28 minutes | Oct 27th 2017

Episode #22: Optimize Your Emails to Donors for Mobile Reading

In episode #22, Birgit Pauli-Haack and Jim O’Reilley discuss what you can do to increase the effectiveness of your emails. First, they discuss the method in which your emails are received, hint: mobile. Then they go on with emphasis on how you can be more effective with your donor base. This discussion ranges from the use of John Haydon’s idea of ensuring that your donors feel like heroes to how to eliminate the problem of your emails ending up as spam.

Should be good stuff for all…

Reports on Email Marketing for Nonprofits & Business Tips & Tricks For Better Donor Retention  and optimal emails Transcript: Optimize Your Emails to Donors for Mobile Reading

Jim O’Reilley:  Welcome to episode number 22 of the NPTech Series podcasts. My name is Jim O’Reilley. I am here with Birgit Pauli-Haack. We are the co-founders of NPTech Projects. The subject of today’s podcast is how to optimize, or optimizing, your emails to donors and supporters for mobile viewing. Why are we doing this episode now? We are all planning on your year-end campaigns about this time of year. Some new research has come out about mobile devices that we want to share with you, but we also want to give you a headline, and the headline is that your donors need to be your heroes relative to your non-profit organization. I’m stealing that and paraphrasing from John Haydon, whom you’ve heard from before in our podcast series. I also want to talk a little bit, very briefly, about something that MailChimp says, which is there’s a distinction to be made between mobile-friendly and responsive, since a mobile-friendly email is not necessarily responsive, and a responsive email is generally speaking always mobile-friendly.

Mobile friendly vs Responsive Design

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Well, hi everybody. Glad to be here again. I have a few thoughts, kind of the responsive or mobile-friendly. Responsive means it actually reacts to the size of the screen, so while a mobile-friendly email is just for the mobile device, a response can also be read on the bigger screens and not just on the small screens.

Jim O’Reilley:Some of the recent research that’s come out, and this is by way of Campaign Monitor, is talking about open rates by devices. In 2011, 73% of emails were opened on a desktop and 27% were opened on a mobile device. Fast forwarding to 2016, 45%, less than half, are opened on a desktop and 55% are opened on a mobile device. That’s why mobile is the key for what you’re going to need to do effective emails.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah, it’s quite astonishing that within five years, the open rate for mobile has actually doubled, and more than half opening it on mobile. What we also found in that research, and we’ll put the link in the show notes, of course, is that emails that are opened on the desktop are many times also the second look at the email. So they are on the road or just opened the email on the mobile because they are doing something else on mobile, but then they go back to the office and open the email again. It might be because it’s not mobile-friendly or responsive, or it might be that the website or the click that comes that they open it up on a desktop, because the second resource wasn’t mobile-enabled or mobile optimized.

Jim O’Reilley: It could also be because you did such an effective job on the mobile device that they remembered it and they just wanted to read it again to enjoy it.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  That could very well be. Yes. So when you go through your email marketing provider’s statistics, you will see that those subscribers will have more than one open attributed to them, and that’s where you kind of need to look at your mobile open rates and also on the mobile-friendliness of the emails. Could be something there. But what do you need to think about?

Tips for optimizing your mobile emails

Jim O’Reilley:>Let’s talk about some tips for optimizing your mobile emails. The first tip is that it’s got to be less wide. You’re talking about 25 to 30 characters on a line, as opposed to 60 characters on a line. You need to use a pre-header text. Now, this is really easy for me to say, but quite frankly I had to call Birgit and say, “What do we mean by that?”

Birgit Pauli-Haack: What is a pre-header text? When you look at your mobile email program, most of the time you will have three lines and a list of all the emails. The first line is the “from” name, the person who sends you the email. The second line is the “subject” line, and then in the third line, you see either the pre-header text or the first line of the email. These three indicators give the person a clue if they want to read the email, yes or no. So email service providers have gone through the effort to create another field to fill in, and that’s the pre-header text. That’s what that means. Does it make sense? Sounds like I’m clear?

