Charity email marketing

The shift from traditional fundraising methods to online has highlighted the need to whole-heartedly adopt ‘new’ ways of reaching donors. Email marketing is nothing new, (in fact, email marketing was one of my first jobs when I was 19) but its new significance in marketing strategy is starting to be felt.

In a large amount of cases, we actively seek a relationship with potential donors. We ask them for money or to buy into our mission, but more importantly, we aim to build a relationship with them. We want to make them feel special; like we know who they are and be the friend people want to talk to. This may sometimes be easier to accomplish for smaller charities with an effective communications team, but is still possible for sector giants we know and love.

This approach is a substantial contrast to the commercial sector. While organisations still strive for a relationship with their customers to drive future value, the relationship is materially beneficial. Think of the fashion websites you have signed up for in the hope to hear about the latest savings. Sales for them, bargains for us.

It is because this difference exists that those who receive them may treat charity communications differently to commercial ones. So, to help you get your email marketing off the ground, here are my tips on getting it right:

Spam no more

Image courtesy of hegarty_david
Be selective with the amount of communications you send. Just because people on your database have given you permission to contact them via email, spamming the crap out of them will water down the supposed urgency of any donation/support request. Think of it as a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation. And more to the point, this will more likely lead to people unsubscribing on mass, meaning your future audience for emergency appeals is significantly reduced.

Use the data you have, collect the data you need

In some cases, appeals are sent out on special occasions or personalised to suit a particular proposition. If you find you do not have the data you need to tailor the broadcast as required, where appropriate to do so*, start collecting that information – ideally at point of acquisition (so this could be an extra field added to your website’s donation form or a method for subscribers to update their details when asked).

*This is important so as to comply with data protection laws.

Don’t panic about knee jerk replies from donors

Always remember that people are far quicker off the mark to complain about something than to praise it. If you’re communicating a particularly hard-hitting case for support, statistically speaking, someone is going to take offense.

Landing page

Your email campaign’s landing page is one of the biggest drivers of your campaigns average gift. On the whole, people give what they’ve been asked for. This could potentially be tailored for a particular donor around their ask base (as you might in a direct mail pack).

Make sure the landing page is engaging with clear messaging, and above all, make it as easy as possible for people to donate or complete your particular call to action. Get rid of any potential noise such as unnecessary links that may cause people to navigate away. This should have a really positive effect on your conversion rates.


I can’t stress the importance of this point. Tracking is one of the most important aspects of any email campaign. It allows us to see how well our campaign went, and more importantly, gives us valuable insight into how we can improve our next campaign.

First, you’ll want to look at standard measurements such as open rates, click rates, bounces, unsubscribes etc. Comparing these results to historical/similar campaigns will give you an idea of the progress you’re making. If you’re split testing (e.g. subject lines, creative), these results will also show you whether the test had any affect, and if so, what test worked best.

Secondly, link these results with your site’s analytics package and work out what people are doing once they hit your site. If you have e-commerce tracking, great – your job just got a whole lot easier. If not, there are other things you can do. Set up some goal funnels to record where people are falling out of the process (let me know if you need any more information on this). You can also set up Google campaign URLs to flag traffic that came from the email in your site analytics – helpful if you are pointing to your site from various sources like Facebook or Twitter etc. This will start to give you more accurate conversion rates and ROI figures.

Mobile Optimisation

After an excellent comment from Paul Henderson on my last post, I realised this post wouldn’t be complete without a section on mobile optimisation. As Paul mentioned, there is an almost unstoppable rise in the use of mobile devices to read email (cue gratuitous graph link). Just as we’ve needed to code web pages to be compatible with IE6 (grr, what’s so difficult about updating a browser?!) to make sure we don’t alienate anyone, it seems ridiculous not to cater for mobile email browsers. SPEND THE EXTRA IN DEVELOPMENT FOR MOBILE USERS. This includes optimisation of landing pages too. See Paul’s comment and my response for more information.

Now we just need to worry about designing this pesky email and figure out what it’s going to say…

Perhaps another time ;)

If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

  • Emma Donaldson

    Brilliant post (again!). Definitely going to be following your tips – thank you!