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Sunday, January 21, 2018

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Counterpoint: "Emails do too work!"
Tom Ahern

July, 2012

So, there!


Donor newsletters don't get results? Some highly indignant email fans beg to powerfully differ.  



I escaped any real harm. No reader came right out and called me an idiot. Kivi came close, but then she restrained herself and stayed civil. (I think she has some Southern breeding.)


All I'd said was that Jeff Brooks said that his company no longer produced any e-newsletters for clients, because charity e-newsletters, in turned out after a decade of testing, don't seem to produce any significant gift income, so ultimately (remember: 10 years of testing) the ROI was a disgrace.


That's all I said: Don't expect to make money from your emailed donor newsletter. Why, you'd think I'd posted roast spring kitten on the menu.




Besides outrage, I also garnered invaluable treasure: responses from fundraisers who currently use email successfully. Below is my summary of their welcome comments and experiences:


From the great state of Texas...


Karen Affeld, Director of Development at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center wrote me. This Austin, TX "Wildflower Center" is the "Great Pyramid" of its kind: the best in the world ... and a bucket list destination for wildflower fanatics.


"The Wildflower Center has no fewer than four different e-newsletters," she wrote. (1) The monthly Wildflower Wire goes to a regional/local audience. (2) The monthly Wildflower Watch focuses on topics of national interest. (3) The weekly What's Coming Up at the Wildflower Center is a calendar (and attendance prompt). (4) And finally there's a "weekly e-wire for our gift store."


The total count: two monthly e-newsletters, two weekly e-newsletters.


The metrics: the Wildflower Center has 20,000+ email subscribers; with an opening rate of 25%. (Which is probably well above average. Open rates vary enormously, depending on many factors. The opening rate for this e-newsletter, for instance, is 35-40%.)


Karen graciously shared lots of details about her overall program.


"This year, we switched to doing email-only annual appeals and so far it has been very successful for us. We have gotten substantial donations from people who had never donated before and our net proceeds from the appeals are WAY up.


"The e-appeals go out to all subscribers to our various newsletters, where our direct mail annual appeals were sent out only to prior donors due to the high cost of printing and mailing.


"We still use direct mail for membership acquisition mailings and for renewal reminders but everything else has gone digital for us. We do mail a quarterly glossy magazine to members but it is not a fundraising vehicle."


Can any charity switch to an all-digital approach ... or do you have to be a photogenic, event-heavy charity with "fanatical" followers, like the Wildflower Center?


Here's Karen bottom line: "Why do I think our e-newsletters work for us? They are very content rich, with links to more information on our web site. They are attractive, with nice photos and graphics. And they help us build a more engaged audience that cares enough about our work to donate."


That's not the whole story, I suspect. (She doesn't mention "donor-centricity," for instance.) But it's a very good start.


From Australia's 2nd most analytical fundraising consultant, Jonathon Grapsas


"In short," Jonathon wrote me, "it's a square peg, round hole scenario. Late 20's, early 30's: sending them stuff that our DM donors (55-75ish) would love but frankly bores the hell out of this group. We're sending long, paper based comms, when these guys want short, punchy, dynamic, mobile friendly touch points."


With younger donors, Jonathon has been testing alternative, smart-phone and tablet based communications. They're working, too. They retain new donors longer. He reported, "The average month 1 attrition was 13%. We've now got this down to an average of 4%. 3 month attrition used to average 21%, now down to 7%. And so on."


Jonathon especially objected to Jeff Brooks' observation that street fundraising keeps "the donor longer if they don't cultivate them at all."


Jonathon's riposte: "The scary part is certain people have been going around perpetuating this ... and it just isn't true. If you send lots of crap then, of course, attrition won't reduce. If you send not much ... but it's crap ... of course attrition will remain high."


From Kerri Karvetski, Company K Media 


Kivi sent me to Kerri, with the note, "If anyone knows about emailed newsletters, it's her!" Kerri's Company K helps nonprofits effectively communicate online.


Kerri kindly took time to share her experiences. She also forwarded examples of two of her favorite e-newsletters, for Thirteen Week (a schedule e-news from NY Public Media) and Smithsonian Focus (an update on shows and other news). I quote: 


Email newsletters aren't going to be your biggest fundraisers, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't fundraise in email newsletters. I would:

  • put a soft ask at the bottom (P.S., footer)
  • occasionally include opportunities to give such as honor and memorial gifts, especially for holidays; symbolic gifts such as adoptions and shares (think Heifer); and store items such as t-shirts, mugs, etc.  

You're just going to have to adjust your expectations down when it comes to fundraising through e-newsletters. If you want to raise real money via email, you have to have a dedicated appeal.  

Best format? Essentially, a few well-chosen items (much less than print), with jumps to larger stories. Try to include opportunities for engagement such as quizzes, asking for comments on blog posts, share to Facebook and Twitter, share-your-story-type activities.


And with the trend toward more and more people reading email on mobile devices, these newsletters are evolving - bigger fonts, big buttons instead of links (easier for fingertips to follow), streamlined layout (1 column vs. 2). 


Fundraising following advocacy (petition and pledge signing), even as close as on the advocacy confirmation action page, is a good tactic.

Let's have a round of applause for our guest experts: Karen Affeld, Jonathon Grapsas, and Kerri Karvetski.


Check out Tom at! So there! 


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