This article is a content collaboration between marketing experts at GetResponse – an email marketing platform and nonprofit organization tech consultants at TechSoup – a nonprofit tech marketplace.

The goal of this article is to help nonprofit organizations start using email marketing to its fullest potential. Email marketing campaigns can support all key goals of a nonprofit: from spreading awareness, building relationships with subscribers to turning supporters into donors. Email can also be a great channel for donor management.

Here are some average nonprofit email marketing statistics from our Email Marketing Benchmarks report:

  • open rate – 30.85%
  • click-through rate – 3.60%
  • click-to-open rate – 11.67%
  • unsubscribe rate – 0.10%

Table Of Contents

Why is email essential for non-profit organizations? 

Most of us have an email address 

Email is easily the most popular channel of communication worldwide. It became universal because it’s cheap and accessible – almost everyone who uses the Internet has an email account and sends emails. Whether you live in Asia, Europe, Africa, or America – you can use email to communicate electronically.

People prefer email when talking to brands 

According to multiple studies, email remains the preferred channel for communication with brands. In my opinion, it is mainly due to the nature of the inbox. 

A screenshot of a graph showing how consumer prefer to receive offers from brands.
2018 Adobe annual consumer email survey showing that consumers prefer to receive emails from brands

As a user, you have huge control over the contents of your inbox (unlike a social media feed). First of all, you need to actively sign up for a particular newsletter if you want to receive communication from an organization. And whenever you change your mind, you can easily unsubscribe with a single click. 

This way you can curate the contents of your inbox and turn it into a place for valuable content. Your place for personalized communication with people, businesses, and organizations you want to be in touch with. 

Email is reasonably priced

You pay for the number of email addresses in your contact list and features available in your plan. The number of emails you send does not impact the cost. This way you can focus on building your list with people who are likely to become regular donors and run multiple campaigns to achieve that goal. 

You can check the price and tools available in individual plans on this GetResponse pricing page.

Additionally, as a non-profit you are eligible for a 50% or 30% discount on email marketing services: https://www.techsoup.org/getresponse

Email provides high return on investment

According to a recent study by Litmus the average email ROI is 42:1. This means that for every dollar you invest in email marketing you can expect 42 dollars in return. And if you regularly run A/B tests on your emails, you can generate an ROI of 48:1. 

That means you won’t have to worry about the price of the email marketing software. Instead you’ll be able to calculate the return on investment from the tools included in your plan, e.g. webinars, landing pages, automated emails.

What are the key benefits of email for non-profits?

There are countless benefits of using email marketing for non-profits. You can use it to achieve or support your key organization goals, which usually boil down to the following:

  • You reach a new audience with your message: use a mix of list-building techniques to put your message in front of potential donors and invite them to join your mailing list. 
  • You stay in touch with your target audiences: collect key information about the people on your list and create segments. Then you can send personalized communication to your supporters, volunteers, and donors. You can keep them engaged by sharing information each group considers most valuable. 
  • Invite people to help you reach goals: share your goals and show how you’re working towards them. Send messages explaining what projects you run to make a difference and how one can join you .

Most important email marketing tools for non-profits

The key email marketing tools that help nonprofits plan and implement their email marketing strategy are:

Email marketing software. Professional email marketing platforms empower your marketing team to build relationships with supporters and grow donor base. Marketers can create great looking emails with intuitive drag and drop editor. Collect valuable information about subscribers and create contact segments using tags and custom fields. For example, by dividing contact list into separate email segments like subscribers, supporters, one-off donors, regular donors, you can turn your email marketing tool into a donor management platform. Email marketing platforms also provide high delivery rate and make sure that your campaigns avoid the spam folder.

Subscription forms. A subscription form is a form located on a website or blog where the users can fill in the fields with their data to receive emails on topics related to your nonprofit. The primary goal of the subscription form is opting-in supporters to your mailing list.

