The Top 5 Email Marketing Mistakes Made By Nonprofits

Jeff Gordy

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If you work in email marketing for a nonprofit, you’re probably aware that nobody ever reads your emails. On average, nonprofits have an email open rate of about 25%. And of the quarter that do open emails, only 3% go on to click a link.

It’s a serious problem that hits the nonprofit sector especially hard, since email is so cost-effective for marketing. But before giving up, we’ve taken a look at some of the worst nonprofit email marketing mistakes and have some suggestions of how to fix them.

Your emails are ugly

We see a lot of emails from nonprofits, and some of them can look pretty outdated. It’s amazing how far online communication has come in terms of web and graphic design standards, and unfortunately many nonprofits have been left in the dust.

This is a problem that has plagued nonprofits in several areas — social media, websites, donation forms, marketing collateral, etc. With tight budgets that don’t have the flexibility to allocate funds for good design, many nonprofits are stuck in the 90s with their marketing materials.

Remember: the average person sees hundreds of advertisements or branded communications per day. With so much competition, it’s important that your message stands out with compelling design.

Lucky for you, there are lots of affordable options out there to take your nonprofit emails to the next level. First off, your CRM should always include comprehensive and customizable email communications capabilities. You should also look for a system that supports integrations with third-party email marketing services, like MailChimp, Constant Contact, Emma or Stamplia. These services will keep your emails looking fresh and professional.

If you’re in the market for a new CRM, make sure to ask about email marketing features!

Your emails are not informative

Like all communications with your donors and supporters, your email marketing needs to tell a story. That story — who you are, what you stand for, the services you provide — should remain consistent throughout all of your communications.

You may already have a content strategy in place for your blogging, social media and other communications (if you don’t, think about creating one). Your nonprofit email marketing should be part of that strategy, just an extension of your current strategy through a different medium. Your supporters will expect consistency, and keeping content relatively similar will reinforce your organization’s brand.

Your nonprofit email marketing should not be all about you

The purpose of your newsletter is to tell supporters about your organization — what you’ve been doing, what you’re up to, what you need. Right?

Wrong. Don’t be that annoying person that only talks about themselves. Your supporters are your partners, and your communications should reflect that.

Focus your emails on how you and your donor can work together to make a difference. Highlight their impact on your organization, your shared accomplishments and opportunities to get involved. They’ve already engaged with your organization by donating, volunteering or signing up for your newsletter — leverage that commitment and try to develop the relationship even further.

Your emails don’t stand out

More organizations are using nonprofit email marketing than ever before. The average person receives about 85 emails per day, so it’s easy for your message to get buried by others. Even if the content inside of your email is amazing, your supporters may never even open it.

Set your email apart with a compelling, attention-grabbing subject line. Nothing says boring email like a subject line that simply reads something like “October Newsletter.” Think of your subject line as a headline — what will make someone interested enough to open your email and read what you have to say?

For more advice on crafting the perfect subject line, check out these resources:

Your emails aren’t relevant

This is perhaps the cardinal sin of the nonprofit email marketing world — not segmenting your email list into succinct groups of supporters. With a potential exception of a newsletter (although even that could be customized for segments), you should never send a one-size-fits-all email.

As a supporter of an organization, it’s not only annoying to receive unsegmented emails, it can potentially be very confusing. For example, let’s say I make my first donation to a nonprofit. A week later, I receive an email with a subject line that reads “Make Your First Donation Today!” Am I simply on the wrong email list, or was my donation not processed? I’d have to check with the organization to confirm, wasting everyone’s time.

There are several ways you can segment your email list, and many theories on what works best. At the very least, consider dividing your list up by these three straightforward segments:

  • Current donors
  • Lapsed donors
  • Prospective donors (engaged but not yet donated)

Separating supporters into clearly defined segments will allow you to create more customized content, making supporters feel valued and encouraging them to donate again.

Effective nonprofit email marketing isn’t an art — it’s a science. We encourage you to try out these tips, but don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you. Measure and keep track of what works best for you, and continue to improve.  

Have any tips on sending effective nonprofit emails? Let us know in the comments!

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Showing 5 comments
  • Greg

    If you don’t want your emails to be routed to Spam folders immediately, especially for recipients with Yahoo email addresses, it is important to make sure that your SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC authentication mechanisms are all properly set, inside or outside of NEON.

    • Andrew Dain

      Hi Greg, thanks for the tip! Do you have a link for a how-to article on that?

  • Nathan Russell

    I have a query about the post, where am i able to make contact with
    the writer?

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