The Digital Charity Lab 5 Minute Guides are intended to give you the basics on a particular digital platform or project. They are collaborative documents and we welcome your feedback and further suggestions in the comments.
- Email has been declared dead many times over the past 15 years, but is still by far the most effective digital channel for online sales and donations.
- Email allows a level of segmentation, personalisation and targeting that social media can only dream of.
- Every activity a subscriber takes on your email – open, click, forward – can be tracked, which means you can properly evaluate the return on your time.
- Email tracking allows you to identify your most active and engaged supporters.
- Email is extremely cheap compared to paper mailings – and recipients often perceive it as completely free, avoiding complaints about waste.
If you are unconvinced that email can do more than social media, keep this in mind: even social media platforms rely on email to communicate and to drive use. Think how many emails you get from LinkedIn and Facebook.
Best Free Resources
It can be quite difficult to get benchmarks for email success rates as most companies keep this information to themselves. This is why the benchmark report compiled by emailing service Mailchimp is quite useful. FYI, they give the following averages for their non-profit clients:
- Open: 24%
- Click: 2.5%
- Unsubscribe: 0.2%
The usual caveats apply – these benchmarks are averages, and you can get very different results with smaller lists compared to large ones. The best way to benchmark is against yourself, by trying to constantly improve your own results.
Design and Layout
Email software providers Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor both have excellent galleries that gather examples of beautifully designed emails from a range of sectors.
- Charity Email Gallery – great resource from Copper Digital
- Inspiration from Mailchimp
- Campaign Monitor Gallery
Remember that email is an online medium, so keep your emails short, with clear headings.
Digital Charity Lab has a free guide to writing and laying out an effective non-profit email.
It is very important that you don’t breach data protection legislation when you are sending marketing emails. Make sure you’re familiar with the legislation for your jurisdiction. The main things you need to know are:
- You can’t take someone’s email address off their website and send them marketing emails – they have to give you permission
- You should never purchase cold lists for email – many email providers forbid it, and you will get a lot of spam reports
- Unsubscribe links or instructions must be included in every email you send, and unsubscribe requests must be honoured
An ongoing risk with email marketing is that your emails will be marked as spam, either by getting trapped in a spam filter or by being reported by subscribers. Once your emails start getting spam trapped it can affect your entire list, and sometimes lead to getting blocked from ISPs.
Many people are not aware that moving an email to the spam folder doesn’t just file it, but actually sends a report to the email service so that future emails like it will not be delivered.
- Mailchimp’s Guide on Avoiding Spam Filters
- Mail Tester – a free online tool that allows you to check if your email might be flagged as spam, and identifies improvements you can make
- Mailchimp – extremely user friendly with great support and resources; a list of up to 2,000 names is free and accounts are then charged on a sliding scale; excellent reporting and integrations
- Campaign Monitor – great design interface; priced on a sliding scale so very affordable for small lists
- Vertical Response – offers free basic account of up to 10,000 names for non profits; good for once off campaigns
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