Get started with e-mail marketing

 Flashissue (free software) lets you create an e-mail newsletter with Gmail. 


Step 1: Building an e-mail Address File

The first step in any effective online marketing strategy is to build and maintain your e-mail file. The number of e-mail addresses you have on file has a direct impact on your organization’s ability to communicate, cultivate, and drive actions from supporters. The idea of building a usable e-mail file may seem daunting, but you can grow your e-mail file using the following proven tactics:


1. Gather e-mail Addresses Offline

Every time you communicate with existing or prospective supporters, you have the opportunity to collect e-mail addresses. Planned interactions such as renewal appeals, membership drives, and event invitations are perfect opportunities to ask for e-mail addresses. Simply add an e-mail address field to all response forms. At events where you will interact with a large number of constituents, set out a newsletter sign-up sheet or offer a giveaway for attendees who drop in a card with their name and e-mail address.


Remember, when asking constituents for e-mail addresses offline, you should emphasize the benefits they will receive by providing this information. Remind supporters that by communicating with them online, your organization can save money and time, allowing you to more effectively serve your mission. Also emphasize the benefit of timely communication: With e-mail communications, you are better equipped to respond to compelling events and inform them quickly of important news, developments, events and programs.


2. Gather e-mail Addresses Online

Your website is the best source for collecting e-mail addresses. Visitors to your website have sought you out because they are interested in your organization. This existing affinity is a powerful incentive for your online visitors to provide you with the information you need to build longer-lasting relationships with them online. Here are three tips for gathering e-mail addresses from your website:

1. Provide quick online registration 

Use a web-based registration form that allows site visitors to register easily and quickly. Remember that the more information you request, the less likely people will be to complete the entire form. So, think carefully about the information you want to capture, and minimize the number of required fields — name and e-mail address should suffice. You can always ask for more information about the individual through follow-up communications.

2. Give site registration prominent placement

Dedicate a consistent area of your home page to promoting online registration. Place it in an eye-catching spot above the fold to reflect its importance. You might also use an image or graphic to draw attention to it. Don’t forget to promote registration throughout the rest of your website — consider including a registration link in your page wrapper so the message will be included on every page of your site. 

3. Promote the benefits of online registration

Make registration compelling for your site visitors. Create special benefits for registered members, and link to a separate page explaining the perks, such as free e-mail newsletters, or advance notification of upcoming events. 


Best Practice 

When collecting e-mail addresses, be sure to let people know how they will be used. Always give people a chance to opt out of receiving e-mail by providing a check box that says something like, “I’d like to receive future mailings”


3. Drive Traffic To Your Website 

Maximize traffic to your website by including your URL in offline communications (e.g., ads, brochures, business cards, direct mail, phone hold recordings, or voice messages). Online channels and communications, such as Facebook™ and e-mail newsletters, should link back to your site for more information. The idea is to tell prospects and supporters about the resources available to them on your website and keep the website content current and informative so that visitors will return.You can also use the free Google Grants program for search engine marketing (SEM). With SEM, you “purchase” keywords to promote visibility. Keep in mind that searchers are pre-qualified prospects; you need to compel them to visit your website by crafting offers that are designed to drive traffic and registrations.


4. Build Your List Through Viral Marketing

“Forward to a friend” e-mail campaigns, also known as viral marketing, can help you reach new supporters and grow your e-mail file efficiently. In a viral campaign, your organization sends an e-mail with a call-to-action (such as a solicitation for donations, event invitation or action alert) to your existing e-mail file, or to selected groups of constituents in the file. The e-mail also asks recipients to forward the message to friends, relatives and co-workers so they, too, can get involved. When a new supporter from this previously untapped network of friends clicks through to your website to register and take action, you can ask for their permission to include them in future communications. Imagine the effect of one person sending 10 e-mails, and then each friend forwarding another 10, and so on. If this happened five times, a single e-mail would reach 100,000 people.


e-mail greeting cards, or “ecards,” are another way to build your e-mail address list through viral marketing. With ecards, your constituents can create their own e-mails — using your e-mail greeting card template with your organization’s branding — to send to their networks of friends and family.


Acquiring e-mails: Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Is e-mail acquisition a priority for our organization?
  • Compared with the number of contact records we have, how many e-mail addresses do we have? How could we get more?
  • How many different ways do we have to capture e-mail addresses?
  • Have we really thought about “What’s in it for me if I give you my e-mail address?” from the constituent’s viewpoint?
  • What content or programs do we have that could be modified to help capture e-mail addresses?

5. Use List Rentals Or An e-mail Appending Service (With Caution)

To increase your e-mail list, you can have a third-party list owner cross-promote your organization. They should do so by sending an e-mail with their brand and a link to your website for interested parties to opt in to your e-mail list.


If you have an extensive donor or supporter database, but few current e-mail addresses, consider taking advantage of the growing number of e-mail append services that will take a postal mail address and attempt to find a matching e-mail address. These services will typically provide (for a fee) all e-mail addresses from their database that don’t bounce. A cautionary note: This process does not obtain permission for you to add the e-mail addresses to your list. Even if supporters have a relatively strong offline relationship with your organization, they won’t necessarily be happy to receive e-mail from you. The safe way to use an append service is by having the service send an e-mail driving people to your website, and obtaining an explicit opt-in from site visitors. This results in a smaller list, but one of higher quality.


Step 2: Building Constituent Profiles

Data about your supporters is worth its weight in gold. It can help you better understand your constituents and how they like to interact with your organization. Data can be used to recognize trends, compare campaigns, and identify what is (or isn’t) working. Armed with this information, you can create effective, customized, targeted e-mail communications that demonstrate an understanding of the relationship your supporter has had — and wants to have — with your organization. 


Remember also that your supporters’ expectations are high. They expect a personalized experience every time they interact with your organization. They want to feel special among your larger group of supporters. 


To deliver truly personalized communications, you need to supplement the basic data (name, e-mail address) you have collected from your constituents with more detailed demographic information, and information about their attitudes, interests and behaviors. Using this advanced profile information, you can create and send messages that target specific groups within your database. This personalized touch can dramatically increase response rates as well as strengthen your supporters’ commitment to your organization.


Follow these guidelines to help gather profile information:

Use online surveys

A simple online survey can allow you to gather almost any type of information simply by asking constituents to respond. By using an online survey tool, you can automatically add what you learn about them to their profile in your database.

Capture data based on online behavior

You can gain valuable insight into your supporter’s interests simply by capturing data as they click through your website. By embedding trackable links in content on your website, you can flag a registered visitor’s profile with information about their particular interests. If supporters respond to an e-mail invitation for a volunteer fundraising event, for example, you can automatically capture this data and use it to send them future event information, or perhaps a volunteer newsletter.

Integrate offline and online data into a single view

If yours is like most nonprofit organizations, you probably already have a significant amount of information about your supporters stored in one (or more) offline databases — and spreadsheets, and scraps of paper. Look into CRM solutions that are built specifically for nonprofits to help you consolidate this information. Convio’s Common Ground CRM system, for example, is a complete fundraising and donor management solution that helps you track the details of every relationship in a single database — from prospects, donors, and staff members to volunteers, event participants, and board members.