends the following tips for humanizing your fundraising emails:
- Tell a cohesive story. Give your organization a human face by telling your story through the lens of the people involved in your nonprofit. For example, this email fundraising guide recommends telling the story of a single beneficiary of your nonprofit’s services. This gives audience members a more intimate understanding of what your organization does and how it helps community members.
- Write as if you’re communicating with a friend. Recipients should feel as if each email you send was written by a real person (because, unless you’re using some kind of artificial intelligence email creator, it was!) Keep your tone friendly and conversational. Open with a friendly greeting— if all else fails, “Hi [Name]” is always a good choice. Include inquiries into supporters’ wellbeing. For example, you can kick off each email with something like “Hi Mateo, I hope you’ve had a restful weekend and are ready to join the fight against climate change!”
- Use “you” statements. Keep the focus of your emails on your audience members, not your nonprofit. For instance, instead of saying “Our organization builds homes for worthy community members,” you can say “It’s because of generous donors like you that our community members can have a home of their own.”
When it comes to humanizing your email campaigns, the process works on both sides. You want your supporters to associate your organization with a personal, friendly feeling. At the same time, you must recognize your supporters as unique individuals.
You can do this by ensuring all of your emails are personalized. Here are a couple of quick tips for personalizing your messages:
- Use supporters’ preferred names in your greeting. Personalized greetings like “Good morning Alexander” and “Hello, Priya” feel much more genuine and capture attention better than generic salutations.
- Reference their involvement history. Supporters will feel appreciated as individuals when you mention their specific contributions. For instance, you might say “Thank you for your donation of $25 to our Save the Whales campaign” or “We noticed you recently joined our tree planting volunteer day and wanted to send along a few similar opportunities.”
Studies and surveys have shown that personalized email content has a major impact on engagement and marketing return on investment. By personalizing your email outreach, you entice supporters to click on your messages. Then, your friendly, engaging tone encourages them to read through your content.
Conduct A/B testing to choose design elements.
When creating an email campaign, there are countless combinations of design elements and content types to choose from. Trying to figure out what will work best for driving engagement and conversions can become overwhelming. That’s where A/B testing comes in.
A/B testing is a popular direct marketing tactic that helps nonprofits see a higher return on investment (ROI) from their marketing efforts. It involves creating two different versions of a marketing message and assessing which one is more effective for completing your goals. Your objectives might be driving donations, getting supporters to sign up for volunteer activities, or any other desired actions.
You can conduct A/B tests to assess which versions of your email campaigns are most effective or which design choices are most engaging. Try changing up your:
- Subject line. You might find a major difference between “[First Name], we need your help” and “[First Name], act now to help keep our youth program in motion!”
- Images. You might assess the efficacy of using a group shot of your volunteers interacting with community members vs. a solo portrait of a constituent.
- Length. Analyze the effectiveness of your short, medium, and long emails to determine which messages have a higher click-through rate.
- Format. Your emails don’t have to have the same format each time. Try changing up how you organize your messages’ combinations of text, images, and buttons.
As you carry out your A/B testing, be sure to only change one email aspect at a time to determine which specific changes lead to the greatest impact. A/B testing is a great way to gain direct feedback from your audience and appeal to their preferences, generating more engagement.
Create the right cadence.
The frequency of your email campaigns should feel natural and inviting to recipients, not annoying or obtrusive. When it comes to determining how often you should send out emails, take a Goldilocks approach— you don’t want to send too many that it becomes annoying, or too few that your supporters forget about you. Find a balance that’s “just right” between these options.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. How can you know for sure what the right amount of emails is? There is no magic formula that will help you see the greatest ROI because every organization is different. However, you can start to find the right balance by understanding what types of emails you should be sending. These include:
- Welcome emails. When you connect with a new supporter for the first time, you’ll want to send a slightly higher number of emails than you would for a long-time subscriber who already knows all about you. Use your introductory emails to welcome new supporters to your organization and lay out everything they need to know about your mission, goals, and the community members you serve.
- Emails describing multiple ways to get involved. Your donors don’t just want to hear about donation opportunities, just like your volunteers don’t just want to hear about volunteer opportunities. Use your email campaigns to invite supporters to engage in a wide variety of ways, from attending your events to participating in your peer-to-peer fundraisers.
- Recurring newsletters. Along with your more targeted email campaigns, you may also send out an occasional newsletter. Your newsletters can provide updates on ongoing projects and programs as well as any upcoming events you have on the calendar.
Once you have a clear understanding of the type of emails you want to send, you can think about how often you should distribute them. For example, perhaps you send a series of five emails across five weeks as part of your welcome series. Or, you decide to send one newsletter a month to provide a broad overview of your activities.
You can also use A/B testing to determine the right cadence for your email campaigns. Try sending emails more regularly and then take a longer break between messages. Then, determine the level of engagement you receive from each cadence.
Also, to gain access to direct feedback, send a survey asking supporters how regularly they prefer to be contacted. Be sure to include an opt-out button in your emails as well for those who don’t want to engage any longer, and respect their choice by ceasing communications.
Finding the right email cadence allows you to appeal to supporters’ communication preferences, reducing the chances that they’ll choose to unsubscribe.
Donor loyalty can be an elusive objective. But with strategic audience research and a personalized communication approach, you can work more effectively to meet donors where they are and appeal to their interests.
And, when your email campaigns are optimized for donor engagement, you can use them to complement other outreach efforts on your website and social media pages. You can share your email newsletters across these platforms and encourage followers to subscribe. This helps reinforce your message and branding across multiple channels, inspiring greater brand recognition and loyalty. Good luck!
Author: Gabrielle Perham, MBA, Director of Marketing
Gabrielle is the Director of Marketing for AccuData Integrated Marketing. She joined the organization in 2017 and possesses more than 15 years of experience in strategic marketing, branding, communications, and digital marketing. She earned a B.S. in Marketing and an M.B.A in Marketing Management from the University of Tampa.