E-newsletters are a fantastic and cost-effective way for non profit organisations to communicate what they do, but I feel it’s an application that is underused and often misused. They are a great opportunity to shout about your achievements and keep stakeholders informed and engaged in what you do.
They can also lead to higher rates of conversion, whether that means raising funds or encouraging subscribers to take action. Newsletters are known to have a rate of conversion that is 8 times higher than social media.
They are also an ideal way to speak to a large number of people in a short amount of time. But in an age of email information overload how do you avoid people pressing the delete button before reading it in the first place?
As someone who writes a regular e-newsletter but is also is a recipient of (at the last count) more than 30 different newsletters from various third sector organisations, I have carried out an exercise in what makes me read them as well as what doesn’t.
Here are just some of my personal tips – in no particular order:
Read e-newsletters from other organisations
Signing up to the e-newsletters of other organisations helps to get a sense of what they are writing about, what information they are trying to get across and how they are doing that. Think about the style and tone. Is it personal or corporate? What is the approach and most importantly how relevant is the content? Think about whether this e-newsletter is helping the organisation get their message across. As a reader does it inspire you to keep reading? Have you learnt anything new from reading it?
Sign up to your own organisation’s e-newsletter
What do you think of the content and what is being said? Is it communicating with the reader effectively?
Content, content, content
Content is critical. If you don’t think you have enough news for a monthly newsletter it is better to wait than to send out information for the sake of it.
Do plan what you want to say. Ask your colleagues to provide content ideas and potential articles to give a broader voice for your organisation. Think about when you’ve got enough content and save stories for future newsletters.
Try out new approaches. Some charities find that sending short newsletters every couple of weeks based on a single call to action works well for them. You may have to experiment to see what works for you.
Know your target audience
Who are your audience? Is it only supporters, donors, stakeholders, trustees, staff – or all of the above? Is it appropriate to send them all the same information or do you need to target it? Recieving irrelevant information can be worse than receiving no information.
You should invest in managing your list regularly, whether that’s deleting email addresses for people who have left organisations or emailing people to ask if they still wish to subscribe.
The expectation for how we are communicated with is changing. In the not too distant future we will be communicating with different audiences in a more direct, targeted and personalised way. They will decide how they want to receive your information and in what format. E-newsletters will be an important part of this mix. Getting it right will be crucial.
Keep it fresh and regular
It’s important to think about when you send out your enewsletter and how often. A monthly or bi-monthly update is an achievable target. Anything more than that could be information overload and not sustainable. If you need to share breaking news, it may be appropriate to send out a special e-news update to your list.
When to send
In the last few months I’ve been noticing that I’ve been getting a lot of e-newsletters after 5.00pm on a Friday and even at the weekend. Research shows that emails received at these time have low open rates. Avoid sending newsletters at this time. Also avoid school holidays as a high proportion of your target audience may be away from email and might never get to see your newsletter.
The subject line
What you write in the subject area can make a huge difference to your e-newsletter. This is one of the hardest things to do (and the thing I personally leave until the end). A phrase that teases the reader could at least get them opening up the e-newsletter but don't try and be too clever as you might not get through spam checking!
Can your email be read on a mobile?
Most people will open your email on their mobile phone, so be sure it is designed with a mobile in mind. This means using images that are not too big and load easily, buttons are large and are easy to click, and the copy is succinct.
Tell your story
One thing that charities do really effectively is tell a story – whether it’s their own or one of their supporters or beneficiaries. Hook people in with the first sentence by telling a compelling story and make sure your call to action is in the first paragraph.
Have a clear call to action
With the content of your email, you'll usually be encouraging people to take an action – whether it’s making a donation, signing up to a fundraising event or reading a blog post. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap that many do by asking your readers to do too many things. When you give people fewer options in the call to action, you make it easier for them to actually take the action that you want.
The most important metrics to keep checking are % of open rate and click though rate. Pure 360 have some excellent tips on measuring success.
- Why do email newsletters?
- 5 Nonprofit Email Newsletters to learn from
- Emailology provides free practical advice on coding responsive emails for a range of platforms, as well as providing boilerplate code that addresses common display issues across different clients and browsers.
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- Campaign Monitor has a detailed section on designing and coding responsive emails.
- Litmus allows you to preview your emails across more than 40 platforms, and includes tools for analysing and troubleshooting code.