The world of digital marketing is chaotic and ever-changing. As soon as you build an understanding of Facebook’s algorithm, it changes and you have to start over again. You spent a week learning how to use Vine because it was the hot new social media tool, only to watch the company go bust. As soon as you master Snapchat, you find out that Instagram stories are where it’s at. And then Google AdWords becomes Google Ads! But email marketing and your email lists are stalwart and true. They are your pillars, your comfortable place to come home to.

It’s true that email marketing best practices are somewhat static, and that the fundamentals of email marketing remain the same from year to year. But just like viral posts claiming that you can game Facebook’s algorithm from showing you just 26 friends in your newsfeed, there’s as much misinformation about email marketing out there as any other digital channel. In this post, we’ll tackle the biggest misconceptions and myths about nonprofit email marketing.

Myth #1 – If we email people too often, they will ignore our emails or report us as spam!

You know your nonprofit’s email list is a powerful weapon, and you want to wield it responsibly. So you are very careful about emailing your list too frequently. After all, if you send too many, you might annoy people. And if you annoy people, they might ignore your emails, unsubscribe or (even worse!) report you as spam.

Reality – Emailing often isn’t a problem, if you’re doing it right.

Like many myths, there is a kernel of truth in this one! Which is that if you email people too often, without taking into account who they are and how they interact with your nonprofit, you might end up annoying people.

But that’s easy to avoid! Here’s how.

Segment

Email segmentation is taking your master email list with all of your contacts and slicing it into smaller lists, based on set criteria. Possible nonprofit segments include:

  • recurring donors
  • volunteers
  • one-time donors
  • major gift donors and sponsors
  • board members
  • staff
  • donors who have given to specific programs

The purpose of email segmentation is winnowing in on who the individuals on your email list are, and sending them emails that are more personalized and specific to them. And the purpose of that is having a bigger impact with your emails, because people are more likely to open, click through and take action when emails are specific to their interests and behavior. By segmenting, you’re decreasing the likelihood that people will find your emails annoying … and increasing the likelihood that they’ll open it and click on a link.

Mightycause Premium subscribers are at an advantage when it comes to segmentation, because they’ve got access to Supporters records. You can add custom tags to each record for easy segmentation.

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Send quality content

It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. If you’re sending people strong content with timely calls to action, it won’t matter how many emails you send. The average person is not sorting through their inbox each day and saying, “Woah, this nonprofit sent me 5 emails this week and that is 3 too many! UNSUBSCRIBE.” When your content is interesting, people will be interested.

So, what’s “quality content?” For starters, it’s well-written, copyedited, visually interesting, contains thought-provoking, timely, and relevant information to the reader, and has a strong call to action (CTA). How do your emails measure up?

Send emails that are relevant to your audience’s interests

A quick way to guarantee that your emails are ignored is to ignore what the recipient is interested in. If you work for an animal shelter and you keep sending emails about dogs to someone who has adopted four cats and donates large sums to a cat-specific program, they will probably ignore most of your emails. And that’s why segmentation is so important — it can help you weed out the people who won’t be interested in a particular topic, and hone in on the people more likely to take interest and action.

Myth #2 – Unsubscribes are a terrible thing

You work hard for those email addresses, and when you see people unsubscribe … well, it hurts. And when you’re reporting on your email marketing efforts and the number of unsubscribes seems high, it must reflect poorly on your efforts, right?

Reality – Unsubscribes help your refine your list

Here’s the deal with people who unsubscribe: they are doing you a favor by clicking the “unsubscribe” button. And the reason is that they’re letting you know they are not engaged in what you’re doing. Yes, you’re losing a contact. But based on the fact that they’ve unsubscribed, you can safely assume they were a contact who was unlikely to open your emails, click your links, or make a donation to your nonprofit.

So, don’t fret over unsubscribes! If you notice a big spike, you can examine your email strategy and see if the spike coincides with any changes to the frequency or style of your emails. But concern over unsubscribes is generally overblown.

Myth #3 – The best time to send emails is [INSERT DAY] at [INSERT TIME]

You don’t remember where you heard it, or from whom the information came, but you’re certain it’s true: Tuesday at 10 a.m. is the best time to send emails.

Reality – There is no magical, optimal time to send emails.

