Digital Marketing

Now is a great time of year to take stock of your digital strategy and see where your organization stands. Are you leveraging industry best practices with you organizations digital assets? Join us and learn more!


Good afternoon, everybody.  My name is Bill Blinstrub, my friend and colleague Leanne Barkley and I will be your host for today’s presentation. For today’s discussion, we’ve picked a few more high level, relatively easy practices that you can implement, which will really allow you to optimize your digital programs and show improvement over the long-term. Leanne’s going to take you through the good habits that we recommend for 2020.

After that, I’ll take you some of the bad habits that we’d like to see people stopped doing. Some of which you might not even be aware of. You might not be thinking of these things. After that, we’ll finish up talking about some stretch goals, the new year, and at the very end, we’ll give you your prescription for a healthy digital 2020. I’m going to turn you over to Leanne, who is going to take you through the good habits.  Okay. So as you mentioned, we’re going to kick off the discussion by reviewing three good habits that you should implement into your program, or continue to implement into your program in 2020.

And the first good habit of course is to ensure that all email communications are designed for mobile.  Some of you may have seen the latest reports, the MNR benchmark report from 2019, for example.  We all know now that we’ve reached that tipping point, where traffic from mobile devices, they’re counting for the largest percentage of website visitors, you know, that mobile accounted for about 48% of all traffic, desktop users made up about 44%, and tablets, they accounted for 8%. For this reason, it’s especially important to view everything through the lens of a mobile-first experience, including your emails. Luckily, most ESPs are already accounting for this mobile-first mindset. Most templates are automatically set up to render for both desktop and mobile, depending on the screen size.

And this is true for platforms like MailChimp, and Constant Contact, LuminAID, Salesforce. These platforms actually also offer you a preview of what the email looks like on different devices. So in many ways, you’re by default, are you set up for success in this area. But we do have a few key tips to keep in mind.

First we want you to continue using the single column template that stacks content vertically in the year ahead. Templates with columns or other formats, it’s going to stack content in weird undesirable ways when you look at it on mobile. So check to make sure that all the templates that you’re going to be using in that year ahead are up to date and that they’re all doing that single column format.

Second, make sure you’re using responsive buttons that expand and shrink depending on what device the email is being read on. This allows for finger sized buttons on mobile phones, and then they’ll automatically render down for desktop and tablet. You’ll find that most ESPs have button tools built within that allow you to drop in a donate button and customize the button in terms of color and content.

So we suggest making sure that you set these buttons and you scale them at a hundred percent because they’re already coded to automatically expand and shrink. So again, just make sure you’re using the button tool that’s actually built into your ESP. Don’t be tempted to create a button outside of the ESP in something like Photoshop and drop it in, because your ESP will then read that button as an image, and it won’t load when the email is read.

Next, continue to seek authentic photos for your emails and really start focusing on trying to build a library. Photos of programs or donors, volunteers, and events, or you want photos of people not objects, and you really want to try to get eye contact. That’s all going to be critical, especially as we do more and more and more email. When you’re taking those photos, you get to think of how they’re going to be used.

In your email, you want to ensure that the photos are good quality, mostly that they use landscape orientation, and they’ve got a wide angle that’s usually best for an email template. You also want to make sure that you’re only using images that are essential to your email. So one to three images is usually ideal, reason being again, that mobile device platforms will turn off those images by default.

So you can’t assume that your images are going to be displayed. And because of this, we always recommend including ALT texts. So that’s the text behind that sits behind the image so that when it doesn’t load, people will know what the image is. Or there might be a call to action in there that they can see when the image doesn’t load.

And a good tip is to always preview your email to make sure that it looks good, even if none of the images are being displayed. And when it comes to size, 600 pixels is a good size. It renders nicely on desktop and mobile.

And we actually build our emails, we’ll size them up to 1200 by 480 so that when they rendered down, it’s really nice and crisp and they look nice and clear in that 600 pixel width size. And then lastly, you want to avoid using hard-coded small font sizes in your templates. So just like your donation, buttons, font sizes too are coded for desktop versus mobile in most ESPs.

