How to Fix Common Non-Profit Email Newsletter Mistakes

fixitMost non-profits want to get the word out to donors and supporters, and find that an email campaign is a fast, cheap way to do so. However, many non-profits hit snags when they are converting from print to email format, or aren’t sure of the best practice when asking for donations. Awkward email presentation leads to unsubscribes, lower donations, low open rates, and low attendance at events.

Here’s three common mistakes seen in many non-profit newsletters, and the small tweaks they made to make them better.

1. Too long, didn’t read

Non-profits typically publish pamphlets, broadsheets, and other print literature that can be read at leisure. These glossy, magazine-like pieces can be thousands of words long and full of attractive images. They often are prefaced with a letter from the director or CEO.

The problem:

Email is an on-the-go format. While readers don’t mind picking up and putting down a long pamphlet, they read email on their mobile device or in quick spurts, when they have time.

The fix:

The optimal length for an email newsletter is 200-500 words; you should limit your scope to about 1-3 topics per email (less is better). If you have a lot to say, send it in different emails. Use your social media presence for daily updates of events or donation drives.

In email, boil down your most important information into short, 100 word text blocks. Your website is the place to put “about us,” welcome announcements to the new director, and other info that doesn’t compellingly support your immediate need or campaign.

2. Densely formatted

Most non-profit literature is written by intelligent people in an academic or business style.

The problem:

The average time spent scanning an email is five to fifteen seconds. Email newsletters are marketing literature, not journal articles or business reports.

The fix:

Your email doesn’t have to be read in 10 seconds, but the most successful emails are formatted for clarity and scanability.

Break up your text with headers, text boxes, and images so that readers can get the gist of the email by scanning it. Use tables and nested tables, bullets, tables of contents, and text boxes to create white space.

3. Asking readers to download too much

This area includes a wide variety of multimedia sins including relying too heavily on graphics, attaching .pdfs (or any other files), and embedding video or sound.

The problem + the solution:

I’ll break it down:

  • 65% of email users block images due to virus concerns, and 41% of all email last year was opened on a mobile device that makes image loading difficult or impossible. Use images, but make the email look clean, clear, and professional without them. Always include alt text to show that the image is relevant to the text.
  • Emails with attachments may be blocked for the same reason, some users may not be able to open them, or downloading the file may simply be too inconvenient to bother. You will have higher open, click through, and donation rates if you write your email in the email.
  • There isĀ semi-reliable HTML5 code for embedding video in email, but embedding media requires sending large files over your server. A better way is to host the media on your website and link to it with a linked screenshot and a text link.
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