Integrated fundraising isn’t an option these days. If your organization isn’t integrating online and offline, you’re missing a huge opportunity. And chances are you’re losing donors to organizations that are running integrated fundraising campaigns.

In this second installment of fundraising best practices, I’ll highlight best practice strategies for e-mail fundraising. You can implement these today to improve fundraising performance immediately.

Fundraising Best Practice Series: Volume 2, E-mail Fundraising 

E-mail fundraising isn’t voodoo.  You don’t need to be able to divine the digital tea leaves in order to be successful.  Focus on the same core direct response principles that deliver success offline.  Audience, offer and creative.  In that order.

Segment your e-mail list.  Don’t send everyone the same message or offer.  Customize your e-mail campaigns based on the relationship you have with your constituents.  Pay special attention to how you acquired their e-mail addresses.  Event-acquired donors are going to behave differently than direct mail-acquired.  Advocacy supporters and newsletter registrants will behave differently than cash donors.  Be aware of these nuances as you build your segmentation strategy. 

List quality is critical to e-mail success.  Organically acquired (i.e., the donor gave you their address) addresses are the highest quality e-mails you can get.  Appended (paid) addresses will perform at lower rates than organic, but depending on your level of investment, may still make sense for your organization.

Strengthen your e-mail campaign by integrating both timing and messaging with your other fundraising channels.  For example, coordinate your direct mail, e-mail, online display advertising, SEM, radio and outdoor efforts to provide consistent themes, messages and creative in all channels.  This intentional integration should create overall lift for your marketing efforts.

Test frequently.  It is fairly simple to conduct A/B split testing with most of the popular e-mail marketing programs on the market these days.  Take advantage of that simplicity and the low(er) cost of testing via e-mail to test different audience selects, offers, creative treatments, etc.  Because of the immediacy of e-mail, you’ll be able to garner quick learnings and roll out higher performing initiatives much faster than you can with direct mail or other channels.

Test drive your e-mail campaigns before sending to your constituent list.  Send yourself a test e-mail and go through the entire process to ensure all links work, and the e-mail is easy to navigate.  Nothing is worse than sending donors an e-mail that includes broken links – then they can’t even give if they wanted to!

Don’t neglect your landing pages.  You can have the best e-mail strategy, but if your landing pages aren’t optimized for donation converstion you stand to lose a lot of money.  Design clean, simple landing pages that are easy to navigate.  Allow the donor to complete the entire transaction in a single page if possible.

If you have good video resource, use it in your e-mail campaigns.  Donors are more likely to engage with your e-mail if it includes video.

Increase e-mail response rates by putting your offer in the subject line.  Testing shows that while e-mails with direct subject lines might get opened slightly less frequently than those with indirect subjects, e-mails with direct subject lines had nearly 400% higher response rates.

When writing e-mail copy think memo style, not novel.  Keep your message short, compelling and to the point. 

As with any other direct response channel, frequency will improve your e-mail results.  Consider sending a follow-up e-mail with slightly different subject line 4-5 days after your initial e-mail.  Send your follow-up message to those who didn’t open your first e-mail, and to those who might have opened but didn’t act on the initial e-mail.

Don’t just use e-mail to ask for money.  The quickest way to land in a donor’s junk mail folder is to only e-mail when you need money.  I like to follow a 3:1 rule.  That is, for every direct solicitation e-mail, you need to send three non-solicitation e-mails.  Use e-mail to tell your most compelling stories, thank and recognize donors and volunteers, give constituents opportunities to engage with your brand in other ways (attend events, participate in cause marketing campaigns, advocate for your cause, etc.).

Personalize every e-mail.  With all of the variable data available to you these days, there’s no excuse for any donor receiving a “Dear Friend” e-mail.  Generic e-mails like that will quickly find their way to the waste basket.  Bonus points if you personalize the ask amounts for each donor based on their gift history.

If you send an e-newsletter, use the e-mail to briefly highlight each story (2-3 sentences, max), and direct donors back to your website to access the full story content.

Make it easy for readers to share your content on social media sites.  Place social media buttons prominently within your e-mails.

Use online petitions, advocacy initiatives and giveaways to entice donors to give you their e-mail addresses.  Offering constituents something of value in exchange for their e-mail address will increase response rates.

Remember that not all donors read HTML e-mails.  If you’re sending HTML e-mail, don’t forget to also include text-only versions.   This will expand you reach and ensure more donors see your message.

1/3 of all Americans age 30-49 check e-mail on their mobile device.  Keep this in mind as you write and design both your e-mail and landing pages.  Keep your content short and simple.

Develop a 3-part e-mail series to use at year-end.  Time your series so that each drop is 5-7 days after the other, and the last of the series arrives in mailboxes on the morning of December 31st.  Each e-mail should build on the last, with the final drop highlighting the donor’s “last chance” to make a year-end contribution.

Engage new supporters with a customized e-mail welcome series designed to introduce them to your cause and core programs through compelling story content and convert them to donors as quickly as possible.

Use e-mail to convert non-donors and one-time donors to monthly givers.  E-mail is one of the best vehicles for monthly gift conversion (after DRTV and telemarketing).

What other e-mail fundraising best practices would you suggest?