Landing pages. Landing page is a simple website with a clear call-to-action. You can use drag and drop editor to create effective fundraising landing pages. Give people a reason to donate by demonstrating the impact of their contributions.

You can also use landing pages to share stories of real people impacted by your projects with different audiences. Add subscription forms to these pages and grow your potential donor base. Always present the benefits of signing up for your newsletter, e.g. that you’ll inform donors how their money is spent and what impact it has on the cause.

Webinars. Webinars are definitely among the most effective email marketing tools. You can use webinars to get new email subscribers by discussing interesting topics or donors by running live fundraising events. Webinars should be a part of your email strategy: once potential donors register for your webinar, you can send them email sequences before and after the event.

A handy feature you should consider are on-demand webinars. You can record live events and turn them into pre-recorded events people can watch at their convenience.

Community Events and Webinars - screenshot of a landing page.
A page dedicated to community events and webinars on the TechSoup Global website

Paid Ads. Facebook Ads and Google Ads can greatly support email marketing for nonprofits. You can allocate budget to get in front of new audiences, build your email list, and find new donors. Also, if you connect your Facebook Pixel with email marketing software, you can run retargeting ads to bring subscribers back to your page.

How to start with email marketing in a non-profit?

Great email results start with great planning. Write down your goals and develop a nonprofit email marketing strategy that will use emails to send the right information to the right people at the right time and what’s even more important – you need to make sure your audience knows what to do with the information they receive.

This is why you need to plan your strategy. Here’s a short list of a few actions to consider.

Plan your email marketing for action

Decide on key actions: email is not only about providing your contacts with information. For quite some time now it allows you to get to know the people on your list. You can design two-way communication and ask your contacts for their information needs and preferences. When you know what your audience is about, you can create content they’ll engage with.   

List building: inform your target audience about the benefits of joining your email list. Again, focus on action: will they be able to review results of completed projects, share their opinion on key topics, donate money, or support your cause in a different way? Make sure people know why they should subscribe.

Awareness: share your mission, goals, and projects with target audience. Make sure everybody knows what your organization is about and how to join the cause.

Project reports: lead by example. If you call for action, show that you’re all about action yourself. Share project statuses and provide a summary with key information once they’re completed. Being transparent about your projects provides context for great content ideas and helps your organization gain credibility.  

Donations: invite contacts to support your non-profit financially. You can A/B test campaigns for one-off and recurring donations and quickly discover the most effective messaging and incentives.

Audience segmentation: collect information about your contacts and group them based on their interests (e.g., favorite projects, events, content), email engagement and their position in the funnel (contact, one-time donor, regular donor, etc.)

Proper contact list segmentation has a huge impact on all performance metrics of your email marketing. Emails tailored to individual contact segments have several times higher open and click-through rates compared to email blasts send to everyone on the list. 

Strong points of your content: Make sure that your content bridges the gap between your organizational goals and your audience information needs. Figure out what information do people need in order to actively support your organization. Create guidelines for your content so that you can maintain quality over time. 

GDPR Compliance: GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is Europe’s current privacy law. Adopted in April 2016, it replaces the 1995 Data Protection Directive – and marks the biggest change in data protection in 20 years. 

You need to comply with the GDPR when: 

  • your organization is based in the European Union (EU), 
  • you process the personal data of individuals in the EU. 

If you use GetResponse, your organization can rest easy knowing that your – and your contact’s – data is safe, secure and actively protected. 

For more information regarding the GDPR compliance, read the GetResponse Earns Official Declaration of GDPR Compliance blog.

Email marketing best practices for non-profits

Below you’ll find tried and tested ways to use emails and email series to turn contacts (your email readers) into regular donors. These ideas will help you kick off the most important aspects of email marketing. Once you start you can benchmark email results against your previous experience and get better and better with both the tools and messages.

