Planning effective e-mail campaigns

Any successful direct marketer will tell you that strategic planning is a critical element in the success or failure of a direct mail campaign. The same is true for an email marketing campaign. You may simply be sending one email message. Or, your campaign may have multiple email messages, with each response triggering a series of subsequent email messages. You might want to include or exclude recipients who responded a certain way from future email messages. A strategic plan will help you organize all of these considerations for a more effective campaign.

Determining campaign objectives

As with any marketing campaign, you must understand your objectives before you send an individual email or launch an email campaign. Setting objectives for the email message or email campaign will help you sharpen each message and determine the best approach — from email newsletters and urgent news updates to email fundraising appeals — for your communications. It also will help you to effectively evaluate results and understand your return on investment.

For instance, your goal may be to establish a campaign for ongoing communication with your existing supporters to keep them updated and connected with the organization, and therefore strengthen their loyalty. This campaign might include a monthly email newsletter that lets your constituents know how their support is helping the organization to further its mission.


Establishing a communication schedule

As you prepare to execute an email campaign, it’s important to consider the frequency with which you will be contacting your constituents. Too-frequent (and too-infrequent) communications can result in deteriorating relationships with supporters.


The best approach is to set a schedule that you think makes sense, try it, listen to feedback, and adjust accordingly. Your supporters will let you know by their response if you are contacting them too little or too often. Consider these pointers as you develop your communication schedule:

  • Synchronize online with offline direct marketing programs. Remember that email communication should complement offline communication programs. Time email campaigns to coincide with direct mail delivery. Offer constituents the option to not receive direct mail, if they would rather correspond only by email.
  • Coordinate within your organization. Remember that other individuals and departments within your organization may be planning to use your email address file. It is important to coordinate usage so that your organization does not flood its supporters’ inboxes with multiple email messages.
  • Pay attention to the day and time of scheduled delivery. Most marketers avoid weekends, Mondays and Fridays for delivering email communications. On these days, supporters may be most distracted, and your email could get lost in their email backlogs. Mid-week, early- or mid-morning and mid-afternoon are generally good times to test in an attempt to drive higher response rates. Don’t be afraid to test a variety of schedules, and be sure to carefully track response rates.
  • Let relevancy drive frequency. The type and relevancy of information you will communicate can help determine your email schedule. For general organizational updates and news, monthly or bi-weekly communications might be most effective. Information that frequently changes (such as volunteer schedules), or that is more urgent, may require that you communicate more often.


Did You Know? 

In addition to helping you create and send individual emails, your email marketing software should allow you to set up email campaigns. This will allow you to configure multiple emails and audiences in a single campaign, and track all responses within the context of the campaign, versus having to track results for each separate email, and then aggregate those results.


Segmenting your list to target specific audiences

If you have built constituent profiles as a part of your email file, you will be prepared to better target your audience. As with direct mail, you’ll improve response rates by segmenting your email file based on factors such as constituent interests, donation history, gender, age, length of membership or any other defining characteristic, and targeting them with specific messages. 



The most effective way to ensure you don’t overwhelm supporters with too-frequent emails is to ask about their preferences. Consider posing this question on your website registration form, or sending an online survey.