This myth comes from wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone could remove all the guesswork and testing and crunching numbers for you and just tell you when the “email witching hour” is that will guarantee you better open rates and more clicks?! Yes, it would! But, sadly, anyone who tells you that there’s a best time to send your emails is probably trying to sell you something. (And also probably has a bridge they’d like to sell you…)

The email marketing software you use most likely has data about send times you can pursue. (Check their blog and support articles!) But it varies wildly between industries and even email marketing software companies. This information works best as a guideposts — not rules.

How to find the best time

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but to find the best time for your nonprofit to send emails, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. That means A/B testing and measuring the results. And you’ll have to test over and over again to get meaningful data.

You can also pull reports from your email marketing software and examine the send days/times that have been most successful to see if you can identify trends. (But keep in mind that other variables, such as your subject line, content of the email and time of year could impact your open and clickthrough rates.)

Focus on content

Your email list is made up of individuals — and they all have different jobs, routines and email habits. While it’s certainly worth examining, there may not be any hard-and-fast rules about send days and times for your nonprofit. There certainly isn’t a way to “hack” people’s email behavior with send times. Often, when email marketing companies pull their data, the “top day” or “top time” wins only by a small margin, and it’s different from report to report. So, it’s less about optimizing for send time, and more about optimizing your content.

Focus on sending relevant, thoughtful content with subject lines that pique the recipients’ curiosity, rather than spending your time fretting over when to send an email.

Myth #4 – Great subject lines equal great open rates!

It seems obvious enough. What else could drive people to open your emails but the subject line?! It’s all about the subject line.

Reality – Who the email is from is just as important

This myth is partially true. Subject lines are an important factor in open rates, but it’s critical to note that it’s not the only factor. Of equal importance is who the email is from.

Data shows that the sender is of equal importance. So, we recommend testing different subject line strategies (to emoji or not to emoji? long or short?) but also testing the “from” line. Some variables you may want to try are having emails from specific people at your organization — if people think an email is a personal note from your Executive Director or a Director at your organization, they may be more likely to open it. The combination of a great subject line plus a thoughtful “from” line helps people decide whether they should open an email or not.

Try shaking up the “from” line, and measure your results!

Automate and personalize with Data Connect

Mightycause Premium subscribers have access to our integration with Zapier, called Data Connect. You can use Data Connect to automate processes, using preloaded “zaps” or create custom workflows. It’s an easy way to connect your Mightycause account to thousands of apps available through Zapier, including Constant Contact, Gmail, MailChimp and more. And there’s all sorts of things you can do with it that will help your email marketing efforts!

One cool way you can utilize Data Connect and experiment with subject lines is sending an automated email from your Executive Director through Gmail. Instead of a generic email from “info@yournonprofit.org,” you can set up a zap to send a personalized email from your Executive Director to new donors through Gmail, thanking them for their support and welcoming them to your nonprofit. You can also plug new donors into your email list, and send them through a welcome series of emails.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for Data Connect! Learn more about Data Connect and other Premium features at an upcoming group demo.

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Myth #5 – Email marketing is dead; social media is where it’s at.

Truly tech-savvy nonprofits know that email marketing is old-fashioned. Who reads emails anymore?! People’s inboxes are crazy and emailing sometimes feels like shouting into the void. You see much more excitement on social media — so many likes, shares, and retweets! And you’re pretty sure you read somewhere that the effectiveness of email marketing is on the decline. When you’ve got an important campaign coming up, you want to focus on the marketing that matters: social media.

Reality – Email is the most powerful marketing tool you have available

Here’s a fact: most people who make a donation on Mightycause make that donation because a link was sent to them in an email. Facebook refers plenty of donors, it’s true. But that number one spot? Direct links in emails.

And, when you think about it, it makes sense. The people on your email list? Well, they’re there because they have expressed an interest in your nonprofit’s work. Whether they’re donors, people who have used your services, folks you met at an event, or people who signed up for your newsletter through your website, they’re into what you do. People on social media may be more plentiful, but they are also generally less likely to take action.

So, no, email marketing isn’t dead. It’s just as important as it’s ever been — perhaps even more important as social media platforms are coming under fire for privacy issues and people bolt from their favorite platforms in fear. Your email list is one of the most important tools you have. Use it well, and use it often!

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