Jim O’Reilley: That makes sense. And the next one, since it is a no-brainer, keep your copy very concise. That’s exactly what it means, be concise, be to the point, get to your point, make it, and keep going. The next one is not so simple: plan for images off. Once again, I picked up my phone and I called Birgit.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  I remember that I open sometimes emails where I need to enable pictures on my email program to actually see what’s in the email because without the pictures it’s empty. So it’s an event invitation to a fundraiser, and everything’s in a picture, but the copy in my email body does not say, “Come join us to the gala at so-and-so and so-and-so at this date.” So when I’m getting emails I need to decide if I want to open the pictures in there. There have been studies that actually pure text emails have a much higher open rate than emails that contain pictures, so that is certainly a shift from these wonderfully decorated email templates and almost like a web page-designed emails, to going back to plain text.

But in the age of rushing through and reading through, who has time to wait that an image downloads? I make a decision now, and tell me what it is. That leads right into the next tip that we have: keep CTAs front and center. CTAs = call to action. Make this very prominent on your email. Don’t let them scroll all the way down because they might not get to the point where they have to click on something to do something, like the “donate now” button or register for an event. Keep those relatively high in the email, and definitely big enough so somebody on the mobile phone …

And that goes to the next topic, the next tip, which is leave breathing and clicking room for touch. It wouldn’t be the first time that I fat-finger something on my mobile. When you click on your mobile phone, the touch is not as precise as my mouse cursor, so when the click region is not big enough, people might miss it.

Jim O’Reilley: Right. And of course, you want to test your emails across multiple devices. You want to make sure it works on both iPhone and Android as a very minimum. These tips, by the way, we’ve taken away from a list that was published by Campaign Monitor, and in our show notes, you’re going to find some more tips that were done John Haydon and some more from Constant Contact. Who was that?

Tips to increase open rates

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Matthew Montoya, from Constant Contact. He has four tips for actually optimal emails, no matter desktop or mobile, and one of them strikes me as quite a move away from these long emails that we get, is not more than 25 lines of text or less. Keep the key content on the top, above the scroll so to speak, and do not add more than three links in your email. The last one is one column only. So these elaborate layouts for emails where you have one column and then you have three columns underneath and then you go back to one column, they are very detriment to mobile reading, or the columns kind of behave differently than as you actually designed them. Studies really show that the shorter the email, the higher the open rates are.

Jim O’Reilley: Let’s move away from what’s already been pre-published and tell you a little bit about some questions that we’ve actually received from non-profits. One of them is from one of our friendly non-profits that’s local here, saying that members tell him that they don’t receive the emails he sends, so he asks them to look in the spam folder. Most of the time they find it there. So what does he tell them so future emails don’t get caught in the spam folder anymore?

How to avoid the spam folder again? Whitelisting!

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah, that’s kind of an interesting question. Of course, it depends on the level of technology knowledge, but most email programs like AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, they have a way to, if something arrives in the spam folder, to highlight it and then click on a button or click on a link to say, “This is not spam.” With that measurement, they actually tell the program, “You were wrong. This is not spam.” Each email client behaves a little bit differently or has a different method. Then there are methods by internet service providers that they give you a method to whitelist some email addresses because they have another layout to secure their own servers. They have spam assessing running that has multiple markers what is considered spam. To make a long story short, we have in the show notes a link to a page where there are instructions for each of the email clients on how to whitelist an email address so it does not continue … land in the spam folder.

On the sender side, of course, you need to make sure that whatever email marketing program you use also is recognized as coming from your domain. There are certain instructions that you can give to your web developer or to your IT person to set up the DNS accordingly, so it allows them to be recognized as an allowed sender, so to speak.

How can I share my blog posts with my donors?

Jim O’Reilley: Another question that we get is how can I share my blog posts with my donors? We actually have two different answers for you on this one.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: This non-profit who asked there was saying, “I write a blog post, but I don’t want to spend another time to then put it in an email and create an email again from that. That’s duplicate content. Is it possible to hook my blog up to an email client that does that automatically?” There is. One of the features of a full-blown blog is that they have an RSS feed. RSS means “Real Simple Syndication”, and it’s a machine-readable content of your blog, so it takes the headline, it takes the publication date, it takes the featured image, and a teaser from your blog, or even the full blog post, and puts it in an email and sends it out. The email marketing provider can do this automatically. Every time something is posted new on the blog, it will send out the notification. It could be via MailChimp or, if you’re on WordPress, that’s also a feature from WordPress that it can send out a notification. But Jim also had another idea, too, how to do that.

