Setting up your outbound emails

Surely, you can test email marketing by going into Outlook or Gmail and hitting send right?

No, you can’t.

And don't call me Shirley

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Putting a bunch of people in the To: line of an email gives everyone’s email address to everyone else. This will royally tick off everyone who is on the list, making your list smaller and far angrier at you. And let the fates help you if someone decides to reply to all.
  • You’ll just put them in the BCC line instead? Both every email system worth its salt and AOL will recognize your message as spam, putting it in email purgatory with emails like online scams, pictures of (redacted), and (really really redacted) that you won’t be able to get out of your mind.
  • You can’t effectively customize emails. The loveliest sound to all of us, from the age of two-ish on, is the sound of our own name. Not having a name in an email isn’t a cardinal sin, but it is a venal one.
  • You can’t test and you can’t effectively report results. This is a cardinal sin. The commandments say “Thou shalt test,” and implied within that is being able to measure the results of said test.You may argue that it isn’t actually a commandment, but it will be at least as helpful to you in your career as anything that anyone says about donkey-coveting.
  • Your emails will look bad. This is not necessarily a deal-breaker. Ugly can often convert well. Let me rephrase: your emails will not look like you intend them to. That is the deal-breaker.

So you want some email software to help automate your sending. The things you are looking for are:

  • Quality reporting, including open rates, click-through rates, click-through rates on each link, unsubscribe rates, and (ideally) conversions. If you can’t measure conversions through your email reporting, you can set up different forms for each email and measure it on the back end.
  • Ideally, you want to be able to address people by name as discussed above. Also, you’d like to be able to customize other information. I’ve seen double-digit response rate increases just through simple state customization like “help reduce childhood cancer rates in XXStateXX.”
  • Mobile adaptivity. We’ll talk more about this in coming months, but if you had to choose whether something will look good on mobile or on desktop, you might choose mobile. Fortunately, you shouldn’t have to choose.
  • Form management. Your email provider should ideally have forms that allow people to sign up that automatically go into your email database. This moves people through your system easily and makes your life a lot easier.
  • Managing unsubscribes, email preferences, etc. Same reason.

If you absolutely must have free, you might want to look at Vertical Response, which gives you 10,000 emails per month free, and MailChimp, which gives you 12,000/month. Please post your comments in the, you know, comments section on either system.  I’m starting up with MailChimp, so if you would like to test the user experience for receiving newsletters, you can sign up at right. (hint hint)

However, I strongly urge you to look into email providers that you may pay for, in that it’s really nice to have an email system that ties into your larger database, is part of a true CRM system, or can be part of a larger marketing platform. Take a look at user ratings of different email systems (and different types of systems). This does bode well for MailChimp, which was highly reviewed for small and medium enterprises.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about actual email content.

Setting up your outbound emails

Starting a direct marketing program

There really is no reason not to have some form of direct marketing program. Strong use of, at the very least, email can lead to incremental revenues for your organization and deepen the ties that your supporters have to you. But jumping in with both feet can be extremely expensive for your organization and hurt your ability to fulfill your mission.

So how should you start? Blackbaud counsels you in their guide:

“The best way for your organization to tell if it is direct marketing-ready is to conduct a feasibility study with a proven direct marketing strategist. You wouldn’t launch a capital campaign or any major change in strategy without first consulting the experts in this area; the same should be said for direct marketing.”

So obviously you don’t want to do that.

Seriously. Don’t do that.

This is for a few reasons:

  • It will be expensive, just for the consultant.
  • Asking a direct marketing consultant whether you should do a direct marketing program is like asking your seven-year-old daughter if you should get a pony. (Yes, this is a gender-based stereotype. I base this solely on my own daughter, who would answer very much in the affirmative.) It is in their best interest for you to take your entire reserves and start acquiring donors every channel. For example, did you know that Blackbaud, who recommends you hire a direct marketing consultant, provides direct marketing consultants?This is not to pick on Blackbaud. (OK, maybe a little.) But while almost all consultants of my acquaintance are too professional to start spending your second mortgage on list rentals and will try to recommend a reasonable approach, they don’t necessarily have the entire view of your organization and competing priorities in mind.
  • You don’t need one. You can start a direct marketing program on the cheap and learn many of the things you need to know for a full-scale program without a consultant.

One of our mantras here is going to be to test everything – fire bullets, then cannonballs. Or it would be if we were to start having mantras. You will likely eventually need an agency and they can be a great creative and strategic partner. And you are going to make mistakes at first, but better than you are making the mistakes yourself than paying someone else to make them.

So let’s start with testing and let’s start with free. For acquisition, look at what you have around you already. You probably have lists already – people who you’ve served, alumni, gala attendees, walkers, open house attendees, whatever. These are all warm leads – people already pre-disposed to supporting you.

For there, develop your online warm lead acquisition machine. Do you have white papers, tip sheets, pledges, petitions, or any other online interactions? Ask for an email address and permission. Then, start pushing people to those pages, through smart use of search engines and Google Grants.

Now, start up your email newsletter. It need not be fancy. But it needs to be about what the donors and volunteers are making possible. And then it can also be about what additional support can do for the mission.

This skips over a few key things for your free start to direct marketing:

So, we have our marching orders for the rest of the week, with a post on each. Thanks for reading!

PS. If you still think you need a consultant, let me know. I’ll be inexpensive and I can pad this blog post to well over 50 pages, assuming I can add in some charts and graphs.

Starting a direct marketing program