The new year is a perfect planning opportunity as your organization sets its sights on new goals and outcomes for the next 12 months. Whether you call it an annual fundraising plan or a communications road map, now is your chance to push the envelope on your ongoing digital efforts to engage constituents, grow your list, and raise money.
Email is re-emerging as a communications channel that is new and powerful again. With the oversaturation of social media and the challenges over fake news, people are turning back to receiving email from organizations they trust. 2017 is a great time to re-envision and reboot your efforts to keep in touch via email with your constituents, volunteers, and donors.
For many organizations last year, mobile has dominated email opens, which means that more and more people are reading your email on their phones first. Other, larger-screen devices are also in the mix, but the phone is their first contact. This means that you must create a smooth mobile experience for your subscribers, from subject line to landing page.
This is the season to freshen up your email messaging templates and focus on mobile, optimizing all your email communications to maximize your subscriber engagement. Gmail and Microsoft have invested in improving their email services. So it's more important than ever to get feedback on how your emails appear to your subscribers on those services and using those apps. Recruit volunteers as email testers to get ongoing feedback on the layout, font size, embedded images, links, and the user experience once someone clicks on a link.
If you're ready for more complex mobile optimization projects, this is your year to learn about media queries and fluid hybrid design.
There's a lot of talk about "hyper-personalization" and "dynamic content" in email, but let's keep this simple for those of us with modest budgets and staff. The key to success with email messaging is relevant content and list segmentation. You need to send the right content to the right segment of your file at the right time.
For years, email messaging has been about blasting the same content to your whole list. This year, your focus should shift towards sending smaller batches of email to people who fit certain criteria. They might be people who attended an event, downloaded a PDF from your website, donated a one-time gift, or signed up as monthly donors. Engagement is your key to email success in 2017.
In spite of my appeal for personalized content in email, it's also critically important to use email automation effectively during key transactions such as email subscription, event signups, and online giving. This means an increased scrutiny of all the thank-you emails that get sent out automatically by your marketing platforms. Review your thank-you emails quarterly to make sure the language is personal and fresh, and never miss the opportunity to suggest another follow-up action.
Beyond the thank-you email is your welcome series, which is a key engagement tool and often one of the most read series of emails. The automated welcome series is the front line in introducing your programs and staff, recruiting volunteers, and inspiring new fans. These should also be reviewed quarterly to make sure they're fresh.
If we've learned anything in the past few years, it's that graphics and video make a huge difference in engagement, shares, and response rates. The truth is that attention span in the digital medium is a very valuable commodity. It's time to write less and show more. Write less lengthy copy and better headlines. Use a graphic to replace a paragraph. Embed a video to present a call to action.
This requires more forward and long-range planning to execute, but the rewards will be worth it. Metrics show that images on social media platforms perform 300 percent better. Emails that contain less copy and include graphic visual elements regularly improve response rates.
New technical developments in email — notably the ability to embed HTML5 video in emails — offer some new opportunities to showcase your video content.
Because donors rally in politically charged times, most forecasters are expecting that online giving will increase in the coming year. This is your chance to improve your giving experience online.
There's a lot of scrutiny about the impact that social media can have on your digital engagement efforts. Stagnating response rates and an increase in costs have many nonprofits wondering if this is an effective investment.
The reality is that social media platforms have evolved into hybrid community, content, and advertising platforms that require financial investment for optimum results. The opportunity is that social media platforms have evolved into highly sophisticated message targeting tools that can combine effectively with your other email and real-world efforts to engage supporters and donors.
My advice to nonprofits is to allocate funds to social media platforms as part of your overall marketing and communications efforts and to dig deeper into using these platforms for integrated engagement.
Image: denizya / Shutterstock
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