E-Marketing: The Value-Added Fundraising Tool

As a fundraiser, you arrive at your desk one morning as a phone call alerts you to major news pertaining to your organization. It is an important message that needs to spread quickly. Imagine having the tools to instantly deliver this breaking news to those who want to hear it most – your constituents. This is the power you can harness with an e-marketing program, using e-mail as your communication medium.

Why e-mail? It is the most pervasive application on the Internet and the best one-to-one marketing tool ever developed. Benefits include greatly-reduced costs, fast delivery and quick response. It serves as another impression to build brand and affinity and allows you to overcome the challenges of integrating fundraising with marketing.

E-mail is shown to be complementary to the Web site – noncompetitive with existing programs, flexible, timely and relevant. It can (and should be) database-driven and used to meet the needs and interests of your constituents so that messages are personal. E-mail is a direct mail paradigm, whereas the Web site is more of a retail paradigm. With e-mail, you bring your message to a constituent, whereas with the Web the constituent has to go to find your message.

Most importantly, e-mail cost-effectively raises the lifetime value of a donor, perhaps even turning an interested party into an important donor or member for your organization.


So what does all this mean for fundraising? Research shows that those who donate to charity are on the Internet – waiting for you to reach them with your message. Our recent national survey of affluent women (household income $55,000-plus) on the Internet indicated that 94 percent of these women donated to charity within the last 12 months. As a source for information about nonprofit organizations, the Internet was a clear leader with nearly a third of these women going online to obtain information about nonprofit organizations (a higher figure than for those who call a toll-free number for inquiries). More than 80 percent of these women have been using the Internet for over one year, with 40 percent using it for more than two years. These women are only one click away from your message.

The Rules

Privacy is a big issue that deserves strict attention from e-fundraisers. This is where it is imperative to know and play by the rules. Right now, it is critical to use e-mail to contact only those individuals with whom you had a prior relationship. Typically, these are people who have given you their e-mail address and agreed that e-mail communication is appealing to them. This constitutes prior relationship and complies with the current California law regarding privacy. Another important aspect is to offer the individual the option to opt-out of your program every time you mail, so they may easily unsubscribe.

For prospecting, you will want to use the endorsed method to generate funds or create larger e-mail files. For corporate sponsorships and events, you can e-mail information and offers for your sponsors without concern for postal regulations or limitations. This is a great place to do some creative thinking and relationship building.

As an example, a healthcare organization has received a challenge gift from a major pharmaceutical company to fund research. Bring this message to your e-mail list, announce this wonderful partnership, and ask them for funds to meet the challenge gift goal. Or, a major retailer establishes one month of the year to donate proceeds from special offers in their store to your nonprofit organization. Tell your constituents about these opportunities and build relationships between your corporate partners, your organization and your constituents.

Getting Started

First, we’ve all heard about the importance of collecting e-mail addresses, but it is also imperative to collect the accompanying postal data to ensure that your database will be accurate. This provides a tracking mechanism, as e-mail addresses will often change.

Once you have the e-mail address, you then need to determine whether or not the individual has HTML-activated e-mail capabilities (meaning they can receive and see graphics or pictures). This information will indicate whether you can send an e-mail message, such as a newsletter with photos, or whether to send the newsletter as a link or an attachment.

Next, design your test plan using segmented audiences (existing donors, members, volunteers, employees, event attendees, Web site visitors, etc.). Take the practices used in strategy, design and tracking of your direct marketing campaigns and modify them to work in the e-mail channel. Develop your campaign strategy to use familiar tools, such as surveys, newsletters, member-get-a-member offers, announcement of an Internet chat, monthly reminders, soft offers, acknowledgments, solicitations for annual fund or special appeals, or membership recruitment and renewal. Determine which segments you will test with which offers. And, remember to add interesting opportunities for relationship building, such as other online partnerships or catalog sales with a charitable donation component.

Schedule your mail dates (integrating with your direct mail programs or other development programs) and track the results. You may find that open rate of your message is key as an ideal test is with the subject. Try testing several different approaches with your subject line in order to improve the open rate. It is important to note that the format in which your message is delivered (HTML, attachment, etc.) may impact the open rate. For example, in delivering e-mail catalogs, our team at Shop2u.com has found that using HTML whenever possible provides an over 30 percent open rate, while an attachment ranks from 20 percent to 30 percent, and a hotlink only a 10 percent to 20 percent open rate. We’ve also noted that approximately 1 percent of people in a program will opt-out.

As a budget is developed, you may want to allocate 5 percent of your budget for e-mail marketing or e-fundraising. It will become self-funding and is an ideal acquisition, retention, cultivation and recognition tool.

In conclusion, e-marketing provides a wonderful opportunity to communicate with your constituents in a way that by traditional means would be time- or cost-prohibitive – especially if your organization is international in scope or presence.

Look at your relationship with your constituents today. Tomorrow this relationship can be closer, stronger, longer and more meaningful if you choose to embrace and use the powerful tool at your fingertips. Enjoy the journey.

Carol C. Folsom is the vice president, Partnership Programs, Shop2u.com

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