Your e-mail newsletter is going to die. As you read this, there are a host of illnesses attacking the health of your pretty newsletter: competition, RSS readers, SPAM, PDAs and tracking issues, and digitalnoise. Scared yet?
Every year e-mail open rates decline. Ten years ago, e-newsletters were achieving, on average 25 to 30 percent open rates. Between 2004 and 2007 rates slipped to 15 to 20 percent (200 million messages surveyed). But since 2006, open rates are tracking around 8 to 13 percent. Let me be clear: if your mutual fund posted these numbers, you'd be selling your house and taking on a second job.
It's only getting worse. Millennials are not huge fans of e-mail. Expect the declining trends to continue as this generation gets older.
I mean to scare you. Wake up! You should plan to get diminished returns from typical e-mail fundraising, recruitment, and messaging next year. E-mail is still a strategy that every org should employ and I even recommended it my last article, Will You Marry me?, but it needs to be done right to maximize the impact.
Here are seven concrete ways you can squeeze more juice from your email list:
The more information you collect and record the more personal and targeted you can make e-mails. First/last name, address, how they entered your org are all examples of valuable information that can be used to divide your lists. You can make sub-groups of people in the northeast or people that went to the annual party and send them more relevant information.
You also can use constituent data to personalize your e-mails. Most CRMs will let you insert this information as a variable that changes for each member:
" Hey [[First_Name]] ,
Find out what your senator in [[Address]] is up to before the annual
[[Event_note]] is here. "
2. Love Your Subjects
Spend time on your subject line. Many orgs spend 95 percent of their time writing and refining the content that is in the e-mail body. Constituents decide whether to read or delete based on the 35 characters in the subject line. "December Newsletter" is not an effective subject line. The best tantalizing subject lines I've seen? Browse Seventeen.com and see how they write enticing five to eight word teasers for everything (though you may want to replace "flirting," "style," or "fashion" with "fundraising" and "Cause").
Try using: a number, a statistic, the word "new", a celebrity's name, (open me), something topical, something hyper-local, inserted personal information like the user's name, or an offer that relates to them.
The "From" e-mail address is also an opportunity to add personality to a newsletter. Who would you rather open an email from: "firstname.lastname@example.org" or 'TakeAction@someorg.com"?
3. A/B Test Subject Lines
DoSomething.org tests two subject lines on 5 percent of our list the day before we send our main blast. The subject line that gets the highest open rate is the one we choose for our main message. We have had as much as a 4.5% difference between two subject lines. That could means thousands of eyeballs.
4. New People and Returning People are Different
Do you send the same message to your existing loyal members and to random users who sign up while casually browsing? That's like sending the same holiday card to your mom, your ex-girlfriend, and a stranger. Yeah, not smart.
Consider separating your lists. Send more recruiting information to new signups. Send more personal stories along with relevant updates to existing members or supporters.
5. Event Targeting
Collect data -- and track where it came from. At every event your org should collect business cards. When you have a sign up list, collect more than a name and email address. Send out an e-mail the very next day with photos and information from the night before. Keep the momentum moving.
6. Kill the bottle necks
Allow the people that manage small member groups to message them directly. At DoSomething.org the person that runs our club's program can communicate with our 900 clubs via e-mail without knocking on my door every time (though Mike knows he's welcome to knock on my door if he needs to).
It makes me sad to hear about other orgs requiring multiple levels of approval, wasting time for the sake of bureaucracy. Hire smart people, give them the communication tools, templates, training and permission to run their own programs... and get out of their way (Thanks, @NancyLublin).
7. Timing is everything
There is a lot of debate regarding when you should send your newsletter, but everyone agrees: keep it on a regular schedule. Create expectation on behalf of your constituents.
As a general rule, I think the morning is better than the night. The goal is to be
the first thing in someone's inbox when they get to work. Monday through Thursdays are the best-rated days to send your newsletter. Be mindful of holidays. But the real answer is measurement: test different days, times and strategies on your particular audience.
Find quick definitions for this article and a list of e-mail providers used by top not-for-profits at http://www.dosomething.org/staff-blog/resources-rip-email-newsletters.