And it’s set to adjust based on the device. We commonly use size 16 for desktop and size 22 for mobile. But again, some systems do it automatically, so just tech check the specs within your template. Or if you’re picking up an old template, check the specs to see what you’re using and to make sure they’re within a good range.

Okay onto good habit number two for 2020. We really want to continue the good habit of segmenting your audiences. So most people are familiar with doing this in the mail, but now’s the time to really start segmenting your emails as well.

A good way to get started with email segmentation is to first review what tools are available to you and your ESP. So some provide the ability to use dynamic content, which offers users the ability to vary messaging by audience without needing to really duplicate efforts and create all these separate emails.

So platforms like Salesforce and Constant Contact, they both offer dynamic content tools. MailChimp doesn’t, they use something else called merge tags, which is a bit different, but you really just need to look at what’s available to you in your platform. And if you do have the ability to use dynamic content, you can see here on the slide that we’re suggesting lots of different segmentation and of course, varied messaging by segment to make your appeals more targeted. Dynamic content tools are really what helped make segmentation more scalable. But as you know, the more relevant messaging, the better response. So it’s really worth it to you to look to see what’s available to you for segmentation next year. Regardless of whether you use dynamic content or not, at the very, very least, you really need to be uploading responder files for your follow-up emails.

This gives you the ability to deliver a timely message to donors, because you really don’t want to be asking somebody for a gift if they just sent you one, either in response to a previous email or through another channel. So a lot of times folks will use responder files suppressing people who had, like I had mentioned, just responded to say like the first email but you really need to put pulling in transactions from all sources.

So if somebody went and made a gift online, or even if somebody sent a direct mail piece back in and you recently logged that gift, you want to exclude those people from subsequent emails. It just makes for better communication and let them know that we know about them, we’re talking to them in a personal manner.

Lastly, our final good habit that we want you to keep top of mind is to not let up on the email volume next year. We have literally never said to a client that you need to back off on your email frequency. So typically we’re advocating for more emails. So if you’ve been conservative in the past, try adding some reminder appeals into your plan next year. You’ll likely see revenue increased by doing this.

And really don’t underestimate those reminder emails in the year ahead. We like to use a forwarding technique where you reuse the original email that you had sent and you drop in a simple reminder note above it which, doubles the life of the first email that you spent all this time creating. And not only that, the reminder technique looks authentic and it does work.

So don’t be shy about increasing frequency next year. And to give you some perspective, on this slide here what you’re seeing is a snapshot of your competition. So this is a real life example of email volume from one presidential campaign last summer. This represents an extreme, but it serves to demonstrate a point that really, this is what you’re up against.

The MNR benchmark report cited that non-profits sent an average of 59 emails per subscriber in 2018, of which 25 are fund raising emails. This marks an increase over the prior year in 2017. But across the board internationally nonprofits are actually sending more. So they send about 104 messages with 50 of those being fundraising messages.

So we’re not really advocating for you to have a communication schedule that looks like this. But here’s an example of what we did for another organization.  This is our schedule for one of our clients here in March it serves as their biggest fundraising month.

So you can see we’re sending eight emails. Two of the eight are stewardship appeals, and six are fundraising emails. And this schedule here, it doesn’t account for say like their regularly scheduled communications or highlights that they have going on. So these are over and above those communications.

And you’ll notice too, we have a couple of emails going out on the weekend. With donors checking their emails first thing in the morning on their phones, you really shouldn’t feel the need to avoid the weekend time slots anymore. And as I mentioned, six of these eight are fundraising emails and not all six are original content.

So three are original and three of those reminder type emails that I just mentioned a few minutes ago. So take a look at your calendar. Find areas where you might want to add email volume next year to help grow your revenue.  Great advice, Leanne. Thank you. Now I’m going to take you through a few of the bad habits.

We’d like you to keep in mind and try to stop doing in the new year. First, stop ignoring your email metrics, please. This may seem like common sense, right? But far too often, email analysis stops once you hit the send button. And we’re all guilty of this, we all do this at some point. Do we look at revenue, but do you look at all the other important metrics that is so critical to email program’s success?

