Have you ever called your parents to ask for money?
Did you notice they were more likely to say yes if you’d had lots of other conversations with them about the cool stuff happening in your life and the important things you had planned?
Your donors are a kind of like that. They love your organization and they want to support it in every way they can. When you succeed they feel (rightly so) like they helped make it happen. When you hit rough times, they want to help. When you have good news, they want to hear it. When you are about to start something new, they want to know that too. When you ignore them for months and then get in touch just to ask for money, they get cranky. Sound familiar?
But how should you stay in touch? The weekly phone call may work well for family but it’s unmanageable for a mailing list of any size. What you need is a way to communicate with all of your donors at once in a way that still feels personal and makes it easy for them to respond if they wish. You need an e-mail marketing service.
Why can’t I just e-mail everyone the normal way?
If you are sending messages to more than 100 people at a time, sending the message though your regular e-mail provider is a good way to get flagged as a spammer–if that happens not only will your donors miss this particular message, no e-mail from your organization will be delivered until you get your name off the blacklist. Even if your list has less than 100 e-mail addresses, an e-mail service is a better bet because it allows you to track who is opening your messages and what links they are clicking on–which helps you see which elements of your work are creating the most buzz.
Here’s the free part
Most e-mail marketing services are reasonably priced (between $15-30 per month) but Vertical Response lets 501(c)3 non-profit organizations send up to 10,000 e-mails each month for free. All you have to do is register for a regular account (no payment is required) and then submit the non-profit application form. Your application will be reviewed and in 2-3 days you’ll receive 10,000 free credits. Each month your remaining credits expire and you get 10,000 new credits–so as long as you don’t send more than 10,000 e-mails per month the service costs your organization nothing.
Update: There is now a potentially better option for nonprofits, so check out this updated post before you make a final decision.
Is this the best e-mail service on the market?
Um, no. It’s the free-est (for nonprofits) e-mail service on the market. It has the basic features you need to get started so it’s an easy (and did I mention free) way to get your feet wet. They have lots of free templates and if you have even a very basic grasp of HTML and graphic design you will be able to customize the colors and photos in your layout to match the feel of your organization. If you have no marketing budget to speak of, or if your boss needs to see results before she spends money on “new fangled technology,” the Vertical Response non-profit program may be just what you need.
If flexibility and a strong feature set is more important to you than price, or if your organization plans to send more than 10,000 e-mails per month, Vertical Response may not be the right choice for you. Try Aweber instead–they also have a discount rate for non-profits.
Now that you have a format, you need a message. Don’t know what to write about? Check out Sonia Simone’s great e-mail class on creating great newsletter content. (I know she refers to the class as “marketing” and says it’s about reaching your “customers” but I promise it is absolutely applicable to communicating with your donors and reaching new people who will become your future donors.)
Leave a link to your new newsletter in the comments, I’d love to see what you have to say!