What Does a Switch to E-Mail Mean to the Bottom Line?

  |  September 30, 2004   |  Comments

How one nonprofit halved its communications budget when it switched from snail mail to e-mail.

Sure, most of you reading this column are already convinced email marketing saves money over direct mail. But you may still be wondering: Does it really make a significant difference to an organization’s budget?

The answer is yes, especially if you’re a nonprofit. Here’s how one nonprofit saved nearly 50 percent of its communications budget in a single year by eliminating direct mail pieces and communicating with its members almost exclusively via email.

Established in 1945, the Indiana Health Care Association (IHCA) is the state’s largest long-term care trade organization and advocate representing proprietary, not-for-profit, hospital-based nursing homes and assisted living communities. It communicated with thousands of recipients at nearly 300 member facilities via direct mail since the 1970s.

Communications took the forms of biweekly newsletters and occasional bulletins. Newsletters would inform recipients about pending legislation, new rules in the industry, upcoming events, and other important issues. They often included calls to action, such as registering for upcoming education courses or events and contacting legislators.

News and announcements were vital but expensive for this nonprofit. IHCA officials estimate postage and printing alone cost approximately $2,000 for each mailing. That didn’t include the employee hours spent organizing information, formatting content, and assembling newsletters. Plus, there were numerous hidden costs in not being able to communicate quickly with members.

So, the IHCA began exploring sending email to members instead. It teamed up with the email marketing firm ExactTarget and licensed that company’s technology to create newsletters and email announcements. Creation is done on IHCA’s end through a template. ExactTarget handles the list by managing bounces, unsubscribes, and other administrative tasks. In addition, the email marketing firm provides tracking reports through a software interface.

Take a look at a sample newsletter. As you can see, it includes a friendly graphical heading, an events calendar on the left, and news briefs (complete with relevant links) in the newsletter body. Plus, in a feature nearly impossible to implement in the paper version, it includes a one-minute survey about the newsletter so recipients can provide feedback. And, toward the end of the newsletter, recipients can click on staff member names to send them email messages.

The IHCA was also able to cut down on hidden costs by sending more timely bulletins, such as this recent news update. The call to action encourages recipients to contact legislators about upcoming funding votes, eliminating the week or so delay which was so often the case with print updates. This leads to increased member input. Members can easily print out or forward the bulletin to colleagues and other interested parties.

The bottom-line success in communicating via email can be summed up as follows: By switching from print to email newsletters and bulletins, IHCA saved $50,000 in its first year.

Although this may not seem like a great deal to a larger corporation, it halved the association’s communications budget. And, it’s allowed the IHCA to operate more efficiently -- something any size organization can appreciate.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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Heidi Anderson

Heidi is a freelance writer who covers the Internet for both consumers and businesses. She's a former editor of the E-mail Publishing Resource Center and coauthor of "Sometimes the Messenger Should Be Shot: Building a Spam-Free E-mail Marketing Program." Her work also appears in Smart Computing, PC Novice, What's Working Online, and Editor & Publisher.

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