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Live From NTC: Speed Doesn’t Kill If It’s Email

By Mark Hrywna - March 24, 2016

SAN JOSE, CALIF. — The future is all mobile. Whether it’s fundraising, donation pages, or email, it all comes back to mobile.

“It’s not a question of do I need to optimize my email. The answer is yes,” said Sarah Driscoll, email director/vice president at 270 Strategies. Driscoll moderated a panel “The Future of Email: From 2016 to 2026” during the Nonprofit Technology Conference (#16NTC) on Wednesday at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif.

Mobile optimization of email was just one of a number of discussions around email during the session. Julia Rosen, director of marketing at ActBlue, said 40 percent of all gifts through the organization are from a mobile device, with some organizations at more than 50 percent. That number could hit 60 percent next year.

Rosen implored nonprofit leaders to “take away the friction” and make it easier for people to give their money. Even seconds matter. She suggested ensuring donation pages load within two to three seconds instead of 10 to 15 seconds. Consider speed tests when evaluating a vendor. Rosen offered to observe how a page cascades in, what loads first, and how each web browser handles it. “Some people are absolutely terrible at it, they load this huge image first, and not the form,” she said.

“You just need to make sure you remove barriers for folks to be able to participate, no matter how big or small their dollar or action,” Rosen said.

Debra Cohen of The Sierra Club said it’s important to balance how much information to get people to commit to providing without filling in their phone and address, adding that each time you should evaluate what fields you need to get people and reduce down to that.

For one campaign, Driscoll recalled emailing people a simple form with an offer of a free bumper sticker so they were asked for a mailing address. A large percentage of them filled out the form because they like free stuff and they were able to track back to their voter file, she said.

There was a children’s hospital client for which an email was sent asking people to send a Valentine’s Day card to kids. The effort went viral and the organization just about doubled its email list. “Think through actions people can take that people can share,” she said.

Driscoll discouraged setting a number of emails to send each year. Instead, plan campaigns and when you look at your calendar, concentrate email volumes there. “It’s natural then to ramp up volume as you get closer to deadlines. All your emails should feel like there’s reason your sending it,” she said.

There’s also what Driscoll described as “Zombie sends.” If you find a great performing email, by all means, resend it to those who didn’t open it the first time. Think about the people to whom you’re sending them and perhaps hold out monthly donors from fundraising campaigns.

When’s the best time to send email? It depends on the list but there’s no one perfect time to send emails. Generally speaking, during business hours will get better response rates, Rosen said, but weekends still get good responses, too. “Pay attention. People are on multiple lists. Figure out what works, it’ll change, and sometimes test it again,” she said. “Everyone wants the magic answer.”

A lot of people still have the mentality of always sending emails at the same time but Driscoll encouraged organizations to test the timing. People are more likely to open an email when they get it rather then when they have “email onslaught” in the morning. “Don’t be afraid of sending at night or the weekend when there’s less volume,” she said.

Driscoll recalls testing extensively but never found statistically significant results. It never mattered whether it was 11 p.m. on a Thursday or 9 a.m. on a Tuesday. “The most important was that people could consume it on their phone,” she said. “Safe payment information and one-click actions will be much bigger gamer changer than when you send it.”

The average churn rate is 10 to 20 percent, which means if organizations aren’t touching their email lists all year, they’re losing 10 to 20 percent. Investing in that is huge, she said, adding that there’s some success with list swaps, which are free and can build good will and relationships with other organizations.


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