Red Cross raises awareness with certified e-mail

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Nonprofit giant American Red Cross has seen a 20 percent increase in click-through rates since it began using e-mail marketing services firm Goodmail's CertifiedEmail.

The American Red Cross began using e-mail Goodmail, Mountain View, CA, to help render images and to establish trust with its constituents, since its brand is often spoofed.

"Disaster images are attention-grabbers for our constituents, and with Goodmail the images are rendering automatically," said Kimberley Reckner, lead technical liaison for online fundraising at the American Red Cross, Washington. "We also have had a number of phishing attacks in which spammers send out e-mails that look like ours, especially during disasters."

Spammers often use the Red Cross brand to trick consumers into believing that they are getting communications from the charity. During the Hurricane Katrina aid effort, the American Red Cross raised $90 million in one day, which lends to its attractiveness for spammers to spoof. The charity had to work with the FBI to stop false mailings from being sent.

Interestingly, spammers who have spoofed the American Red Cross brand often lead the customers to donate on the Red Cross's actual site at www.redcross.org. However in doing so, on the way they were asked to give up personal information, such as Social Security numbers, to the spammer.

To test the CertifiedEmail, Goodmail sent 50,000 test e-mails, which fell into three categories: certified, certified with an educational message about how certified mail works and without certification. The result was a 20 percent increase in click-through rates for both categories of certified mail.

By using Goodmail's seal of approval, the American Red Cross is aiming to educate customers about CertifiedEmail and make them aware that the communications are authentic. This is done using certified mail, regularly timed mailings and a consistent look-and-feel for the brand.

"If our constituents are getting spoofed mails, then they will lose trust with our online brand and we don't want to do that since so many people are coming online to donate these days," Ms. Reckner said. "A younger generation is coming online to donate. During Katrina we received 55 percent of gifts online, which is a record high. We need to show our e-mail constituents that it's really us."

E-mails in a newsletter format are sent twice a month and during holidays. In addition, when a disaster hits, the charity determines how much support is required to help and increases mailings as donations are needed. Currently the American Red Cross is trying to raise money for victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, as well as victims of the nor'easter that hit the East Coast last month.

The American Red Cross uses behavioral targeting in its e-mails to make the messages more relevant to potential donors. The charity has found that donators who gave to the Asian tsunami of 2004 cause were more likely to give to international causes like the genocide in Darfur and to help stop AIDS in Africa.

In addition, the charity plans to get into generational targeting. Katrina attracted younger donors, and these constituents will be addressed with a younger messaging style than that of the traditional mailers.

Using the CertifiedEmail has also helped to increase delivery, which is important to subscribers who receive transactional messages.

"We send tax receipts via e-mail and if they don't get it, it requires the user to call into our call centers and requires both the user and the Red Cross to do extra work," Ms. Reckner said.

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