Create newsletter templates 

A well-designed newsletter template is extremely important when it comes to email marketing success and here’s a case study with TechSoup Polska that proves it: 1200% increase of orders value from a newsletter over a year.  

There are many aspects to take under consideration when designing email templates. If you are thinking about designing your first email, it’s a good idea to use one of the pre-designed templates and customize it to your needs. 

Screenshot of predesigned email templates in GetResponse.
Predesigned email templates in GetResponse.

Take a look at the rules that TechSoup Polska follows while creating their newsletters: 

Structure. We divide our content into sections to facilitate information comprehension. 

Consistency. We always use brand colors and utilize similar graphic elements. 

Clarity. We strive to keep our newsletters clean and not overloaded with content. 

Adjusting messages to the target group. We direct specific content to selected recipient groups (e.g. we inform users of Google for Nonprofits about Google Ad Grants training). 

Image of newsletter templates used by TechSoup Polska.
Newsletter templates used by TechSoup Polska

Here are a few pieces of advice from Liza Nema, Project Coordinator at TechSoup Polska, on how to prepare a professional newsletter template:

  • Think about what kind of content you’ll be sending to your recipients. 
  • Choose a template. 
  • Customize the template according to your needs – use email editor to change the colors to be in line with your brand, add logos and other graphic elements. 
  • Add a call-to-action so that your recipients can perform the desired action: donate money, sign up for an event, etc. 
  • Before you send your newsletter, check its preview for desktop and mobile devices. Make sure your campaigns both look and work great.
  • Analyze statistics and modify your content based on that data. Check your best performing campaigns and choose a benchmark email for further campaigns.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s good to refresh your templates every now and then and remember about maintaining your fundamental brand graphic elements.

If you’re looking for in-depth information on how to design a great email marketing templates, you’re going to enjoy the Email Design Best Practices for 2021 article where Michael covers all the elements of an email in detail.

Automate email marketing communication

Once your newsletter template is ready, you can start automating your communication. You can use conditions, filters, and actions to build automation workflows – automated communication flows. 

The goal is to use automation to build relationships with the people on your contact list and help them make the right decisions. You can communicate with your audience with great precision using data stored in your account. You can:  

  • Create automation events based on users’ behavior 
  • Take action based on selected conditions 
  • Use filters for even more precise targeting 
  • etc. 
An example of an automation template that allows splitting contacts after signup.
Automation template allowing you to split contacts after signup to test which email performs best.

Automation allows you to deliver personalized marketing experiences. You can track and rate customers actions to create custom segments based on specific data and criteria. This way you can send personalized and relevant emails to your audience.

Once you automate your communication, you can track performance, learn from your experience and optimize the process. And most importantly, you save time and resources for other projects.

Here’s a great case study showing how an ecommerce selling artisanal coffee uses automation to educate new contacts: 54% of sales thanks to the educational campaign. 

Examples of emails in LandCafe's automation workflow.
Emails in LandCafe’s automation workflow

The campaign was carried out according to the Learn -> Like -> Trust -> Buy flow. As a non-profit you can easily adapt this methodology and convert it to Learn -> Like -> Trust -> Donate.

Observe the results of your email marketing campaigns

There are multiple factors that contribute to effective email marketing communication. Pay attention to your online marketing statistics and use data to make better decisions. 

When it comes to individual emails, pay attention to engagement – a measure of how people interact with your emails. The most popular engagement metrics are:

  • Open Rate: the percentage of contacts who open a specific email out of your total number of subscribers. 
  • Click-through rate: the percentage of contacts who clicked on a hyperlink, CTA, or image within a particular email. 
  • Conversion rate: the percentage of contacts who complete a goal expressed by the call to action. 
  • Unsubscribe rate: the percentage of contacts who have opted-out from the mailing list after an email campaign.

Engagement is also critical to deliverability – the ability to deliver emails to subscribers’ inboxes. That’s another reason to constantly search for best possible content for your audience. And data can help you with that.

