This article appeared in the January 2013, National Catholic Development Conference Dimensions newsletter. 

Typically when I hear from organizations via email, it is either that they want something (financially) or it is a laundry list of upcoming events. I find that the majority of nonprofits, especially those of us who work for religious nonprofits, get trapped into the rhythm of our routine: get the content by Tuesday, review on Wednesday, and send a heavy content list of upcoming events in an outdated or unflattering eblast to the constituent on Friday.

This rhythm is toxic. It doesn’t follow any marketing strategy; it is typically not engaging, and it lacks the opportunity for a two way conversation- the essence of what mail has always been.

Nonprofits that can properly harness online communication tools and strategies will experience higher open rates, more click-throughs and quite possibly an increase in readership. People want to hear your story, and they want to answer your call to action. You have a responsibility to these individuals to host this dialogue in ways that encourage their participation and keep their attention on your work.

Perhaps you think you don’t need to revamp email marketing. However, you can at least take a look at these Top 5 Email Resolutions for 2013 and evaluate your own plan.

1. Remind people of your mission, through story.
Most of you are familiar with email marketing, but when was the last time your weekly eblast told a story of inspiration,  in addition to the long list of updates? A great email marketing strategy will include some type of mission story. Why? Doing so serves as a reminder to your constituents of the hard work being done and, perhaps more importantly, it is an easy way to share a story with new people. After the section that houses this mission story, you can put a link to “share with a friend.” In this way, you are actively engaging your readers to share the good news with others.

Don’t forget about pictures! The work we all do is best expressed in the faces of those we  have touched and who have touched us so beautifully  Part of your email strategy should be to remind the recipient of the good work you do.  Our work can’t be just about posting reports and numbers; rather, we have to express the impact of that day of service, or the family who now has a home.

2. Talk to you audience…more personally
There is no way that you can actually know the life story of each person on your email list. But what about their demographic information? Working with an email database system that allows you to segment out groups is a strong addition to your tool belt. Depending on how many emails you are sending out, not everyone will consistently be opening them. However, this is an ideal opportunity for segmenting. Instead of bombarding those who are already bombarded, focus your list and send emails with pertinent information to specific groups. If your email marketing system can’t segment your list by gender, age, volunteer involvement, or even year joined, it might be time to reevaluate your email marketing database.

Remember: respect peoples inboxes. When we inundate our constituents with repetitive email messaging, we typically see subscribers unsubscribe at high rates. Value their input, and consider who they are within your organization. It has become very easy to press the unsubscribe button, so make sure you are utilizing segmentation to your advantage and create new strategies around these audiences.

3. Integrate your online brand!
When is comes to knowing your audience, make sure they recognize you. It is important that your brand be reflected online. Commonly, I run into religious organizations that have a different mail or email piece for each campaign and the emails look nothing like the website, newsletter, or any other marketing piece. Your message becomes unrecognizable. Think about the heading fonts, coloring, space layouts, body fonts, etc. Building your brand means instant recognition. Recognition in regard to email marketing is critical to your readers, since it has been so easy to simply hit the delete button.

4. Create a two-way conversation.
Have you ever received one of those chain letters in the mail, where you have to respond back and send it on? Well, email marketing also follows that pattern: send the message, respond, and pass it on. Think about social media within your organization. Are you displaying social media links in your eblast? How about a poll question? Utilizing a poll question in your email marketing not only encourages thought and participation, but can also be a great tool for gathering constituent information, depending on what fields you have them fill out.

All of your emails should include a “share with a friend” button. For example, use content from another article or newsletter and post to your Facebook or Twitter page, then link the Facebook or Twitter post to the Newsletter online with a way to sign up for future articles or newsletters.  Whatever you do, make sure your emails routinely have some type of feature that gets the reader involved and always have it drive them back to your website.

5. Get data. Use data.
Everyone always talks about this “data” stuff but no one really knows what to do with it. Well, data is one of the greatest tools you can use to ramp up your email marketing in 2013. Make sure that you know who is reading your emails, how many people are clicking through to read the article online via the website, or how many people are clicking the graphic for more information on your special event. Why? Because the way your reader utilizes the eblast lets you in on their priorities, what interests them and what gets participating.

What if you sent out a general message to your constituents asking them to either donate, volunteer, or make some phone calls? Wouldn’t you want to look at the data to create a list of all those emails that responded to each call to action separately? Then you can use more targeted lists for the next campaign and the call to action might be better received. Without analyzing your data you are shooting blindly. Your email data should reflect different populations within your organization. Once you learn to utilize data, you can start sending more focused messages that engage a more captive audience.

Are you thinking this is all great advice for an organization with a big email list?

Think again. No matter the size of your organization, you can make use of any of the suggestions mentioned above. Looking to build your list? How about starting with features that capture information? On your website, add a graphic button that can be a simple form with a name and email. Or you can utilize a QR code. The QR code can be displayed on a large foam board at the next special event or even printed on newsletters, brochures, or handouts. Once they click through the QR code, individuals would reach a signup page to get on your email list.

Remember, an email strategy that works for one organization might not work for yours. Therefore, reflecting on what your audience wants to hear is important. Make sure you are constantly incorporating your mission story into your email marketing. Use all the tools in your tool belt and make sure your message targets your audience’s interests. However you decide to communicate in 2013, just remember that these people with whom you are connecting are inspired by your work, want to be engaged, and want to hear more.