Social media is all well and good, but good old e-mail is still the key to online organizing. That’s why getting it right is so important.
Convio's 2009 Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index Study found that "of those organizations active in advocacy, 4.65 percent of constituents on their email file have taken at least one advocacy action. For some verticals, such as Environment & Wildlife, as much as 12 percent of their constituents have engaged in advocacy."
So says Debra J. Rosen, Senior Vice President, Creative Services for M+R Strategic Services, a campaign strategy and services firm for some of the biggest names in nonprofit / advocacy. “The single most effective method of online organizing is the opt-in e-mail list,” she told me.
The key, of course, is knowing how. According to Convio’s 2009 Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index Study, organizations’ success in getting their list members to take action ranges from 1% to nearly 12%. Clearly, some are better at it than others.
Top 3 Tips for Better E-mail Organizing
Fortunately, Rosen was willing to share some of the best practices she employs to make her e-mail campaigns effective.
Make it URGENT. Online communication with your list — whether it be advocacy or fundraising — is best executed when it is connected to something happening right now, in the real world. When you can be nimble enough to take advantage of a development on your issue that is in the public domain, you not only provide an excellent case for giving/activism, you also provide a service for your constituents by framing news on an issue that they care about and giving them an outlet to respond.
Make it REAL. E-mail is casual in tone and style; it’s definitely not a medium that lends itself to long, wonky narratives! If you’re not doing so already, designate a real person at your organization to sign e-mail messages to your list (and have their name listed as the “sender”). And then, make you’re your e-mail really reads like it is from a real person. Further, with new engagement and social networking tools popping up nearly every day, your supporters increasingly want to feel like they are part of the important work that you are doing so – write your messages in the first person, provide relevant and timely context for engagement opportunities, and when available, validate your message with photos and video.
Make it A CAMPAIGN. One-off fundraising appeals will raise some money but the momentum of a campaign is where you have an opportunity to engage your list and, potentially, others. A campaign will also allow you to tell the full story about your organization’s need to fundraise and the amazing work that you do. And, what makes a campaign really feel like a campaign is when it is consistently applied across every single asset that you have — your website, blog, organizational newsletter, direct mail, Twitter feed, Facebook group, etc. During your fundraising campaign, make sure you use everything you’ve got to communicate how important your campaign is to the future of your issue and your organization. Leave no stone unturned — the more you integrate your fundraising campaign across your organization, the better your results!
One Action Per E-Mail
“Every e-mail should offer your members something to do,” said Rosen, “but just one action at at time.” She says to imagine yourself a PIRG canvasser with five clipboards under your arm:
You would never walk up to someone on the street and say – ‘Hey, let me tell you about all 5 petitions in my hands, then will you sign all 5 of my petitions, and then give me money’ all in the same breath. No, you would ask them to sign one… then maybe ask them to sign another… then ask them for a donation. Each step in the process translates to another standalone e-mail.
It’s critical to resist the temptation to pile several actions into a single e-mail. Rosen’s research has shown that, when presented with multiple actions, people will do none of them. They’re overwhelmed. Worse than that, “it sends the message that your organization doesn’t know how to prioritize — and that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.”
Communicate the Results
“Your list members are people who want to be active on your issue. They want to feel their actions are meaningful.” Thank them for taking action. Let them know how it turned out.
And, of course, each of those occasions is a reason to write again. An occasion for an additional ask.
What are some e-mail techniques you’ve had success with? Share them with us in the comments.