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From the Idealware Blog

Finding Inspiration in your Email List

(originally posted at idealware.org/blog)

End of year campaigns are finally wrapped up, with their frantic pace of getting the creative in the system on a tight deadline and segmenting like there is no tomorrow. Now you have turned to intensely pouring through all of the open, click through and conversion rates and guaging the success of your appeals. It’s one of the more stressful times for communications officers in many of the organizations I know. I hope that everyone can take a breath and take a minute to relax – you’ve earned it.

With all the hubbub, it’s easy to lose site of the real people your email list names represent. These are people that have signed up to hear from your organization because they care about your work and want to support you. So once you have a chance to catch your breath you might want to reconnect with them and get inspired about your outreach all over again.

Here is a little experiment you might want to try with your email or donor list to reconnect.

What:
Take 1 hour a quarter (or even once a month) to check in on who is signing up for your emails or donating to your organization.

Pick 10 (or 20 or 50 if you are fast and efficient) names at random from your supporter list and quickly review their records.

  • What do you know about them?
  • Where do they live, how long have they been with you?
  • Notice any trends or similarities?
  • Any surprises?
  • Take a couple minutes and use your imagination to think about who they are, why they signed up and what they were hoping to get from your organization.

The point of this little exercise is not to find hard data or facts to plan your next campaign around, but to get into the mindset of connecting with your email names as real people.

Taking a look at who is on your list and seeing the names and locations is a great reminder that your list is made up of actual people and it helps to keep this at the forefront of your communications.

Doing this once can reignite your connection to your list members, doing it regularly can provide more insight into why people have signed up and can help you write emails that are more authentic and relevant to the recipients.

Part Two:
If you really want to get some information, take another hour or so and write a handful of random supporters a personal email thanking them for their support and asking what they think of the emails they receive from your organization. Although you don’t want to judge too much based on such a small sample, you can bet that if you hear the same complaint or compliment repeatedly its worth thinking about and maybe investigating further.

You might want to include a couple of specific items like the following:

  • Why did you sign up for our email – what were you hoping to receive?
  • Do you read our emails regularly?
  • What is your favorite part of them
  • What is your least favorite thing about our emails?
  • Do you receive too many or too few emails from us?
  • What would you like to see more of?
  • Offer them a link or piece of information that they might find useful – a new article on the web or fact that you have a facebook group for instance.

Everyone likes to be acknowledged and asked their opinion, and the personal touch can mean a lot. At worst you may hear some criticism of your communications, or reach someone with a personal issue with your organization. Thank them and tell them that you are noting this and help solve any issues you can (direct someone that was charged twice by accident to your membership department for instance). In any case you will enhance your brand, spread goodwill and create a deeper engagement with at least one of your constituents. Plus you never know what good things they may want to tell you that they never would have taken the time to say on a survey or web form.

Why do this?
It just takes a small effort to show respect: By taking an hour to reach out and respond, you will have shown your supporter that you are paying attention to the needs of your audience and made them feel special. Since this is a casual effort you control the volume and flow of feedback so it doesn’t have to become a giant undertaking or time suck.

New input leads to new ideas: You might also find that its a good way to generate new ideas for segmentation, campaigns and ways to personalize your merge fields in the future. And I believe that having a few personal interactions with some of your list members will change the way you approach your broader communications as well.

Feel good about what you do: Having people give you their email address and invite you to their inbox is a sign that they are on your side and want to be a part of what you do. And if they give you their clicks or money they are showing just how good they feel about being connected with you. That is really pretty amazing and pretty cool if you think about it.

Again, this isn’t about accurate statistics about your list, although of course you should make time to review and understand your big picture data too. This is just an exercise to inspire you about your email audience – people just like you that care about your work and your mission. Seeing that you have people in your corner that care about your cause can give you a boost of much needed energy for your next email effort and all the work that comes with doing it well.


Handy Email Testing Spreadsheet

Testing how your Email to supporters will look when sent from your bulk Email vendor is all important. As we try to keep up with the “improvements” that Microsoft keeps making and all the various ways Web Email services can render your HTML, I have found this Excel file is pretty useful of keeping track of it all. It contains a sheet for the main programs and items to test for and another to help keep track of all your email accounts and log ins. Hope this helps someone out.

Download the Excel spreadsheet (16k)


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