I’ve written before about general online fundraising tips and online advocacy tips, but how do you write a good mass email for a non-profit or political campaign — for fundraising or advocacy — in the first place?
Consider that people don’t read email like they read a novel. Most people are skimming the content, especially if they are using a mobile device and/or multi-tasking.
This means you should make sure your email is easy to read. Use short sentences, and highlight key text. Can people understand your message by only reading the bolded parts? Use simple language too – don’t write over the heads of much of your audience.
Develop a voice. Write as a person, to a person. The more you sound like a real person instead of a robot, the more people will want to read your emails. Elizabeth Warren’s emails are a great example of this – her emails sound exactly like her. One of the goals of your campaign or organizational email program should be to sound like the candidate or organization, rather than a generic email that could have come from anybody. If you have the resources, you can dig deep into this, developing “personas” of what your members look like and tailoring your content accordingly. But a good first step is to sound authentic and at least somewhat unique. Don’t disappear in a wave of similar mass email– you’re competing in a marketplace of thousands of campaigns and non-profits all emailing their supporters on a regular basis.
Your content should be compelling. It’s your audience’s choice whether to keep reading (and whether to read your next email or unsubscribe). Make sure they choose to read your content, by not wasting their time or boring them.
Make people feel something. If you want people to take action, you need to motivate them to do so. A dry email is going to be less effective than engaging with your reader’s emotions.
YOU MUST ASK. You might assume that the point of your email is clear, but make sure you have one (and only 1) type of ask in it. Multiple different asks? That should be multiple emails. It’s ok — good, even, to repeat the ask throughout the email. But do not mix multiple kinds of ask in the same email, or you will confuse your audience and wind up with less actions overall. Also an email sent without an ask is just sending out an unsubscribe button — make sure you ask for something, even if it’s just to share a piece of news on social media.
It’s OK to repeat your ask. Since people are skimming your content & not necessarily reading it thoroughly, this is why you want the ask in there multiple times. The first ask should be pretty high up on the page, so that you catch people before some hit “delete”.
Use a P.S. Studies show the intro part of the email and the P.S. tend to get the most attention, so don’t neglect this.
Pay attention to above the fold/preview pane, since you can’t assume people read any further. In general, most people take some time to get to the point. After you draft an email, try chopping out the first few sentences altogether to make it stronger.
Subject lines matter. It’s important to test everything to do with your mass email, but testing subject lines is a bare minimum (assuming your mass email program makes this easy). Even email professionals can’t always predict what a winning subject line will be, also mass email tends to go through trends and fads. “hey”, anyone? Once a trend fades, then it’s important to move on – but you won’t find this out unless you test.
Details matter. What’s a more compelling ask – “please give me some money” or “please loan me $25 so I can buy pizza for everyone for dinner”? More details give people a reason to donate, or to take whatever action you’re asking them to take.
As a part of being detailed, set goals if possible. How much money do you want to raise? How many signatures do you want to collect (and by when)? If your CMS allows you to use goal thermometers or other ways of visually representing people’s participation and how close you are to achieving your goal, that is very motivational as well.
Have a theory of change. How is taking the online or offline action and/or donating going to help solve the problem you’re addressing? Too many non-profits and campaigns assume that people will give money because they are asked, not because they lay out the case for why you should donate. Your emails will perform better if you persuade people WHY they should take action.
Make sure your emails perform well on mobile devices. Most email is opened on cell phones and tablets these days, so your email (and your action) MUST look good and be easy to do on a mobile device or people will give up on it.
Test everything, as much as possible. That’s how you learn how your list performs, and do even better over time. Testing subject lines is a good place to start, but you can test senders, test length of email, test phrasing, test graphic-only versus text, test fancy email designs versus simple, test different kinds of asks, test a low dollar versus high dollar ask and more.
Timing matters. Your email could be the best written in the world, and sent to an active opted-in audience, but you sent out during the end of quarter deluge or on Giving Tuesday or in the middle of a major holiday and it got lost. Even if you’re not a federal campaign, it’s important to pay attention to what those deadlines are so you can steer clear of them (or try counter-programming). Note that there’s so much cross-pollination between lists, joint actions etc. that it’s a safe bet that most of your list is on several other campaign or non-profit lists too. Timing is another thing to test, too, to learn what days/times your list performs best on.
Use segmenting. Talk to different parts of your list, differently. If you have a multi-issue list, make sure you’re talking to the right people about the right issues. Don’t invite people to events that are far away from where they live, and treat past donors differently than non-donors. It’s always a nice touch to thank people for what they’ve done for you in the past, it shows you’re paying attention. Also you can get fancy with donation emails and ask people to give an amount based on their past donation history, assuming your CRM allows you to do so.
Have more questions on your mass email program, or need help making your organization’s email more effective? Contact PowerThru for assistance on using mass email to grow and activate your base of support.