Planned Parenthood's E-Mail Efforts Mature

Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. opted in more than 3,100 new e-mail members to its house file and raised more than $7,700 in online donations as a result of its Independence Day viral marketing campaign.

The e-mail, which addressed the issue of contraception coverage for women, urged recipients to forward the message to friends and click on a link to sign a petition to be delivered to President Bush.

In part, the e-mail said, “This Independence Day, Planned Parenthood will be sending President Bush a message: all health insurance plans which cover prescription drugs must include contraceptives.”

The initial e-mail was sent June 28 to 45,000 PPFA donors, almost its entire opt-in e-mail member file. As of July 9, 23 percent of those recipients had clicked through to the main Web site and taken further action, such as signing the petition or making a donation.

“The outbound e-mail was not a solicitation for a donation. The goal was really to begin a dialogue with the donors online,” said Molly Smith Watson, director of development and direct response at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, New York.

Another goal was to gain new members. Last fall, PPFA's opt-in e-mail file was about 6,000 addresses out of more than 400,000 active members.

Planned Parenthood then selected application service provider Convio to power its Web site and e-mail campaigns and has since built its file to about 47,000, Smith Watson said.

“We selected a product like Convio because we knew that the Internet was setting a level of expectation of customer service that nonprofits were not meeting,” she said.

The Convio tool lets nonprofits manage relationships with donors through Web content and e-mail.

“Twelve months ago, PPFA had a buried campaign page on their site and did no e-mail marketing,” said Vinay Bhagat, founder and CEO of Convio, Austin, TX. “When we started working with them, they had e-mail addresses for less than 1 percent of their house file.”

Bhagat said that Planned Parenthood now does well at building its e-mail file compared with other nonprofits. He cited an organization that had only 3,000 e-mail addresses out of its 750,000 constituents as typical in the nonprofit sector.

Campaigns such as the Independence Day effort have been a big step in bolstering Planned Parenthood's e-mail file, Smith Watson said.

“Something we've learned as a nonprofit is that we have to integrate the e-mail a lot more into the mission aspects of the organization rather than just placing it as a passive line to be filled in on a form,” she said. “The more mission-related reasons we give donors to provide their e-mail addresses, the more likely they are to do it.”

Bhagat said the future of nonprofit fundraising depends on more personalized and interactive contact with donors.

“I think that the entire direction of the fundraising industry is moving away from pure solicitations to building a relationship and giving people the opportunity to give as part of that relationship,” he said.

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