In this article, I’ll show you some bad email fundraising and marketing practices, how you can improve online relationships, and how to avoid unsubscribes.

This morning when I opened my email, the first two messages I read were transactional emails (emails facilitating, competing or confirming a previously agreed upon transaction). The first was a post-event email from a fundraising walk I had registered for, and the second was from an airline about a recent flight I had taken. The email from the airline had a compelling subject line, excellent personalization, interesting content, a strong call-to-action, strategic use of graphic design, and easy to find social icons. The event email, well, didn’t.

  1. The Subject Line: “Thanks for your participation” just doesn’t cut it as a compelling subject line–after all, the subject line is arguably the most important part of your email because it gauges interest (open rates are a measure of reader interest). If your email service provider supports A/B testing, then go ahead and test two options in your subject line to find what resonates: a) describe the email content using clear, succinct, descriptive language; and, b) use a deadline, appeal to emotions, or use a specific call to action.
  2. Personalization: There’s really no excuse for emails that begin with “Dear Supporter.”  At the very least, you should use a personal greeting, but don’t stop there. Think about other personal details you might be able to drop into your email. for example, try segmenting your list by gender, geography or anything else you know about your event participants, so you can personalize the content based on the people to whom you’re sending.
  3. No Mission Message: Your post-event email communications are a great opportunity to reinforce your mission with short, memorable messages that convey your organization’s mission. Here’s an example: Every year, more than 120,000 babies in the U.S. are born with birth defects. The causes of about 70% of these are unknown. To find answers, the March of Dimes invests millions of dollars annually in research to discover ways to prevent birth defects that can disable a child for a lifetime.
  4. Word Count: Your post-event emails should have a clear purpose and should be written in your organization’s unique voice. In this case, the airline message was 110 words of engaging content while the event email was over 300 words of dry content (Footnote: in the retail sector, the average word count for repeat promotional emails is only 235 words). 
  5. Fundraising Ask: This was a fundraising event, and yet the post-event email had no fundraising ask. Considering that the majority of event participants raise no money, shouldn’t you be asking for a self-donation, or reminding people it’s not too late to fundraise?
  6. Design: Yes, your emails should be aesthetically pleasing, but most importantly they should be designed toward your ultimate goal. For example, what do you want your event participants to do with your email: read it, click through to the website, donate, register for next year, or share your email? And how are you going to measure success: open rate, click rate, conversion rate, or sharethis tracking? Bottom line: Consider allocating a small percentage of your marketing budget to email design testing and optimization–it has increased click-through rates by as much as 26% in some studies.
  7. Rendering: Proper email rendering is key, as email recipients tend to view your email in five separate stages—judging each one individually before deciding whether to move on. They are:
    • From Name: Your email fights for attention in a crowded inbox, and according to the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC), 73% of subscribers click “Report Spam” or “Report Junk” based on the content of the ‘from’ field.
    • Subject Line: After weighing the appropriateness of your ‘from’ address, subscribers then move their attention to your subject line. The ESPC notes that 69% of subscribers base their decision to send your message to the spam folder on the subject line.
    • Preview Pane:Your email doesn’t necessarily have to be open for your recipients to view the content. When present, many recipients use preview panes to get a quick look at your message before opening. As such, it’s important to make sure your call-to-action is visible in the preview pane.
    • Opened Email (Pre-Scroll): So, your recipient clicks on your email and it opens in a new window. But how many of those recipients view the entire email including the content “below the fold?” The answer is surprisingly few.
    • View Full Email: You’ve enticed your recipient to view your entire email, but what will they see when reading your entire message? Nielsen Norman Group’s usability study determined that users, once engaged, spend an average of 51 seconds on each newsletter in their inbox. With such a short time frame, how do you want your subscribers spending their time?

Every time you send an email to your event participants, you are competing with hundreds of other emails–many of which are communicating something new, relevant, believable, differentiating, and emotional. What are you doing to stand out?

Jono Smith is vice president of marketing at Event 360. You can find Jono on Google+Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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