If you’d like to compare your results against industry benchmarks, here’s the Email Marketing Benchmarks report offering loads of useful insights into emails, marketing automation, landing pages, and webinars.

Find bottlenecks and improve email marketing performance

It’s not possible to create a perfect email marketing program or campaign. There’s always room for improvement. That’s why in your career you’ll see some great, average, and rather poor results. And it’s perfectly OK as long as you keep learning from your experience and keep on testing new ideas.

The most common issues you observe at the beginning are:

Slow email list growth. Building a list organically with target audience takes time. But it doesn’t mean that you should sit and wait. Actually, there’s much you can do in order to speed up the list building process. You can: 

  • add a pop-up form to your website: pop-up forms are hard to miss and if you explain why joining your email list is a good idea you can expect high conversion rate. 
  • run a competition: a competition can be both a sign-up incentive and an idea to engage with your audience. 
  • write a blog post: write about your organization highlighting one of your key projects. Add a sign-up form or a link to your sign-up page. 
  • add an opt-in link to your email signature: I’m sure you send a lot of emails every month. Make sure your recipients know they can sign-up for a newsletter.  
  • find partnerships: find people and organizations with similar target audience and offer them guest posts and joint email campaigns. A strong network of partnerships is incredibly valuable. 
  • run a webinar: webinars are a great way to build a solid contact list. Do the research and choose a topic that is interesting for your target audience. Run promotional campaigns and invite people to register. Webinars are also perfect for content partnerships. Team up with other organizations to get in front of their audience.

The following three KPIs might relate to contact engagement. The key to high engagement rate is relevance. That’s why segmentation is so important. If you group contacts based on their information needs and preferences, you’ll be able to plan and send communication they will engage with.

Low open rate. People are likely to open emails with information they find valuable. Make sure that the three elements visible in inbox before opening an email represent the contents of the message. The three elements are: 

  • sender: make sure people know that the email comes from a reputable sender – you 
  • subject line: spark interest, draw attention but refer to the contents of the email 
  • preheader: use this extra space to explain or expand on the subject line

Low click-through rate. Make sure your emails are mobile-friendly. Your call to action should be clear and easy to follow. You can run A/B tests to find out what content and messaging engages your audience most.

Low conversion rate. When you see that people open your emails and click the provided links but don’t do the action you were hoping for (e.g. don’t register for live events, don’t donate) you should take a step back and look carefully at your value proposition and audience.

First, clearly explain the goals of your organization and the ways you’re going to achieve them. Then put your message in front of the right crowd – look for people who are likely to support your cause. Send the right message to the right people and simplify the donation process – so that it’s quick and easy. 

Inspiring examples of nonprofit emails

There’s no better source of inspiration than a great email from your industry. And boy, are there many great emails sent by non-profit organizations! Once again we teamed up with Liza to show you a few inspiring examples form our inboxes:

Kiva: Loans that change lives

How it works: By lending as little as $25 on Kiva, you can support the causes you care about and make a real personal impact. 

An email from Kiva.
An email with a brief summary of 2020 and inviting supporters to start 2021 strong 
A fundraising email.
An email featuring the loans nearing the end of their fundraising period

Movember: the leading charity changing the face of men’s health on a global scale, focusing on mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer. 

How it works: Since 2003, Movember has funded more than 1,250 men’s health projects around the world, challenging the status quo, shaking up men’s health research and transforming the way health services reach and support men. 

Movember email raising awareness.
An email sharing the mission and progress the Movember foundation made so far before the World Cancer Day
An email with research and health projects funded by donors.
An email showing groundbreaking research and health projects funded by donors

Back to you

I hope this article helps you with using email marketing for your nonprofit organization and filled you with inspiration for future endeavours. Are you ready to start your own campaigns? Be sure to check out the discount for email marketing services for nonprofit organizations and see you in our inboxes!

#Reshared At Buzz Marketing

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