Jim O’Reilley: One of the things that I think is very effective, and it takes a little bit of skill because you have to have a list of donors where this makes sense, is that you segment your donors into areas in which they have a specific interest, and then when you’re going to publish a blog that you know is about their specific interest, you do send an email to that group of donors, letting them know that on your blog you’ve published something that they should be interested in, and here’s a link. In that way, you are making them know that you’re aware of what their interest is, you are catering to that interest, and you’re making sure that they know that you’re doing something in their area of interest. So I think that’s a very effective way to do that also.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah, I think so too.

How to Thank Your Donors?

Jim O’Reilley: When we started, we talked about making your donors heroes, or thinking of your donors as your heroes for your organization. One way to do that is to thank them. Whenever you say “thank them,” somebody says, “Well, how do I do that? What are the different ways to do that?” Classy, whom you’ve heard us quote about many times, actually, has recently come out with something, and there’s a link again in the show notes, about 15 creative ways to thank donors. We’re not going to read all 15 to you, so don’t get up and leave right now, but what we are going to do is tell you a little bit about the ones that we think are most important.

The first one, which I’ll grab, is that your website is a perfect place to show appreciation. Website appreciation is number one on their list. You can appeal to both one-time donors and recurring donors, but posting something on your website that lets them know that you appreciate their time and effort is a very effective way to do it.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  A second way would be to think of a welcome package for your donors that educate them on your organization. Classy actually has not only talks about mailing a welcome package, but it seems to be thinking about an actually tangible one that is a thank you letter and it has some photographs, has a survey, a small gift or a bookmark. It’s just a little package that they find in the mail. I really like that, but it also can be quite costly, and depending on the budget of that organization, it might be a little bit too much, or depending on your staffing, do you have staffing to do this?

What goes into an Email Welcome Series?

Another way, and that is to create an email welcome series. As soon as the donation gets in, you schedule a series of emails one week apart to educate them also on the organization. When we talked about it with non-profit organizations, we had the question, “If I wanted to create a welcome series, I wouldn’t know what to write about.” We asked others what are the ideas that you could come up with, and here are a few suggestions. Gather two or three facts about the organization and make a “Did you know?” opening in one email. Another email to introduce the new donor to some of the people and supporters of the organization, along with links to stories and testimonials. So they say this is who you work together with to make an impact in the community.

Another idea would be snippets from the annual report. That will be not kind of the whole annual report, which is maybe too boring for that as a whole, but if you have some infographics that you put into the annual report, putting them in an email might not be a bad idea. Then if you have any plans for a specific program in the near future, and especially it might be really … think about if there are events in the near future that you already sent emails to other donors, but because that person is new hasn’t gotten that information, but might be actually … wanted to come. So include that.

You mentioned John Haydon, and he has a suggestion of three messages. One is to welcome the new donor and reinforce their decision to give. The second message says to update the donor on the impact and ask for feedback, a quick survey of whatever you need to know from your donor. And then the message three would invite the donor to give again, second ask, or upgrade to a monthly donor. Those are very goal-oriented messages. You have quite a set of suggestions here on what a welcome series could look like.

Thank-you Letters via your Donor Management System

Jim O’Reilley: The next thing, which sounds obvious to you, is a thank you letter. The important thing about a thank you letter is that the longer it takes before you send it out, the less sincere it sounds. Nonprofit Hub recommends sending out a thank you letter within two days, which we think is a great idea.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yes, absolutely. If you set up your donor management systems to do that, then it could actually … so every day you collect the thank-you notes you want to send out from your donor management system, and just print them and put them in an envelope. That is definitely a process-heavy thing … not heavy, but you really need to look through the process on how you organize it in your office.

Handwritten-Notes can not be shared!

Jim O’Reilley: The next category is kind of interesting because this is one where I will take the responsibility to say I disagree with what Classy’s putting out because the category is handwritten notes. What they’re saying is that there are some ideal times to send a handwritten note: upon a second donation, when they attend an event, on the anniversary of their first donation, around the holiday season, etc. The reason I take issue with it is I think one of the opportunities that we have, and one of the things that we can actually do for our donors, is to make … not make them, but let them see that something can be just as personal in an email that is correctly put together in the sense that it’s personal, that it tells you that you know who they are and that it’s not just email number 47 in our continuing series.

