For many nonprofits, there is no opportunity to hit delete after sending out a flawed email

My 23-year-old cousin received an email from a non-profit last month, promoting the organization’s new planned giving web site and inviting him to register for a free webinar about the topic. After opting-out from the non-profit’s mailing list, my cousin emailed me and asked, “Why would they send me this junk?” My reply, “Because you joined their list, and they probably send everything to everybody every time.”

This non-profit (which shall remain nameless) had a budding relationship with my cousin, who chose to join the email list a few months ago. He appreciated the organization’s mission, and he was probably going to make a donation this month. But he’s not a planned giving prospect. And when this teen received an email about end-of-life planning, he found it creepy, and he didn’t want anything to do with this organization again. “I don’t even have a girlfriend,” he wrote. “Why would I want to talk to these guys about my will?!”

Don’t make the same mistake. Do not send everything to everybody every time. Email marketing is a great tool, in part because it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Press send and – voila – several thousand constituents receive your message. Plus, we all understand that follow-up sells, that it usually takes more than one touch to close the deal with a prospective donor or volunteer. Combine such ease-of-use and affordability with the prerogative to follow-up and you naturally want to press send, over and over and over.

But if recipients do not consider the content pertinent to their interests – or, worse yet, if they find it creepy or counter to their interests – they will press delete, opt-out, click the “this is spam” button, or all of the above. Then, as happened with my cousin, you lose a prospect forever.

So what’s a fundraising professional with a tight marketing budget to do? You have to separate prospects from suspects. You have to segment your lists so that you can deliver targeted follow-ups only to true prospects.

To promote planned giving, the non-profit can include an item about the program among many other items in its email newsletter. The newsletter should include a little bit of everything so that all readers will find something worth reading.

For the planned giving item, include a link to “read more” that points additional information on your web site. Create and send the email with a system that can track who clicks the link. A few days after sending the newsletter, pull the list of people who clicked that link and save that list as “planned giving prospects.” Create a follow-up email about the planned giving web site and webinar and send it only to your planned giving prospects.

You can use the same approach for virtually any business goal you have – raising volunteers, identifying and cultivating major donor prospects, connecting with prospective donors for a specific program.

Use link-tracking in your general interest newsletter to segment your list, and then deliver targeted follow-ups to the prospects you’ve identified. If the non-profit had taken this approach, it would have developed its planned giving program and still had an active relationship with (and a donation from) my cousin.


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