Sending your first email

Now you have an email client. And I have a print version of what I’d like to send. I can just put it in a PDF and attach it, right?

No. An effective email is not:

  • An attached PDF. PDFs limit interactivity and frequently exceed attachment limitations on emails, which limit deliverability.
  • An email asking someone to click to go to your newsletter online. Every click you add adds friction to the process and increases the likelihood that people will abandon your newsletter, especially when you don’t have the space to explain what you want them to do.
  • An email asking someone to download your PDF newsletter. All of the disadvantages of a PDF with the additional friction of an added click.

This brings up the question of what it is. A good email is:

  • About the person receiving it. “I” is bad. “You” is good. Me Tarzan. You Jane. Seriously, though, you want to be talking to donors, volunteers, and other supporters what they are doing through you. You are the tool that good people use to do good things. You should brag about yourself about as much as an Allen wrench brags about those Hemnes dressers it made.“We” is controversial. My perspective on it is that it depends on the use of “we.” If “we” is your nonprofit, it’s bad. If “we” is the community of people dedicated to making a cause come to pass, and you can clearly delineate it as such (this is hard to do), it can be good. “We” in the sense of Queen Victoria expressing her lack of amusement: awesome.
  • About a discrete topic. Frequently, email newsletters try to be all things to all people, instead of telling a compelling story.
  • About an interesting topic. This sounds like it would be self-evident, but you would be amazed about email newsletters that talk about the check presentation that just happened or the award from the local Chamber of Commerce the nonprofit received. Most bad topics fail the first test of whether they are about the person receiving it, but some other bad ones are about the person receiving it, but forget that that person is a person and thus is both self-interested and not immortal (thus not having ultimate time to read your newsletter).
  • Equipped with what you want people to do. You do not want to wind up your audience and not have them know what they are supposed to do with their new information.

If you are just starting out, try a few different types of emails to see what resonates with your audience. A few to try:

  • Thank you emails, whether it’s for donating or volunteering or simply being an email subscriber. People generally complain as much about being thanked too often as they hate being too handsome or too rich. Or so I’m told by handsome and rich people.
  • Urgent! Email is the perfect medium to get out timely communications. I’ll talk about ways to take advantage of this with things like matching gifts, but an urgent email is usually a good one.
  • Other ways to support. You will eventually be asking for money by email and if you are doing it right, you will be doing it often. To lay the groundwork for this, be sure to mix in other ways to support your organization that don’t involve a credit card. This can be volunteering, advocating, telling friends about something important, taking a pledge, giving your more information about their preferences, engaging in a cause-related marketing campaign and more.
  • The inside scoop. People love to get exclusive information, to feel like they are inside the velvet rope. One great example of this was chronicled in The Audacity to Win, David Plouffe’s account of the 2008 Obama campaign. In it, he reveals that offering people the opportunity to get the VP pick texted to them increased their mobile subscribers by 1500%. It can work for you too.

These learnings can be the background for your entire direct marketing campaign. Now is the time to find your voice and the issues that work for you, before it costs a lot of money to get that message out.

These are the basics. Now, you need a list. We’ll start that discussion tomorrow.

Sending your first email

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