You’ve Got Mail: Email Marketing 101

You’ve Got Mail is our latest blog series, and we’re excited to dedicate the next few weeks to the rapidly-growing and exciting world of email-based communications! Follow along as we demystify email marketing, discuss email-based storytelling strategies to engage with your community, explore hands-on strategies to design captivating campaigns, and lots more.

Email Marketing for Nonprofits

Email marketing is the practice of leveraging email communication to reach your audience––whether that’s to grow your following, showcase your offerings, raise funds, or achieve other important goals. As Mailchimp puts it, “Email marketing can help you build a relationship with your audience while also driving traffic to your blog, social media, or anywhere else you’d like folks to visit. You can even segment your emails and target users by demographic so you’re only sending people the messages they want to see most.”

And it’s not just convenience that makes email marketing an especially powerful asset for nonprofits. Constant Contact reports that this channel frequently outperforms even social media and paid searches, with a return on investment of $42 for every dollar spent. Impressive!

In the sections that follow, we unpack key terms related to email marketing and help you set up your very own campaigns.


Understanding Key Terms

According to Hubspot, the first marketing email was sent in 1978 to great results: it generated $13 million in sales “and kicked off what has become one of the most highly used marketing channels even to this day.” Of course, a lot has changed from a technological standpoint since the late ‘70s, and keeping up with the new landscape of digital marketing can be dizzying at first. But don’t be intimidated: all it takes is a little knowledge of key terms to start incorporating the latest best practices into your nonprofit’s communications strategy.

BOUNCE RATE: this term rate refers to the percentage of emails you send out that are not accepted by your recipients’ email servers. As Constant Contact explains, “there are two types of email bounces — a soft bounce and a hard bounce. A soft bounce means that the email address is valid and was delivered to the recipient’s inbox, but it still bounced because the mailbox was full, the server was down, or the message was too large for the recipient’s inbox. A hard bounce happens when the email is permanently rejected because the email address is invalid or the email address doesn’t exist.” Check out their article, 6 Reasons Emails Bounce, to learn more about how to improve your nonprofit’s bounce rate.

CTR (CLICK THROUGH RATE): A CTR is the percentage of recipients that click on a link that has been included in your email, and it is a metric that speaks to your readers’ engagement with your content. The rate is calculated by dividing the number of clicks on a link by the number of emails that were opened. As a general rule of thumb: the higher your CTR, the better your email is performing. If you’d like to learn more, this article by Mailchimp offers hands-on tips for improving your click rate.

CONVERSION RATE: This metric is an important one to keep in mind because it offers insights into the number of people who follow through on your email’s call to action. This can be a click, a download, a purchase, or some other action, and is one of the top indicators of your email’s performance. In this article, Instapage breaks down how conversion rates are calculated and how you can improve yours.

LIST SEGMENTATION: As Hubspot explains, “at the basic level, they're exactly what it sounds like -- you break up your contact lists into smaller segments. These segments can be cut and combined a number of different ways: by psychographics, demographics, industry, company size, webpage views, number of downloads of your content -- you name it.” Segmentation is important because it helps you send more targeted and relevant messages to your audience.


Getting Started

Perhaps your organization has been investing in email marketing for a number of years already, or maybe you are looking to start from scratch. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned pro, taking some time to review these best practices is a great way to ensure that your outreach strategy remains effective and responsive.

When looking to create or update email campaigns, start with these foundational steps:

  • Maintain your list(s): keep track of your contacts by adding them to your preferred email marketing platform––then make sure to keep your list updated by removing old or disused addresses, segmenting your list where appropriate, and adding new contacts as you go along.

  • Create a template: marketing platforms today offer a vast array of customizable templates, and you’ll want to choose one that you can rely on time and time again. Align its design with your brand identity and keep sections fairly consistent––this will grow recognition and build trust.

  • Be mobile-friendly: the majority of emails today are read on mobile devices, which means that your campaigns must be designed to fit on smaller screens without losing quality or accessibility. Most email marketing platforms will do this for you automatically, but it’s always a good idea to preview and test your campaigns before sending them out.

Resources for Going Deeper

If you’d like to learn more about how to set up or enhance your email marketing campaigns, TechSoup has just the right e-course for you, designed specifically for nonprofits and their needs!

The Email Marketing for Nonprofits bundle is a self-paced, five-course track that will show you how to create and implement an effective email marketing strategy. The course covers segmenting and customizing your email marketing messages and content for better results, as well as goal setting, benchmarking and analytics. It also covers helpful strategies such as identifying the best frequency for your email campaigns to optimize your response rates and budget. Whether you are a marketing maven or a newbie, you'll come away with a deep understanding of how to integrate email with online and offline marketing channels for a successfully integrated campaign.

We also have a number of helpful blog posts in our archive that offer plenty more hands-on tips and practical advice! The Design for Non-Designers series will help you learn more about crafting a brand narrative, designing for accessibility and inclusion, and more. And don’t forget to check out our article titled Sending Great Newsletters, part of our Thriving Digital Connections series. In it, you’ll also find more resources related to CASL, the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation


Further Reading

How To Do Email Marketing: 10 Things To Do First (Constant Contact)
The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing (Hubspot)
Email Marketing Guide for Successful Campaigns (Mailchimp)
The Complete Guide to Analyzing Email Marketing Performance (Benchmark)
Zero to Marketing: Short case studies that help you get better at marketing

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