I want you to first forget for a moment all the other demographic data you’ve tagged people with. In place of that mentality, focus on how they interact with your organization. Did they attend a fundraiser? Donate during a crisis? Are they a volunteer? What other positive action did they do? Once you do that we can begin to have a more strategic view of how we send emails to people you know so we don’t just treat them as an ATM.
Today we will outline retention in 3 tactical parts: welcome, nurture, promotion. Ending with a discussion on strategies around those tactics.
The Welcome Email
After giving you the gift of their email address, most contacts expect to receive a welcome email. As a whole, the goals of the welcome email are to:
- Introduce the contact to the organization.
- Reiterate the value of the organization.
- Establish a tone.
I will note here the importance of acknowledging that this is a welcome email within the subject line. Don’t overthink this, including “Welcome” or “Hi” within the subject line is perfect. Examples include “Welcome to The Family” or “Hello from organization XYZ.”
- Personalize: If the contact submitted their name, incorporate this information within the first line of the email.
- Include your unique value propositions: Use the welcome email to explain what makes you different and why people should choose to support you.
- Tell contact what to expect: Provide an overview of the kind of content your email will contain, and the frequency of your emails. So that they know what to expect.
- Humanize the organization: A goal of the welcome email is to humanize the organization. The primary method for accomplishing this is emphasizing the organizations mission, I suggest doing so through a story of success as this can show the personal relationship is important and valued.
- Thank them for-- that positive action we talked about before: attending of a fundraiser, donation, volunteering. Whatever it is, be as specific as you can.
The Nurture Email
Nurture email is the one most organizations struggle with. Most people are uncomfortable just building brand awareness, organizations that are not retail or for-profit sometimes think action is always needed. Unlike other email types, the goal of nurture emails is not explicitly to promote, but rather to build your brand among your email subscribers. When contacts think about the topic your organization is involved with, whether nonprofit or political, your brand will be the first one they turn to if nurture emails have done their job.
- Educate the contact: Education emails provide users with a better understanding of organization, including advantages and creative things about your organization.
- Get the customer hooked on your brand: Utilize your nurture emails to reinforce your brand and its place in the wider world.
- Make your organization relatable: This is my favorite, tell stories about your organization, including where and how it got started and what drives your organization today. Success, failure, funny, sweet, personal - whatever kind of stories that make people understand your organization and motivation.
The Promotional Email
These should be an integral part of any email strategy, as they are an effective way to increase interaction (volunteers, donations, etc). While nurture emails may have volunteer and donation requests that is not there primary function. The promotional email is explicitly for getting something out of the people you are sending it to.
- Utilize a prominent Call to Action (CTA): Design the email so that the call to action is prominently displayed and stands out from any other text in the email. Position the promotional text so that it aligns with the CTA (call-to-action) button.
- Create urgency: Create a sense of urgency around the promotional offer. Provide a countdown or mention why they need to act now - what is the deadline. Note: Overusing urgency will dilute its effectiveness.
- Include a reason for the offer: Providing a reason for the call to action, regardless of the reason, has been shown to improve action rates. Reasons can include celebrating a milestone or simply thanking your email subscribers for being part of your community. Most often it is a fundraising deadline with political campaigns (reporting deadlines) or a crisis (hurricane, empty food shelf, rent increase).
- Special offer: Who are your highest-value people? Thank them for their loyalty to your organization and throw in a little exclusive information to encourage them to interact again.
So the strategy of a welcome series to increase retention will be based on the tactical emails described previously. You should try to avoid overlapping the emails as much as possible. You may want to play around with timing and triggering of the emails. My suggestion is the time from the first welcome email to the first nurture email should be more than 10 days but less than 30. You should avoid more than 1 email a week, and 2 a month is probably the top. Unless you can’t avoid it only do promotional emails every 6 weeks at most. Your nurture emails can contain calls to action as long as they are not the focus of the emails. You are trying to avoid burn out, and keep contacts engaged. Remember if they are going to fundraisers or doing other volunteer activities they are getting other touches by your organization keep that in mind for the frequency. Having a stable of the first 3-6 nurture emails for contacts to receive along with current promotional will start the new relationship off right. By having a plan for when and how much to communicate with your contacts you can create a warm and long lasting relationship. That starts with the first welcome email and leads into the first nurture email.
To recap that first email sets the tone. How often other emails will come in, what they might contain, why we are sending emails to you on an ongoing basis. The next set of emails will depend on the goals of the organization. The nurturing emails, telling stories, and getting people to discuss your brand in ways that they might not otherwise do. For our political friends this might be a series on the candidate or organizations' policy positions. Please don’t just discuss the policy, tell a story about someone or something that influenced the position and why it is something you are taking their time to call out in this email. For our nonprofit friends, if you have 2-3 events or days during the year that are important, a series about what the organization does to prepare for those days. It might seem boring to you but to donors it's a behind the scene look at the organization. At the end (or near the end) of the series on that day you can do your call to action promotional email for donations or volunteers (or both). You will have set the stage for that with the retention nurture emails you already sent!
So the tactic you use should be universal, the unique part will be the strategy that you employ to achieve the goal you have set. Every organization is different. The key take away from this is that you can develop a unique message and voice and with those tactics have a strategy that works for your organization.