Nonprofit email learnings

From Children International and Food for the Hungry

Do you remember that I carried out a very small fundraising experiment a few months ago?

Okay even if you don’t no issues. In the month of June 2020, I randomly selected four Indian nonprofit organizations - Cry India, Care India, Save The Children India and We/Can. I invested a total budget of ₹5000 to understand the online and post online donation experience. I waited for 15 days to see how the NGOs communicate post the donation. 

By the end of the experiment, I was a donor for all nonprofit organizations. And as an observer, I waited to understand how would the respective nonprofit will take the “Donor Communication” forward with the help of email.

Almost everyone has been a disappointment.  

All of them did the job of sending me a thank you note and respective tax receipt. Some even delayed for 2 weeks while justifying the problems of an ongoing pandemic. But most of them have failed to take forward the donor communication online.

When it comes to online donor communication via email, the majority of nonprofits have a set template to send a monthly newsletter which will have everything cramped in. It is the easy way out for a nonprofit to automate everything in one email.

But ask yourself would you really want to read it?

How about breaking it down into small pieces of content or multiple emails? This way your don’t cramp up everything and you are also sitting on the donor’s mind or inbox. I am not saying to be a pushy salesman. But be there just in case if she is looking for you.

Save the Children India did send me a monthly newsletter telling me how my contribution has helped the ongoing campaign. But it was vague and I am yet to hear from them.

Recently a connection on LinkedIn asked - Which nonprofits do you believe send great emails?

Children International and Food for the Hungry was my answer. I am sure that there may be more but this is what I have learned from them in the last few months. Three months ago I subscribed to both of the nonprofit’s newsletters. And these people are killing the entire email marketing game even though I am not a donor.

As a subscriber, this is how their email marketing works (kind of). In a month I get close to 5-6 emails from each of them. I told you they are just all guns.

Children International

Almost all the emails that come from the nonprofit are signed by their President. The latest email with a subject line (Prasant watch as teens are reminded of how far they've come) talks about a video proof of how sponsorship works.

The email is a simple text format that has a video embedded. “Sponsorship makes a real difference in the life of a child. Just ask these teens! They’ve been sponsored by people like you since they were small kids. To show them just how far they’ve come, we showed them their very first photos as sponsored children. Watch the video above to see their emotional reactions.”

The email has more than one call to action of the video, which takes you to the blog that has a small story and the video to watch.

In one of the earlier emails from the president in August, the nonprofit shared Vicky's incredible story: “Vicky had big dreams for the future, including becoming a pilot. But without help, they seemed impossible. It was a constant challenge just trying to stay healthy. Then someone like you stepped in and sponsored Vicky. From that day on, everything changed,” says the blog.

Mid of August, the nonprofit also shared the August 2020 newsletter. The email had two stories from the community but the focus was on the numbers. How the supporters are helping the communities during a pandemic. There was a clear call to action for people to make a donation.

And finally, how do you solve the biggest puzzle of knowing your consumer? Good old surveys still do the trick with the want to being heard. Who doesn’t want to be heard? “Your voice matters, which is why we want to hear from you.”

On click of the survey button, you land on to the blog.

Food for the Hungry

The nonprofit sends almost all its emails from the Senior Director of Development. The last email was with the title - Will tomorrow bring hunger or deliverance? A donation appeal with 22 times the impact. I like the way is addressed to me - Valued Partner.

12 days ago I received another email from the Senior Director with a title - Putting ‘unity’ in community. The email was an impact report with multiple stories of impact with a call to action to the blog.

And then there are free gifts for the valued partner from the Senior Director. The latest one is a simple seven-day guidebook that promises to help teach children, grandchildren, or other young people how they can be loving and generous in tangible ways! 

Not to forget the moment marketing days a nonprofit can incorporate with email marketing. Food for Hungry on Father’s Day asked people: “Give Chickens this Father’s Day.” The donation page informs you why it matters, tells a true impact story, and gives you an option to print a card too.

Talk about making a donation page a visual storytelling page and less of a money-collecting page.

If you see there is a pattern in the email marketing done(even if the videos are old) by both the nonprofits:

  • All the emails even if they are asking for donations are talking to you. They are asking money but with a story and creating the trust that it works. Email is a beautiful one to one communication don’t slide it under the fuzziness of automation.

  • 5-6 emails in a month, still they are not spammy and boring. They all serve a purpose from donation appeal to monthly reports to telling you donation works to doing simple things like surveys or offering free gifts. Basically they are thinking beyond just donation appeal because they have a content plan for their email marketing.

  • Almost all the emails land to the blog. Because the blog is the content hub and all other channels like social media, email, etc are amplifiers. So naturally, your email content plan sits on top of your blog content plan. 

  • Another interesting thing both the nonprofits have used multiple buttons for call to action in the emails. Such as links and visual buttons. At times we can ignore so it is a good idea to use it where required. I believe this is where their rigorous A/B testing comes into the picture.

  • The copy does the job be it the headline or the body. There is no template. But keep it simple, trust your data, and shed the corporate imagery. You are talking to human beings, talk to them like you would generally do.

Recently I wrote about the Sunfeast India Run as One virtual marathon and fundraising initiative. They sent me an email conversation after a week. I was excited to see what they had to offer me. Trust me I haven’t seen such a boring long email in my life. It felt as if they have zipped the entire website or campaign in one email. And reading it on mobile was really testing my handicapped eyes.

Can’t they break the one entire email in multiple emails?

  • How to enable a fitness app after signing up

  • How to donate or start a fundraising page

  • How to keep motivating to achieve the target miles

  • How celebrities are cheering for your virtual run

The problem is for the above idea to happen, you need to have a content plan for that you need an editorial content plan and for that, you need money and patience. We don’t believe in building properties, we are quite happy with campaigns. Quick fixes to give quick results and everyone is happy. Except for the consumer. 

But anyways do we care?

Suddenly I am getting regular emails from Shoppers Stop asking me to buy dinner date T-shirts or weekend polos with a 30% discount. 

Who the fuck is going out for a date in a never-ending pandemic? Okay not unless you are sitting on a virtual date wearing a new T-shirt. Not sure whether your date will realise it.

Almost every alternative day I get an email from Shoppers Stop with an agenda to land me on their eCommerce store. The problem is it is not adding value in my life.

It’s great that suddenly brands have also realized the power of email marketing but it needs thinking like any other channel or medium.