Content: the key to effective e-mail cultivations

Previous issues of Tomorrow’s Donor have focused on a WHY? or a HOW-TO for using e-mail as a donor cultivation tool. Over the last year I have watched more and more non-profit organizations turn to e-mail as an addition to their donor cultivation toolbox. Not all of them are using e-mail effectively, but I’m encouraged that they are attempting to test it out and see what works.

In observing who’s doing what I found the motivation for this month’s article. It’s all about CONTENT! Here are some tips for writing better content and therefore sending better e-mail messages to your donors. I’m a fan of e-mail newsletters so I’ve written these tips from that perspective. Enjoy!

1. Don’t duplicate what you send in the mail
When people read e-mail they have different expectations than when they read a direct mail letter. If you merely duplicate your direct mail letters in an e-mail message you may be providing an alternative way to receive the same information, but what value is added for the reader?

If your donors have subscribed to receive regular updates from your organization, send them something new and different from what they might get in the mail. For example, your e-mail subscribers might like to receive updates or news before the remainder of your database does. E-mail is a great tool for this because it’s immediate. For example, American Airlines recently allowed me to test out their new web site and its functionality before it is debuted to the public. I received this “exclusive invitation” because I’m “an AAirmail subscriber and very special customer of American Airlines.” I’m pretty sure that I’m not REALLY a special customer of American Airlines because they have so many customers – but it’s nice of them to think that their subscribers might like to have the “privilege” of seeing something before the general public does. It kinda made me feel like an “insider”.

2. Keep it short
Even if you have lots of information you think your subscribers need to read, consider that most people skim when they read. Including too much text in the message might cause them miss the most important thing you want them to read. Can’t get it all in this month’s issue? There’s always next month!

If you are sending an e-mail newsletter, keeping it short means writing blurbs (approx. 200 words or less) that give the reader an idea of what the whole article is about. Then offer a “Click here for more” option that will take them to a website where they can read the full article. Do this in an HTML message with tracked links and you’ll end up with data that tells you who clicked on what, and by aggregating this data you’ll easily be able to see what your most popular articles were. This process will also help you be strategic in future e-mail newsletters.

3. Make it personal
Your e-mail and online audience has an easy way to respond to what they read which makes writing content for e-mail and your web site so different from writing for direct mail. Nick Usborne, in his article Why Copywriting Online Is Different, shares with us that much of the advertising copy we are used to seeing is in the form of a “broadcast” message – the same message going to lots of people hopefully drawing someone’s attention – sounds like direct mail, right? Using e-mail and the Internet, we have an incredible opportunity to “get personal” with people through the copy we write for e-mail messages and web sites. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity for personal interaction with your subscribers!

4. Tell a story – provoke their emotions
HTML or Flashâ„¢ animated e-mail messages help you share the emotions surrounding your story. In this case your copy should be precise and strategic – the fewer words the better. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to go right out and sign up for this event when you see this e-mail postcard from the AIDS Ride. (If a smaller window doesn’t pop up, click on “Replay Postcard” on the right side of the screen.)

5. Include a Call-To-Action
Unless you are tracking the HTML-open rate of your message, how will you know that anyone read it? Including a Call-to-Action gets them interacting with your message; and a Call-to-Action doesn’t always mean asking for a donation – if someone was always asking you for money how might you respond? Consider other ways in which your subscribers can support your organization:

a) “forward this message to a friend” and include something in the message people would want to forward;
b) “volunteer with a local chapter”;
c) “pray for this cause”;
d) “reply to this message” in response to a question;
e) “answer a short survey about what you’d like to see in future issues”;
f) “write a letter to your state representative”;
g) “RSVP” for an event;
h) “click here to get a copy of a research report about our cause”.

Get it? Interaction is a two-way street! Provide simple ways for people to get involved with your organization.

6. Be creative!
Easier said than done – I know! But if there’s something you have always wanted to try that seemed too risky for a print publication – test it out with a segment of your donor population through an e-mail message. Assess your results afterwards. If it doesn’t work, try something different next time.

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