Your 5-Step Guide to Nonprofit Email Marketing

Next time you want to know how many people in a room volunteer for a nonprofit organization, just stand on the nearest chair and announce that you are a nonprofit marketing and fund development professional. Before you know it, you will be peppered with questions. How can we get the word out about our programs? How do we engage our community? How can we raise more money?

I’m always impressed by both the number of people who volunteer in their communities, and by the passion they bring to this work. They are hungry to know what they can do to make their organizations stronger and more effective, so that they can do more for those they serve.

So, when they ask me what is the one thing they can do to reach more people and to foster a deeper engagement in their work, my answer is this: use email marketing to communicate with your audiences. 

See where email marketing fits into your overall marketing strategy

If the conversation continues, I will probably also suggest that email marketing is best used hand-in-hand with other online marketing tools, such as social media and a good nonprofit website. 

You can learn everything you need to know about launching a comprehensive online marketing strategy by reading The Download: Making Sense of Online Marketing for Your Nonprofit Organizations, a step-by-step how-to guide published by Constant Contact.

The Download - free marketing guide for nonprofits
Get a copy of our free online marketing guide for nonprofits.

But if you’re thinking about where to begin, email marketing is a great choice. Email continues to rank as one of the most effective marketing channels.

What is email marketing for nonprofits? 

For those who don’t have marketing experience, or who cringe at the prospect of learning new technology, the very idea of “nonprofit email marketing” might produce more than a little anxiety, so let’s think of it another way. At its core, nonprofit email marketing means using email to communicate with lots of people at once. 

Example nonprofit email marketing
Nonprofit email marketing can elevate your organization’s communications and advance your mission through modern tactics and tools.

Maybe it would help to think of email marketing as a modern way to do mailings. I rarely meet a small nonprofit that doesn’t have a mailing list that they use to send newsletters, program information, and fundraising appeals to the people who have expressed interest in their work. Email marketing does the same thing using digital tools

Why should my nonprofit use email marketing?

Why, you might ask, should you give up on paper mailings? Well first of all, I’m not suggesting you give up on paper entirely. There will always be reasons to send communications through the mail. Plus, you don’t want to completely alienate those volunteers who enjoy stuffing envelopes and doing battle with sticky labels. But by shifting your focus to email using a platform like Constant Contact, you can power up your communications in several ways. Here are just a few:

Beautiful, professional-looking emails

An email marketing platform like Constant Contact offers professional-grade, ready-to-use templates, and if those don’t satisfy your need, it is just as easy to design your own. You can use your own logo, match colors to your other communications pieces, and it is super-easy to include the types of media that people like most, like photographs and videos. You can link text and pictures in your emails to lead your readers to important information, such as the sign-up form for an upcoming event, a social media page, or a “donate now” page. 

TIP: Don’t have a logo? Create one with Constant Contact’s free logo maker.

A professional-looking email program is a must. In fact, 99% of consumers check their email every single day

Learn more about your supporters with data

When you send a letter or brochure through the mail, there is no way to know what happens when it gets there. Did anyone open it? Read it? Take action based on what you sent? You can only hope so!

Email is different. When you send a marketing email, you get detailed information about which emails your supporters open and what content causes them to take action. You can even include a survey now and then to learn even more about what is important to your audience, while also letting them know that you care what they think. As you learn about their preferences, you can better serve their interests. Over time, you will have enough information to segment your list if you wish, to send tailored messages to specific audiences.

With email marketing, the mailing list you once used to send a printed newsletter once a month or so becomes a two-way conversation with your most important constituents.

Here’s another little data tip — You can use your email marketing account to capture and store more than just names and email addresses. Information such as mailing addresses, birthdays, job titles and more can live in your contact list.

Email marketing saves time and money

But, you may ask, what about the cost? And how about the learning curve?

In terms of financial investment, I guarantee that email marketing will cost far less than what you would spend on paper, printing, and postage to reach the same audience.

Plus, the return on your investment of time to learn how to create and send emails will be high. Gone will be the hours of folding, labeling, stuffing and sorting. Your local postmaster may miss seeing you, so you might want to stop in once in a while just to say hello.

You don’t have to go it alone, either. There is a wealth of free information to help answer any question you might have about email marketing. In addition to The Download for Nonprofits, Constant Contact offers a robust online marketing blog and easy-to-follow how-to videos.

How do you do nonprofit email marketing?

After you set up your account and familiarize yourself with the basics — how to manage your contact list, how to create an email campaign, and how to use the different features — you are ready get started.

Step #1: Create a sign-up form

You want to provide a way for people to sign up to receive your emails. Your sign-up form will have its own unique URL that you can share on your website and social media pages once you have those set up. You can also send the URL (also known as a web address) to the sign-up form in personal emails to specific individuals.

Example email signup form
Sign-up forms are a way to capture the information of visitors to your website so you can stay in touch and make them loyal supporters of your cause.

Step #2: Create a welcome email to go hand in hand with step #1

This way, when someone signs up for your email list, they will automatically (meaning, once it’s set up you don’t even have to think about it!) get confirmation and a thank you note. If you want to get fancy, you can send a special thank-you gift with it, such as a PDF version of an informational brochure.

Example nonprofit thank you email
This example of a welcome email thanks the reader for signing up and gives them a clear call-to-action to donate to the cause.

Step #3: Send an invitation to connect 

This is another task that can be automated. A few days after signing up, invite your new contact to connect with you in some way. Usually, it is an invitation to follow you on social media. 

Step #4: Start a regular schedule of emails

Monthly is fine, if that’s all your schedule allows right now. It is more important to focus on being consistent. 

A word of caution: Gone are the days of long-winded newsletters. Adjust your communications to today’s shorter attention spans, and make sure you are sharing information that your readers will find valuable. Include engaging images and a compelling call to action – what do you want your readers to do after reading your email?

Step #5: Grow your list

Take advantage of every opportunity to invite people to join. Have sign-up sheets at community events. Features like Constant Contact’s text-to-join tool make it even easier for people to sign up. You can hand out printed flyers with your text-to-join number, and you can include it as a slide in your next presentation.

Remember — It’s always not just about fundraising

Fundraising emails are now part of the norm, and are usually used in addition to face-to-face, phone, social media and other online campaigns, and direct mail appeals. 

However, email marketing offers an opportunity to communicate with your audience without directly asking for money. You don’t want to be the organization that only reaches out when their hand is out for money. It’s far better to think about email marketing as a platform for building relationships. 

So with your email marketing, as with all of your online marketing, make sure you are highlighting your mission, building relationships with your supporters, and inviting them to engage beyond just asking for donations.

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