I’d like you all to think right now think about your email file. And aside from the size of the file and the revenue from the last email you did, what email specific metrics can you tell me about your email performance right now? And don’t say it out loud.  So if you had trouble answering that last question and I’m sure you did, people usually do, here’s some of the answers you would have accepted.

What’s your active email list size. And by active, I mean are donors still using the accounts you’re sending to.  Are people still using them? And if so, how are you verifying that? And if you’re not verifying that, don’t worry, we’ve got a plan for you later in this presentation to discuss that. Open rate. You should know these numbers and yes, I said numbers, plural why plural?

Because you will have different open rates because as Leanne just told us you will be segmenting your email files, right? That’s a great habit to do here. On average for the most recent seminar reports, you should be seeing around a 14% open rate, but that can vary depending on the maturity of your particular email program.

So if yours is above that, that’s great. If it’s below that, don’t necessarily worry about it. If you want more context around that, we’re happy to talk about that offline or after this. Your CTR or click through rate. If people are opening your emails, are they clicking on the content inside? This can tell you what the content you’re sending is interesting to your donors.

And also, where are you sending them?

If they are opening and clicking on the content, are they converting to a gift or taking whatever action it is that you trying to induce. Conversion rate’s really, really important. It can help you find issues with page layouts. It can identify issues with call-to-action language. For example, if you’re seeing a ton of clicks on email, but very low conversions, then maybe the page you’re driving to, isn’t optimized for conversion. I’ve seen this happen several times throughout my career.

If you’re not watching the conversion rate, you can’t identify these particular issues. Paying attention to this metric can show you what’s working and what’s not.

And of course unsubscribes. This is a great metric to watch because can tell you if you’re communicating too frequently with your donors. And I say that sort of in jest because as Leanne told us, we never tell people you’re communicating too much by email. When we do tell people that you should be upping your frequency, they worry about the unsubscribes.

If you pay attention to this metric over time, you’ll see that it really doesn’t move unless there’s some kind of an issue. If you don’t watch these metrics, you won’t be able to benefit by what they’re telling you.

The next bad habit that we want to expand on here, to stop ignoring the email engagement metric. And what do we mean by engagement?  Are people opening your emails? People aren’t engaging with your emails, meaning that you keep sending them, but they don’t open and they don’t unsubscribe.

Then either reactivate them or remove them from your file. You want to have a reactivation strategy in place. Why do you need a reactivation strategy? Why do people stop opening these emails? There’s a few reasons. A portion of every email file will eventually become stale.

You measure that from the opt-in date or from the date of their last email interaction and that interaction could simply be opening it. For example, if someone opted into your email program in 2018, they still haven’t opened a single email. You want to include them in a reactivation strategy. Criteria on how to put people in that strategy is going to differ from organization to organization.

Why don’t people engage after opting in? Sometimes users forget that they signed up, but they don’t unsubscribe. They stop using the associated email address, but they don’t unsubscribe. They simply stop responding. And they just don’t unsubscribe. Those email addresses should be segmented off the file or encouraged to open click and opt back into active status and unsubscribe.

Why do you want to do that? You really want to cut the dead wood off the file. Removing people who aren’t engaging with your emails will improve your open rates but will also prevent your email from being marked as junk. This is very important. If you have a large number of emails in your file that have never opened, this can negatively impact deliverability of the overall file.

And this is like a worst-case scenario, right? It could be inaccurately labeled as junk or less reputable if your emails are not being opened by a large number of people. This is a bad thing. The best way to prevent this is to remove these emails that are never opened from your file.

So to properly identify candidates for this type of pruning, we’ve been using what we refer to as this reactivation strategy for our clients. A reactivation strategy works like this. One, you want to identify the non-engaged folks. How do you identify them? Well, like I said before, it’s going to vary by organization, but for this example, let’s see if someone has opted into your email program nine months ago, but they’ve never opened a single email.

