Eight Steps to Creating Effective Email Messages

Email is a fast, easy, and inexpensive way for your nonprofit organization to get a message across to a lot of people. The problem is everyone else is doing the same thing and you are competing with a lot of other sources.  How can you ensure that people will open and read your email messages?  Follow these eight steps.

People must opt in
Every single person on your email list must be there because they have subscribed to it. Even if you have email addresses for your donors and other supporters, don’t add them to your list without their permission.  If you do, you are spamming them. Build relationships first, then your email list.

Don’t worry, it’s easy to build up your email list. Put a “sign up for our email list” prompt in a prominent place on your home page and other web pages, invite donors to sign up when they donate online, collect email addresses at events, invite people through social media,  encourage donors to sign up when you send them a thank you letter, and include subscription links in your email signatures.  Once people sign up, generate a nice thank you response to welcome them.

Open sesame
Your first hurdle is getting people to open your email in the first place.  Your organization’s name should be in the “from” line, so your reader knows it’s from a reputable source.

Make sure you use good subject lines – something short and simple, but effective. Your recipient should want to read more.  Avoid any words that might look like spam. Tell, but don’t sell what’s inside. Some examples might include –  Five Ways to Make Difference In a Child’s Life or Meet Our New Youth Advisors  Here are some more  examples of effective email subject lines 
Make it personal
Congratulations, your recipient has opened your email.  Now you need to get them to read it and take action.  Email can be impersonal, but it doesn’t have to have.  Include a personal salutation, but make sure it’s the right name.  One organization used to periodically send me messages addressed Dear Michael.

You must look marvelous
If your email message looks sloppy or unprofessional, your recipient may not bother reading it, even if includes great content.

Come up with a consistent, recognizable look so your readers know it’s from you. This can include your logo and organization’s colors.

Use an electronic-friendly font, such as Ariel or Verdana, that’s not too small.  Make it easy to read and scan (for better or worse, most people will be scanning your message) by including bold headings, bullet points, and short paragraphs.

Using a photo or image can be a nice way to capture someone’s attention, as well as to break up the text, but make sure they are good quality.

Content is king
Okay, your recipient is still with you. Now, you must write content people will want to read. To do this follow the 4 Cs of writing good 

Is it clear? What is your intention? Do you want someone to donate, volunteer, sign a petition, or attend an event?  Make your point right away and stick to one call to action per message.

Is it conciseUse as few words as possible, but use strong words and leave out any unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, or filler.
Is it conversationalStrive for a warm, friendly tone. Write in the second person and don’t use jargon or any words people need to look up in the dictionary.
Is it compelling? Start with a good opening and keep your reader interested throughout, so they will donate, volunteer, etc. 

Your content should highlight how you are helping the people you serve. 
Be known, but don’t be annoying
Send out messages anywhere between once a week and once a month. If you send out messages too often, people might opt out. Not enough and your supporters might forget about you. Someone is more likely to open and read your email if they are familiar with you.  But, always make sure you have something good to say. Think quality not quantity.

Use an email service provider
These have a lot of great features such as templates to give your messages a professional look, along with ways to personalize your messages, track open and click rates, and segment your lists. 

Go mobile
Remember that some people read email on their mobile devices. Here is an infographic on creating mobile friendly email.  Anatomy of a Perfect Mobile Email

By following the eight steps above, your recipients will be more likely to open and read your email messages, as well as take action.

More Email Marketing Resources

Email 101



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