4 min Read
November 29, 2017

Ending email overload

Many departments and programs manage at least some of their own communications out of necessity in larger organizations. After all, one communications team can’t realistically support the daily needs of a huge nonprofit.

But when every department maintains their own email lists and sends out messages according to their own timelines and priorities it’s easy to send multiple messages to the same people– maybe even on the same day. Engagement metrics start to decline noticeably—fewer opens, fewer clicks, fewer actions—which just leads to more and more emailing– and a greater likelihood that your readers will tune out.

Sound all too familiar? You’re in good company. The average nonprofit sends 69 marketing emails or public blasts per year—but if you’re a big institution with multiple departments that operate in siloes and communicate in a decentralized way, the tally can easily get much, much higher. Your recipients tune out and eventually burn out, and as an organization, your ability to leverage email as a strategic communications tool continually declines.

Streamlining and optimizing how you manage email organization-wide can be a big effort, but it’s a must if you want to build healthy, lasting relationships with your participants, customers, donors, and activists.

Step 1: Tune up your email marketing machine

Make sure your communications team is on top of email marketing best practices and prepared to act as a model for the rest of the organization.

Ask yourselves…

  • Have you defined your key email audiences (e.g., donors, participants, peers) and done research to understand what information they’d most like to receive from your organization and how/how often? Do you have a standard email calendar organized around the needs you’ve identified?
  • Is it easy for email recipients to opt-in to receive the content that most interests them (and do you actually take those preferences into account when deciding what/whom to email)?
  • Do you maintain clean, well-organized lists, with regular cycles of cleanup and opt-out campaigns to purge defunct addresses from your system?
  • Does your team properly understand and know how to use all the capabilities and features of your CRM (constituent relationship management) system (e.g., marketing automation, targeted email lists, etc.)?

If you can’t answer “yes” to all of these questions, start here. Your communications team will need a powerful foundation of good email marketing practices before you can bring the rest of the organization successfully on board.

Step 2: Tackle perceptions and behaviors within your organization

In our experience, unstrategic email practices tend to crop up for two key reasons:

  1. Limited knowledge of email marketing best practices. You don’t need a license to operate an email list, and many nonprofit professionals find themselves creating an email program out of necessity, without the benefit of any special communications training or expertise.
  2. Limited time and resources. When you’re trying to juggle a million and one priorities, sending out an email can feel like the easiest (or only) way to get eyes on your message or boots on the ground.

To productively challenge your organization’s just-blast-it-out mentality, you’ll need to address both of these obstacles.

Begin with a primer on email marketing for the whole team—including your leadership. The better your colleagues understand the opportunities and limitations of email, the more fully they’ll understand the need for a clearer, more streamlined system.

Cover topics like…

  • Benchmarks and standards: What does a great open or click-through rate look like? How much can we expect from an email in terms of attention and engagement?
  • Cutting-edge tactics: What’s possible now in terms of technology and data? How do email consumers expect to be treated? (e.g., marketing automation, remarketing, targeting based on behavior)
  • Snapshot of the status quo: How do our emails perform relative to industry standards? What does a typical week of emails feel like to someone on our list(s)? What kind of feedback do we get from email recipients (both what they say and what they do)?

Next, teach your team new ways to get the word out beyond email, and make it as easy as possible to put those ideas into action (or ideally, encourage them to ask communications for support).  You might…

  • Create a simple marketing plan worksheet that anyone can use to brainstorm and prioritize tactics
  • Set aside a dedicated budget for social media and search ads
  • Help department leaders make time to develop rich content that can be used to promote programs and services

There’s no single recipe for success, but by making a fuller spectrum of marketing and communications tools available to your colleagues, you’ll lessen their dependence on email (and along the way, increase their appreciation for the value of expert communications as a critical strategy for achieving your organization’s mission).

Once you’ve got the team on board and equipped, you’ll be well-poised to tackle the logistical challenges of unifying all those email campaigns into one program with a clear strategic approach. Your audiences—and your open rates—will thank you.