You want to send an email to them, “Are we breaking up?” as the subject line to encourage them to open it.  We like to use humor here. It’s different. It gets noticed and it has a better chance of being open. They’re used to the fundraising emails, they’re used to the advocacy emails.

So something a little different out of the ordinary to kind of catch their eye. You know, they’re not engaged need to show them something new.  Ideally we want people to stay in engaged. Even though we know this is not going to happen in most cases, you got to give them that opportunity.

Make it easy for them to take an action, provide an option to opt out right in that reactivation email. Make it big button, choose to stay or go. And then of course non-responses are opted out, as are anyone who chooses to opt out within that email. Just a note here. This is also typically an automated process.

Once you build those initial files and identify those folks, this can be put into an ESP and it can be automated for you.

The next bad habit that we’d like people to stop, is stop ignoring your website metrics. Just as it’s important to know and understand your email metrics, you should also be monitoring, understanding your website metrics. Monitoring website traffic can help you spot trends, good and bad. This can help you develop a strategy to capitalize on what you’re seeing. Some important website metrics that you should be monitoring at least on a weekly basis, unique visits. This will tell you how many people are coming to your website. You should see some correlation between site traffic and your direct mail programs and emails. Typically, when a direct mailing hits home, you expect to see an uptick in traffic to the website, same thing with your email. Possibly if you’re running any kind of lead generation program or promoting anything in your market.

If you’re a public media station doing pledge, you should be seeing an increase in visits to the website. Anything you’re doing in the market, you’d reasonably expect to see an increase in site visits. If this isn’t happening, you want to investigate why. Conversion rate. Conversion rate in this case, we’re talking specifically about the percentage of visitors who actually make a donation on your website, particular importance for your donation pages.

If you’re seeing a lot of traffic to the donation page, but few conversions, you may have a problem with the page design or you even have a technical issue, which is why I really encourage clients to keep an eye on this metric for your donation pages, at least weekly. So just give us some idea of benchmarks, your percentage of visitors who make a donation go to your homepage, for example, if you look at your total homepage traffic, about four and a half percent of those will make a donation at least in the public media vector. Across other verticals, about 1%. Once someone gets to your donation page, you should be seeing a conversion rate of around 20%. If you’re not, you may have a technical issue, you may have a page design issue. But if you’re not watching that metric, you’re not going to be able to identify that. Bounce rate. This is a good one. Now this tells you how many people are leaving the site immediately when they hit it. It can give you a good idea of how engaging the content is, or people being driven to your site errantly. Lower your bounce rate,

the more visitors that are sticking around to enjoy your website and hopefully converting. And this next one is a little bit different. How many of you know your home page load speed? No one likes waiting for a page to load, right? There are many different factors that affect this load time. The speed at which a page loads can depend on the hosting server, the amount of bandwidth in transit, the webpage design itself, as well as the number, type, and the weight of elements on the page. So basically what that means is the more you have on that page, the slower it could potentially load. And this is why we really want you to pay attention to this and figure out the best way to optimize that page. Other factors can include location, device, browser type, of course.

On a desktop, the average load time that we’re seeing right now is about 2.16 seconds per page for mobile it’s even faster. 1.82 seconds per page. Your organization can monitor page load time through your hosting server or most likely in Google Analytics, if you have Google Analytics deployed throughout your website. That’s really the easiest way to monitor and measure your page load times. And of course, if you’re going to look at your homepage load, you also definitely want to look at your donation page load speed. Very important to be aware of. Think about when you’re trying to buy something online and you go to check and the page doesn’t load.

Do you wait? Or do you abandon cart?  This should be loaded even faster. A desktop, you want that donation page to load in 1.48 seconds. That’s the average we’re seeing. Anything over that, you want to look at that page and try to optimize for faster loading times. On a mobile device, it’s even faster, 1.37 seconds is the average that we’re seeing. A lot of that’s attributable to mobile devices being newer and faster these days. And I’m going to turn you back to Leanne and talk about some of the stretch goals that we want you to try and just think about this coming year.  If you implemented all of our good suggested habits and you find some ways to drop those bad habits, next year, we have one big stretch goal for you to help propel your email program even further. And that is for you to explore the possibilities of email automation.