And I think that will have a longer-term effect. Among other reasons, it’s easy for them to share it. They can say, “Look what I just got,” and they can send it to cousins, uncles, neighbors, friends, whereas a handwritten note is going to be folded up and put in a file and fondly thought of forever, and probably never read again. But that’s me.

Resolve Complaints quickly

You have a responsibility in the next category to resolve complaints quickly, within 24 hours. If you don’t know how, or you’re not aware of the entire situation and you have to learn more before you can do a response, if you just respond saying, “Thank you for making me aware of it. I’m working on it. I will update my response as soon as I learn more about it and can answer you more personally.” If you do that, your donors are going to feel like you’ve got a personal connection with them, you’re listening to them, and that you will respond to them at the appropriate time. I just think that’s a good thing to do.

Celebrate Donor Anniversaries

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So the next thing is anniversary cards, being the cards … could be emailed, doesn’t have to be handwritten … but send a personalized anniversary. Recognize that the donor loyalty year after year, after their first donation, is something you are aware of, you are very grateful for, and you have made the chairman of the board and the executive director are noticing that. It can be any anniversary that you put in there: the first year, the fifth year, the 10th year, the 15th year, or 20th year. Make sure that your donor management system is set up to notify you for those anniversaries, and develop a process in your organization.

Public Recognition on Social Media: Wait for the donor to make the first step

Jim O’Reilley: The next category that they use is called “social media,” which is obvious, thinking of things like Facebook and Twitter, and I think this is one where we’ve got to be really kind of careful, because there are some people who would not want you to necessarily publish, “Thank you for your donation of $500 to this fund.” But instead, perhaps the social media shout-out, as they refer to it, is more likely to be successful if it recognizes “In response to our recent campaign, our donors have provided us with funds with which we can do the following …” That answers a couple of things. One, it tells the world in general what you’re doing with the money. It is thanking the people that responded to the campaign, and it’s letting them know that other people donated also. To me, that’s more powerful and less risky than doing a shout-out to an individual.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah, I whole-heartedly agree. The shout-out should come … the first step should come from the donor, that “Oh, I was so happy to give something.” Then on a post that you talk about that, like the post-Jim mentioned, what you do with the money, and then a donor outs herself on the post. Then the thank you definitely needs to happen; otherwise, that goodwill goes away very, very quickly. But yes, be careful not to out your donors against their will, or if you don’t know, rather not do it.

Jim O’Reilley: There’s the whole subject of phone calls, physically calling someone on the phone to thank them. I think this falls into several categories, and it’s going to depend on the size and the organizational structure that you’re dealing with. If you’re a small organization, then perhaps the best way to think about this is for your major donors, perhaps a monthly phone call is well worth your time and it is well received by them. If it’s something for a specific activity, perhaps the event chairman for that activity can call and thank the donors personally 30 days or 60 days after the event and say it was really successful. Let me tell you what happened, and here’s what we did with the money. But a phone call can be a time consumer, especially if you don’t get through and you feel like you have to call back, but it’s something that can be very effective for establishing a personal relationship.

I hope the point we’ve made is that saying thank you is a necessity. Fundraising really comes down to two categories, new donors, and existing donors, and you really need to keep donors coming back. As we’ve said in prior podcasts, repetition of donors is actually the key to your success in any of your fundraising, so you need to make sure that your plan includes them and you treat them well, and hopefully, they will be your donors for years to come.

And I think that’s all I have to say today about this.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  And you did very well.

Jim O’Reilley: Thank you very much for spending some time with us. We apologize for the break. There was this thing called Irma that happened here in Southwest Florida, and we were shut down for a couple of weeks, but we’re hopefully back in gear and that you’ve missed us terribly. Anyway, thank you for listening.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: All I have to say is get you to the show notes. That is on NPTechProjects.org/podcast. This is the episode number 22. We are always grateful for your input and your opinion, so leave your comments or send an email to podcast@NPTechProjects.org and we will answer them, maybe on the next podcast, or we write you back in an email. If you listen on iTunes to these podcasts, please leave a review. It helps us to get people to know about this. That’s it for now from me. Thank you very much for listening. Goodbye.

Jim O’Reilley: Goodbye, everybody.