Over the years, much has been said about the best way to craft a direct mail appeal.
The size of the envelope, the audience, the message on the outside, the message on the inside, the response type, to include a gift or not. All these things and more have been debated ad nauseam.
But as more nonprofits incorporate digital elements into their fundraising campaigns, there is an oft-overlooked channel that provides tremendous amounts of value to those who can pull it off successfully.
It is the humble email.
The Little Communications Channel That Could.
Email is the online channel that just refuses to be pushed aside. It’s been around for about as long as the internet has, and it hasn’t changed all that much since the 1970s.
Think about your earliest days of internet connectivity. What famous soundbite comes to mind?
“You’ve got mail!”
Yes, even since our AOL days, email has remained fairly constant. Which is especially impressive given the monumental shifts that have made other aspects of the early internet nearly unrecognizable.
And because of this, email often gets overlooked as a communications channel. It’s just not as “sexy” as all the other tools out there (besides, all those “sexy” emails go to your spam folder anyway).
But here’s the thing: email is far and away the number one driver of campaign page traffic and donations.
It’s not even all that close. Email accounts for 56% of campaign page traffic. The next closest channel is Facebook, coming in at 25%.
So make no mistake: email matters.
Our Changing Relationship With Email
Despite the fact that email itself hasn’t changed much, the way we interact with it sure has.
For one, we got more. A whole lot more. 205 billion messages every day.
Given that huge volume, it’s natural that we’ve put our guards up when it comes to our inboxes. We make quick decisions whether to read something or trash it. We can smell a “marketing” email from a mile away.
Our medium for reading email has also shifted. What was once an occasional desktop activity has turned into an always-on mobile experience. Most experts peg the amount of email that is first read on mobile at over 50%.
Did you catch that? A majority of your donors are reading your emails on mobile!
That’s a number that is likely to grow even higher in the coming years as more web traffic shifts to mobile.
So how can you ensure that your appeal emails are effective on mobile?
Here’s a few tips.
1. Make sure your email service offers responsive templates (and that you’re using them).
Most email services (like MailChimp or Constant Contact) offer responsive templates.
A “responsive” template is simply an email template that automatically adjusts and changes the size of certain elements to fit the screen it’s being displayed on. That way, your email looks sharp whether the reader is using a tablet, phone, or desktop.
2. Keep it short.
Many people make the mistake of trying to “sell” the reader in the email. While this can work, the real purpose of your appeal email is to drive people to the campaign page. That’s where you can sell them on the case/cause.
Typically, we recommend appeal emails remain under seven sentences long. This is particularly important on mobile as mobile messages are typically read on-the-go.
3. One single, clear call-to-action.
With direct mail campaigns, most fundraisers know that the mailer needs a clear and direct call-to-action, free from distractions. If you want appeal emails to work effectively on mobile, follow this same rule.
When you insert other calls, links, or stories into appeal emails, you’re just giving the reader excuses to not click through to the campaign page and donate. Keep these emails focused.
Bonus tip: I like drawing extra attention to my link in emails like this:
4. Limit (or eliminate) images.
Despite advances in mobile technology and cell network coverage, data still loads slower on mobile than it does over wifi. So large images will slow down the load time of your email, thus increasing the likelihood that the reader will get frustrated and skip to the next message in their overflowing inbox.
You could take this even further and try using text-only, simplified emails. The benefit of messages like this is that it’s much more personal looking. It looks like the type of message human beings send to each other in one-on-one interactions, rather than glossy emails that scream “mass email!” and cause people to put their marketing defenses up.
Here’s an example of the messages I send to blog subscribers:
5. Send them to a mobile responsive page.
If people are reading your message on mobile, they’ll also (hopefully) click over to your campaign page on mobile. If that page isn’t responsive, how likely are they to complete their donation or even stick around to read about the campaign?
Not very likely.
Not only should you ensure that you’re using a mobile email template, but make sure your campaign page is mobile responsive as well.
6. Test it on mobile!
Before sending your appeal, send yourself a test email and open it on your phone. How does it look? Do the links work? Can you read it okay?
Many people will test messages, but they often do it on their desktop since that’s the machine they’re currently working on. But this ignores the behavior of a growing majority of your donors.
7. Measure and learn.
Sure, you’re likely already measuring your open and click rates on emails, but are you segmenting your results by device?
Try taking your last appeal email and segmenting it into desktop and mobile opens. Compare the click rates and see where you can make improvements.
It’s All About Your Donors
Remember, it all comes down to understanding your donors and how they interact with your messages. Your strategy should be based on what will best serve them and fit their preferences. Ask them questions, examine the data, and adjust your plan accordingly to maximize your performance.
If you do that, you’ll be set for future appeals no matter what high-tech device comes along next.