Nonprofits such as Goodwill and Florida-based scholarship foundation Step Up For Students use email as a lifeline to donors, partners, and even recipients of their services. They place a heavy reliance on list building to keep on-message with their subscribers and couple this with a content strategy to help change lives.
For Alissa Randall, vice president of marketing and PR for Step Up For Students, list building is invaluable and is a team effort. Step Up For Students relies on partnerships with sponsors and other nonprofits to reach out to both potential donors as well as families in need of the organization’s services. “We work very closely with our community partners,” Randall says. “They could be different nonprofits throughout the state of Florida who serve the same families we serve. Then we work with them and they get the word out to the families they come in contact with. Or donors may also distribute the information.”
And while donations are the lifeblood of nonprofits, email content is primarily focused on the successes of the charity rather than a constant stream of asks, according to Karen Means, chief development officer and executive vice president of external affairs of New York/New Jersey Goodwill.
“[In our emails] we include articles about our programs and services, as well as landmarks,” Means says. “For instance, this year, we are celebrating our centennial and sharing success stories, that is, how Goodwill has helped the individuals we serve find work or enhance their lives.”
Goodwill strategically chooses the time it asks supporters for donations, and usually chooses holidays and tax time for big pushes. The organization also never sends an ask without an accompanying newsletter explaining exactly what value a donation provides.
“For financial contributions, we send emails only in conjunction with our direct mail appeals, so we send two or three emails in November and December, along with one in April and May,” Means says.
“The one in November provides a heartwarming story or two of the folks we have helped recently, so the value there is the feel-good story that shows the impact of the donor’s financial support. In early December, we’ll send one related to Giving Tuesday, so the value is that we provide them an opportunity to target their giving toward an organization they already know and love. And in late December, we’ll send an email reminding folks to give before the end of the year so they can get a tax deduction, which also has some statistics about what we were able to accomplish in the past year,” she adds.
With so much at stake for families that rely on nonprofit organizations, compelling content that adds value to a subscriber’s inbox is crucial. Not just for donations but to keep the organization in the public eye. Unopened emails that languish in spam folders can mean a child without a scholarship or a disabled worker without a job.
“The biggest challenge we face is getting our emails open,” Randall says. “Everyone’s busy. Families are busy. Partners are busy, and information must be pertinent and captivating. We hope it’s captivating to our families and to our partners. We hope that the email gets opened.”
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