Is it time for charitable foundations to rethink email marketing?

Keeping things in perspective is important in many facets of life, but fundraising outreach can often cause charitable foundations quite a bit of strife and push them to doubt effective strategies. For instance, the use of email for donation appeals has certainly been influenced by the rise of social media.

The reality is social networking sites present nonprofits with a number of opportunities to connect, engage and interact with donors in ways that can be a bit more personal. After all, millions of people around the world sign onto sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to communicate with family, friends, colleagues, businesses and charitable groups in a largely informal manner. During the relatively emergent days of social networking sites as communication channels for organizations, many were calling for the downfall of email.

The changing face of email
In fact, research firm McKinsey & Company found that email use dropped by 20 percent between 2008 and 2012, but more recent data suggests that this channel is still a vibrant and efficient method to interact with donors, volunteers and prospects. However, this doesn't mean that charitable foundations should return to the days of blanket email bombings, also known as e​-blasts, without first understanding the role of email has changed slightly as donors' behavior and expectations have evolved. While Forrester Research forecasted the volume of marketing emails sent in the U.S. to reach 838 billion in 2013, the data doesn't support spamming or sending out information and donation appeals that are irrelevant to the recipient.

How to create effective emails
One crucial step is making email fundraising and marketing messages personal to individual contributors or those belonging to like-minded segments. To achieve this goal, nonprofit organizations should make use of their donor management software to keep track of past donation or volunteer behavior. Charities can identify preferred payment methods; individual funding histories - including amounts and to which programs or campaigns; and record how frequently contributors have donated.

At the same time, it's important to recognize that email marketing for fundraising purposes is more akin to a long-term relationship than a single meeting. In other words, each email should be part of a larger narrative established between the donor and charitable organization. Messages should refer to previous donations and connect past participation with current projects. If a nonprofit is running a campaign that will accept donations online, it's important for the email to contain a link to a customized landing page, according to McKinsey. This can vastly improve conversion rates and influence fundraising outcomes.

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