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Nonprofits Lagging in Customized Email Marketing

Resource Center - Foundation

(Nov. 3, 2009) While many nonprofits are displaying increasing sophistication in email marketing, few have taken the leap into email customization, a recent study shows.

The report, which tracked the email communications of 50 nonprofit advocacy and arts organizations over a 30 day period, found that the organizations, as a whole, were effective at basic email best practices in order to forge relationships with prospective supporters and donors.

Most organizations had a highly visible and user-friendly registration form for email newsletters and updates (and 76 percent had a link to the form on their homepage). Plus, 62 percent of organizations studied sent new subscribers a welcome email message--a higher percentage than commercial marketers, only 40 percent of which sent a welcome message.

Ninety percent of nonprofits sent their welcome message within 24 hours--showing that nonprofits are following this best practice.

However, the email marketing firm Return Path says the challenge for nonprofits is moving beyond the basics of email marketing to sending even more engaging email through customization. A key element of customized messaging is having an easy-to-complete form that captures relevant information about your subscribers. Only 20 percent of the organizations studied collected demographic data. Almost none of the organizations used the information they collected at sign-up to truly customize their messages, notes the report.

Customization involves channeling messages to subgroups of donors or supporters based on their stated interests and attributes. The aim, as with all nonprofit marketing and communications, is to better connect with people. Examples of this include targeting donors and supporters geographically with local-specific news, providing contact information for local politicians or segmenting content based on subscribers' varied interests.

Customized email and segmentation of your donor/supporter list means moving beyond a one-size-fits-all message toward a one-to-one model.

Orienting the New Subscriber

Nonprofit organizations are also missing out on the power of email marketing to educate new subscribers about the organization's goals and mission, the report says. More than half of all organizations (58 percent) sent a newsletter as their first regular email. Another 25 percent sent a request to join their organization or donate. Seventeen percent sent some other type of email message (for example, arts organizations sent retail information about their gift shops). Instead, the first email message should be a special note to new subscribers that tells your organization's story or further explains your mission.

"Marketers need to remember the unique advantages of email marketing," said Bonnie Malone, director of response consulting at Return Path. "If a new subscriber has indicated interest in your organization, you have the power to tell your story completely and convert someone's interest into passion. There are easy-to-use tools available for nonprofits to send specific, introductory emails designed to pique new subscribers interest-before that person receives the organization's standard email newsletter."

For several examples of ways advocacy and arts organizations are effectively using email in their nonprofit marketing, and for advice on customizing your messages to donors, Return Path's study can be downloaded here.

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