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Nonprofits' Most Missed Marketing Tool—Email Signatures

By Nancy Schwartz

(June 30, 2009) Email signatures (a.k.a. sig lines) are powerful, low-cost, high-return marketing tools (a virtual business card or ad) for your foundation or organization. What's interesting is how seldom sig lines are used.

Consider this: If your organization has 30 employees, each of whom sends 15 emails daily outside the organization, then (assuming 250 business days) that's 112,500 business cards or ads distributed annually, at no cost. If you have 100 employees, that's 375,000 cards or ads annually.

What Is an Email Signature?

In general, your email signature is information automatically added as the last few lines of your outgoing email to let people know who/where/what you are. Consider your sig line as your online business card with "callback" abilities.

Here are a few examples:

Carmen Crinion
Project Director
Association of Small Foundations
Ph: 301-907-3337
Fax: 301-907-0980

Susan Michelson Brown
Director of Business Development
UCEDC
1085 Morris Avenue, Union, NJ 07083
Phone: 908.527.1166
Fax: 908.527.1207

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
NANCY SCHWARTZ & COMPANY
973-762-0079
http://www.nancyschwartz.com
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Results-Driven Marketing & Communications
for Nonprofits & Foundations

Marian Sroge
Senior Associate, League Services
Association of Junior Leagues Intl. Inc
132 West 31 Street, 11th floor
New York, NY 10001
212.951.8380
800.955.3248
msroge@ajli.org

What a Strong Email Signature Does for Your Organization

Making the most of your sig lines, for yourself and every colleague in your organization, is analogous to leaving your business cards—but even more powerful.

Most importantly, in this age when we're all inundated with too many emails, your email signature is a clear signal to your recipient that the message is from you and provides the context (e.g., job title, organization name and website) that reminds that person who you are and enriches their understanding of your message. That's a lot more than can quickly be deciphered from your email address in the "from" field.

Beyond this most basic benefit, your email signature is a business card or ad that alerts the recipient to special news and enables them to have direct access to your website or send email back to you with the swift click of a mouse.

How a Consistent Email Signature Style Benefits Your Organization

What's critical is that everyone in your organization uses the same sig line format. Specifics such as name, title, email, and direct phone line obviously will change. However, certain elements (organization name, website address, tagline) and the order of elements should be standard for all staff sig lines.

Sig line consistency benefits your organization in the following ways:

  • Builds a brand or recognizable identity for your organization. The sig line becomes a key element of overall branding.
  • Serves as a cognitive flag, enabling email recipients to make connections among emails received from various members of your organization.

Case Study

Here is an example of a good email sig and a recommendation to make it even stronger. To protect the innocent, I'll use a generic version of the sample I was analyzing for this example.

Example (9 lines):

Name
Title
Organization Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code

Phone
Fax
Email

I recommend cutting the street address (2 lines), line space, fax number, and email address and adding the organization's web address.

Recommendation (5 lines):

Name
Title
Organization Name
Phone
Organization Web Address (URL)

How to Create an Effective Email Sig Line

First of all, keep it brief. A general rule of thumb is that a good sig line is four-six lines in length. Eight lines is the maximum length, but that is pushing it. Remember, those to whom you email frequently see your email signature line again and again.

  • Musts include:
    • Name
    • Title
    • Organization name
    • Phone number
    • Web address
  • Optional elements include:
    • Tagline (organizational or specific event, campaign, etc.)
    • Graphical elements such as a horizontal line to distinguish your sig line from the rest of the email.

Inclusion of your email address is not recommended, since it's in the "from" field of the email and gets forwarded with an email that's passed on. Best to drive audiences to your website for more contact information details such as your mailing address and fax number.

More Creative Uses for Your Sig Line

A signature line can be used much like a classified ad if you're trying to motivate clients to use your services or register for your workshop. Add one line and/or a link. Examples include:

  • A quotation to share your organization's point of view.
  • A call to contribute to a capital campaign or other fundraising focus.
  • An issue-oriented tagline to promote an advocacy campaign.
  • An announcement of a new program, service or publication.
  • An invitation to a special event, conference or to subscribe to your organization's email newsletter.

Just make sure to keep sig lines up to date.

Adding Your Sig Line to Your Emails

Once you've decided on sig line content and format, you'll need to add it to your email program. Remember to train all staff members in creating their sig line as per organizational style and in adding it to the email program.

Check your email program's HELP menu and search for signatures. You should be able to find some information there about how to set one up on your program.

© 2002-2009 Nancy E. Schwartz. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author

Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing and communications. As President of Nancy Schwartz & Company (www.nancyschwartz.com), Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to organizations as varied as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Asian American Media, and Wake County (NC) Health Services.

You can subscribe to her free e-newsletter "Getting Attention,"  (www.nancyschwartz.com/getting_attention.html) and read her blog at www.gettingattention.org for more insights, ideas and tips on attracting the attention your organization deserves.

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