At this point, it’s probably fair to assume that many of you may have an automated email welcome series for new subscribers. If you don’t then consider adding one to you plan next year. But for those of you who already do have an automated welcome series, first, make sure you’re reviewing your email metrics for that series to ensure that it’s performing well for you as you enter the new fiscal year. And review the content, make sure it’s up to date

and all that good stuff. But, as it relates to your stretch goal, we want you to consider maximizing your current automated welcome series by using it for lead generation. The lead generation campaigns use social media ads to encourage people to sign up for your emails. And here on the slide, you’re seeing a sample of one such ad that we created for the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Once somebody signed up, those subscribers then are automatically set to receive your welcome series. And the goal is to convert those folks to donors over time. So using this type of lead-generation paired with your automated welcome series, you need to have your expectations in check because you will get a lot of new leads, a lot of new subscribers through this.

But they’re not going to convert to a donor right away. It takes time. It has a longer tail. But you’ll find that once they’re in the system, once they start receiving your emails, or over time, they will convert and this will ultimately prove fruitful for you.

So if you’ve mastered that welcome series, if you’ve tried using it with your lead generation campaigns next consider expanding your scope of automated series by trying some new things or trying more. And one thing that you could try is an automated second gift email series for new donors. So the goal of this series is to get a second gift from those new one-time donors within the first 90 days or so of their initial gift, so that you can really cement your relationship with them.

Another series to consider is a sustainer conversion series. And of course maybe there, you could do a sustainer upgrade series. You’ll really need to mine your data to determine what type of triggers you would use to launch a series like this for your donors. With automation, the idea is that emails are really set to deploy based on a donor’s behavior or when they reach a specific point in their journey with you.

The delivery of the messages are meant to be incredibly relevant and timely. So you’ll need to look closely at what automation tools are available in your ESP and look at your data there and see what type of criteria you might use to trigger a series.  If you have the real capacity to explore doing something like this, first think of what your goals are next year.

If you’re trying to grow the sustainers even more, if you’re trying to get them to upgrade, or if you’re really focusing on new donors next year, consider email automation to support you in these efforts. They could give you the tools that you need to reach your goals next year.

If automation isn’t in the cards for you next year, because you get enough on your plate, just keep it on your radar. Stuff like this is going to pop up more and more. Keep it on your three to five year plan. Email automation is going to continue to be a discussion. So for a lot of our clients that we worked with, we did , the automated welcome series this year. More and more clients are starting to get into those automated reactivation series that Bill was talking about before.

So it’s going to continue to be on the radar as email fundraising programs become more sophisticated and broader in scope in the months and years ahead.

Remember, start designing emails with that mobile-first strategy, single column template, finger size buttons, and review it in mobile format. Test them. Segment your email file just like you would with direct mail. Develop segments that make sense for your organization.

And you’re going to have a donor segment, perhaps a non-donor segment or a subscriber-only segment, lapsed donors, sustainers.

Email more. There’s growing competition for your digital attention, especially in 2020. But this being a presidential election year, really to turn up the volume and the frequency to be heard, and more importantly, stay at the top of that inbox. You do not want to get lost in the crush of political related mail that’s coming your donors’ way.

Start regularly monitoring email and website performance metrics. I can’t stress this one enough. If you aren’t regularly monitoring email and website performance, you’re missing opportunities to optimize your revenue, to spot trends, and also to identify problems. The data on email and website performance flows dramatically faster than that of your direct mail programs.

It is almost always immediately actionable. So keep that in mind. And finally perform regularly email file hygiene. As we talked about, regularly trimming your file of inactive addresses will make your performance metrics better and you’ll see better results in your fundraising. It will dramatically improve your deliverability and keep your ESP reputation as reputable and keep that mail from going to spam.

And with that, we have concluded today’s webinar.

We love talking digital fundraising so thank you so much for your time today.  Thank you everybody.