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What I'm Saying.

E-mail Marketing: When to Send, When to Refresh and How to Activate your List

Nonprofit Communications

Source: bxp34298h by on FlickrRecently, I came across another thread from the Progressive Exchange listserve that I couldn’t resist posting about here on Williteration. The question that arose was at what time during the week is a good time to launch a mass e-mail from a platform such as Convio eCRM platform, or one similar to it, such as Constant Contact, Listrak or Blue Hornet (all equally great platforms for sending mass e-mail communications). I have found, through personal experience, however, that Convio has the most robust features for a nonprofit to utilize. Outside of social networking, Convio can host the digital presence of a nonprofit organization from hosting a Web site, advocacy action alerts, story capturing software to merely sending out mass e-mail communications.

Having experience in e-mail marketing field since 2006 on a professional level, my answer to this question is to put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. As simple as this may sound, there might be many reasons why we get higher response rates during the middle of the week compared to Friday through Monday.

  • Many people have three-day weekends;
  • On Mondays, most people are sifting through e-mail that has piled up over the weekend and cannot answer or read any non-important e-mail;
  • Most Fridays people are checking out, mentally, and getting ready for the weekend and thus won’t respond, similar to Monday’s response rate;
  • As to why it is recommended to launch a mass e-mail between 10AM to 2PM local time or 11AM – 3PM (you can float between these hours, it doesn’t matter much) Tuesday through Thursday, is that many people are also catching up on e-mails first thing in the morning and possibly cannot read any nonessential e-mail outside of those hours;
  • Finally, most people, if they are like me, keep their personal e-mail browsers open (Gmail, Hotmail, AOL Web mail, Microsoft Outlook) while they are at work and check both. You are more likely to find a relaxed person with an opening in their schedule between meetings or tasks that they are accomplishing between these hours in the middle of the day.

Something I would recommend as well to improve the performance on your list is to continually refresh your organization’s list. Many people move (some people use their cable provider to host their e-mail address) or change jobs, get spammed by another entity and they simply ignore (and don’t deactivate the e-mail account) or deactivate their e-mail account without telling you. As such, it is important to refresh your list, at most every six months and at the very least every year. It is important to have money in your organizational budget to seek out new e-mail addresses beyond those harvested due to organic cultivation (form on your homepage, word of mouth, suggestions on your social networks or e-newsletters to sign up for e-mail updates).

There are many activities you can pursue without violating the CAN-SPAM Act:

  • List-shepherding: where you prepare a message and agree with a like-minded organization or a partner organization to give the message (with links included) to them and the other organization sends the message on your behalf to their list and you likewise do the same for them in a reciprocal fashion;
  • Utilize the services of an organization similar to Care2: Care2 will host an action alert amongst their community and those who take action and are willing to become a part of your list; they then become yours (and are much more likely to be an active participant in your list than many other methods); and
  • List rental: Under this method, something offered by companies like InfoUSA, you work with a customer service rep to create your message and they, in turn, send this message to their list and anyone that responds by performing the action you asked of them are collected by the method the action uses (e.g. a form on your web site, or by asking them to take action on an action alert they have the option of signing up for your e-newsletter).

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are ways to get you started in seeking out ways to grow your e-mail list to better engage your end users and supporters. Once they are in your list keep them engaged by sending them what they want to hear about from you. One way to identify what the end recipient wants to hear from you is to create what Convio calls a “relationship pathway.” The relationship pathway is a method for strategically driving your end recipients to their end destination of choice. While at United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) we implemented the relationship pathway strategy through the use of a Welcome Series of e-mails. The Welcome Series consisted of a series of four separate e-mails automatically scheduled to send a week apart through the first month that a user is within the Convio eCRM database.

  • United Cerebral Palsy - Welcome Series: Message 3 - Social NetworkingThe first message is a general welcome and broad “this is what we do” and an ask to sign up for UCP’s e-newsletter as well as Information & Referral lists.
  • The second is an introduction to the most visible advocacy campaigns with an ask to sign up for the advocacy action alert lists.
  • The third is an invitation to join UCP on social networking sites and other ways to get involved, such as hosting a widget on their page for the UCP Facebook fan page (this e-mail is located to the right as well as the portfolio page of this Web site).
  • The fourth is a message describing other ways that an end recipient can support the organization financially (monthly giving program, donation of stock a timeshare, or a vehicle).

The relationship pathway allowed the end user to self-select what they wanted to hear about and how active that they wanted to be. As a result, the list attrition rate fell (those who unsubscribe) and the open/read rates of each e-mail we sent rose dramatically. Instead of using the shotgun method of shooting and hoping that you hit something, we used a strategy that allowed us to send messages with laser-like precision to reach those who were most interested in a given topic. This stategic method can work with any organization and it takes some degree of thought on how you choose to go about getting the results you are looking for.

Under my lead on this project, UCP sucessfully completed the pilot program for the Welcome Series during the 2008 holiday season and expanded it to include any other affiliates who wanted to participate. Items that experienced growth included:

  • Subscription lists;
  • Donation revenue and number of transactions; and
  • List activity rates.

I know that this blog post went above and beyond the question at hand, but I find that it is important to regularly refresh your e-mail list and to engage it in the right way if you are seeking to keep an active audience ready for grassroots mobilization or donation purposes (if you are a 501(c)(3)). Most don’t consider it when configuring their budgets and as a result witness list atrophy and attrition rates that are beyond our control, yet accountability for them remains upon those of us managing such lists for explanation.

E-marketing is more of an art than a science, but with readily identifiable metrics and reporting chains, we all must be ready to respond as experts on the topic. It is my hope that this helps nonprofit professionals in the e-marketing field to engage their board members and staff with readily quantifyable and demonstrable knowledge on the use and need for a healthly e-mail address database.

*Disclaimer: I was in no way prompted to speak on behalf of Convio eCRM. I am simply impressed with their product and my experience with the Web-native software.

- Will

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