Why E-Mail Can Make a Difference

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E-mail is the latest trend in marketing by nonprofit organizations, and it has been used by a number of organizations to communicate more effectively and efficiently with their constituencies.

While some organizations are testing e-mail marketing to see where it makes sense, others have tried it and are convinced that the benefits are substantial enough to make e-mail a regular part of their annual marketing plan.

Determining whether it makes sense to add e-mail marketing into a plan requires understanding the costs and benefits as well as knowledge about how to develop a successful e-mail program.

Costs. E-mail can be deployed for anywhere from 1 cent to 15 cents per message depending on the volume and the system used. Compare that to a direct mail cost of 18 cents to $1.25 depending on the type and weight of the mail. Also, it is not unusual to send a follow-up mailing to nonresponders in the offline world, thereby compounding the costs.

Trackability. For all the dollars spent on direct mail, it remains far less trackable than e-mail. The beginning and ending campaign metrics are the same for both media: number mailed and number responded. However, key data can be collected about e-mail in between those measures that can improve its effectiveness for future campaign iterations. Those measures include:

· Number of messages opened (on HTML messages): Are recipients opening the mail or are they deleting it without even looking at it?

· Number of click-throughs: How many people clicked through on the message, and on which links did they do so more often?

· Number of forwards: How many times was the e-mail message forwarded to friends/colleagues of those on the original distribution list?

Such measurements can offer significant insight into creating the most effective and appealing message subject line, offer and creative.

Optimization of Response

Typical timing of a direct mail program is as follows: one month to develop creative, one month to print the piece, two weeks to mail, one to two months to read the results. This totals three to four months for the effort.

E-mail can be developed, deployed, responded to and analyzed all in two weeks, with the bulk of the time spent on the creative.

The life of an e-mail message is about 48 hours. Turnaround time on the analysis of variable components of the message can help identify what an audience is most responsive to. That means that multiple waves of tests including subject lines, offers, layouts and recipients can be done quickly to hone the e-mail campaign. All of this can be accomplished in the time it would take for the first drop of a direct mail campaign to hit mailboxes. Plus, expenses prohibit this type of extensive testing in the direct mail world.

Another benefit of e-mail is the ability to conduct final pushes for events or other deadline-oriented functions if necessary. Just a few days out, an e-mail can be sent as a reminder or additional promotion. This is an inexpensive contingency plan online, but terribly expensive offline.

People can receive it. International Data Corp. research indicates that there are nearly 339 million people worldwide online (September 2001). Based on continuing user growth, IDC, Framingham, MA, predicts that the number of e-mail mailboxes worldwide will rise from 505 million in 2000 to 1.2 billion in 2005.

Those 339 million people have a broad demographic profile and consist of individuals with various interests and backgrounds. This ever-expanding audience continues to broaden as it grows deeper. Given size and composition of the online universe, nearly every interest group is represented and can be targeted with marketing messages.


The positive perception that e-mail affords a nonprofit organization that uses it properly is twofold. First, funds are better used given the typical cost savings associated with it as a communication tool. Second, the organization may be perceived to be more technologically savvy, something that may appeal to a certain segment of the population that is more responsive via e-mail as opposed to direct mail.

Of course, using e-mail is still tricky. Running an e-mail campaign is easy. Running it well is hard. Once a decision has been made to try it, there are many issues to deal with. At the most basic level, they involve two questions: "What's your strategy?" and "How are you going to accomplish it?"

The strategy covers the nuts and bolts of the short-term and long-term aspects of the e-mail program. It answers questions such as:

· On what day of the week and what time of day should this message be sent?

· What variables should be tested?

· What expectations for responses should you have?

· What format (HTML or text) is best for your audience?

Just as a strategy exists for a direct mail or print program, so too should it exist for e-mail. The campaign issues differ, though, due to the differences in the medium.

It is important to note that there is no standard how-to manual for e-mail marketing. While there are best practices that can be used as guidelines, a full plan is based on individual organization goals, needs and audience.

The logistics issue addresses the technology behind the e-mail campaign. Topics considered here include:

· What system should you use (Buy a software package? Use an outsourced e-mail solution?)?

· Are all important metrics being tracked?

· How is message deployment handled?

· Will all of the unsubscribe requests and bounce messages be handled properly?

The logistics cannot be ignored. A basic 100,000 recipient e-mail campaign, for example, could generate 5,000 bounces, 700 unsubscribe requests and 10,000 open events in just a few hours. Handling such an information-processing load is not inconsequential.

E-mail is not designed to be the only channel to communicate through when building a communication sequence to an audience. It is best used as part of a balanced marketing program where all messages work in tandem, pursuing the overall goal (whether that is fundraising, loyalty building or new member acquisition).

Like direct mail and print advertising before it, e-mail has proved to be its own medium. As companies outsource the development and execution of direct mail and print programs, they also find it necessary for e-mail. E-mail is not a panacea that will automatically triple response rates. When used appropriately, its benefits are swift and evident. It takes upfront planning and expertise to launch and run an effective program.


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