How Non-profits Can Profit from Email Marketing Even in a Down Economy

Margaret Farmakis
By Margaret Farmakis
Senior Director, Response Consulting

With the global economy in a tailspin, marketers are increasingly being asked to do more with less. As a result, email has never looked better when it comes to delivering a high ROI for your marketing investment. Why? Minimal sending costs, instantly available performance metrics and the potential for huge revenue, relationship building and branding gains.

There may be one industry in particular where email could and should, play an increasingly important part of the marketing mix: charitable organizations. After all, nonprofits have always relied on the generosity of others and are now doing so in an environment where people have less and less to give.

In fact, a recent article in the NonProfit Times cited a study by the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation (DMANF) showing that more than two-thirds of non-profit executives plan to change their marketing strategy because of the economy. Why? The study showed that 40% of the organizations polled said they were doing worse now that at the same time last year.

Email can provide huge cost-savings when compared to other direct marketing channels such as print, cold-calling and television. In addition, email can instantly engage with customers and prospects and provide opportunities for interactivity and a “dialogue” in a ways that other channels can’t. So how can email work harder for marketers in the non-profit sector? Here are some ideas:

  • Email is a unique channel. Non-profit marketers are generally very comfortable with direct mail and have had a lot of success with that channel. So they often repurpose their most successful direct mail pieces for email. The result is a lengthy email without a clear call to action and many competing messages that ultimately garners less-than-spectacular results. This is because subscribers experience email in a completely different way than they would a direct mail piece. Generally, marketers have about 15 seconds to drive the click, especially when targeting prospects who may not be familiar with the organization. Streamlining messages to have a short and actionable headline with bulleted supporting copy can significantly lower the hurdle for engagement. The golden rule of email marketing is one email, one message.
  • Get personal. Charitable giving is an emotional decision. Use the existing data you have to populate your email messages with the subscriber’s name, location (you can include relevant event or volunteer opportunities in their area), donor type (are they a silver-level donor, gold-level donor?), or date and amount of their most recent charitable contribution. In addition, including a salutation from a “real” person, such as the organization’s fundraising chair or gifts officer is another way to add a personal touch.
  • Spread the word. Fundraising and awareness efforts related to charitable causes always benefit from word of mouth. Including a “forward to a friend” link as part of all email communications (especially those related to event or fundraising campaigns) is a simple way to encourage message pass-alongs, increase awareness, expand the organization’s footprint and grow your database of donors and prospects.

How are you thinking about email marketing in 2009? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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