I was chatting the other day with a newly elected board president. He was lamenting the fact that his fellow board volunteers don’t respond to his emails very well, and he wanted a little advice on how to change this dynamic. If this is a problem for your organization, then please keep reading.
There are any number of ways to look at this situation:
- This could be a “people” issue
- This could be an “organization“ issue
- This could be a “process or tools” issue
Let’s take a look at these possibilities one at a time.
Within this broad category, there are many considerations.
- Are your board volunteers tech savvy?
- Do board members understand their roles and responsibilities?
- Do these individuals have the appropriate experiences and skills to deal with whatever is being sent to them in these emails? (aka do you have the right people around the table)
- Do these people care? Are they mission focused?
- Does the culture of your organization embrace technology? Or is the way it has always been done more personal and in-person meeting oriented?
In my experience, most of us jump to the conclusion that email unresponsiveness is a people issue (e.g. they don’t care, they’re too busy, etc). However, there might be other issues. Let’s take a look at organization and tools issues in the next two sections.
Believe it or not, how you are structured can greatly effect how people decide to use email as it relates to your organization.
- Does your organization cover a large geographic territory? And do board members live far and wide thus making in-person meetings more difficult?
- How often does the board or committee meet in-person? If it is often, then some individuals may simply put off responding to emails because they see an opportunity to share their thoughts in-person.
- How many standing committees and work groups exist in your organization? Are these organizational silos? If so, then how do they communicate with each other and with the governing board? Is this spelled out in the bylaws or committee charter? (e.g. they must report at board meetings, etc)
- From a board governance perspective, has your organization made changes to its bylaws to allow for the use of newer technology to make decisions? (e.g. electronic/email voting)
I know it can be hard to believe, but how we structure our organizations (and even the internal design of our workplaces) and teams can impact our email usage (and even more broadly how we use tech).
Five years ago, I was working for a national non-profit organization on a team that was scattered all over the country and in four different time zones. This organizational dynamic drove all sorts of decisions including monthly conference calls, the need for in-person staff meetings two or three times per year, optimal times for conference calls, use of email to distribute materials and collect feedback, shared document storage/access, etc.
“Structure” . . . it is an invisible force that drives human behavior more than any of us think.
Email is simply a communication tool. Here is an inventory of tools/processes/approaches that you may find in your communications toolbox:
- Telephone (individual one-on-one or conference call)
- In-person meetings (individual one-on-one or group)
- Webcam (individual one-on-one or group)
- Online project management collaboration services (e.g. Basecamp)
- Private, group messaging and chat tools
- Social media
- Online groups and discussion forums
I’m sure that I’ve missed a number of other communications tools. You are welcome to add those in the comment box of this blog post.
Each of these tools is designed to do something very well, but of course they all have their shortcomings. The best question to ask yourself when confronted by a situation that doesn’t seem to be working (e.g. people aren’t responding to email) is . . .
Am I using the right tool for what I want to accomplish?
My final thoughts?
We all have our “points of view” on things. It doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily right or wrong. Here is what I believe about email:
- It is a great information sharing tool (e.g. distribution of agendas, meetings notes, materials, etc)
- It is a poor discussion tool (e.g. asking for feedback, advice, anything conversational)
- It is used differently by every generation
- It is easy to ignore and many people have developed user habits around this tool (e.g. deleting habits, reading habits, etc)
The advice I gave to my board president friend was . . .
Pick-up the phone if they aren’t responding to your email!
I also asked additional questions about which volunteer engagement strategies he was using and which ones were lacking. Each of the nine volunteer engagement strategies (e.g. urgency, accountability, planning, setting expectations, etc) come with a number of tools (e.g. goals, dashboards/scorecards, action item memos / task lists, project management punch lists, written volunteer job descriptions, committee charter, committee work plan, etc).
In other words, the choice of communication tool might not be the problem. It could be the organization isn’t using best practices associated with volunteer engagement, which is resulting in email unresponsiveness.
The morale to today’s post?
Simple problems may not be as simple as they seem, especially when we’re talking about groups of people under one organizational umbrella. So, my advice is . . .
Don’t jump to conclusions. Do the hard work in thinking it through!
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
This month DonorDreams is hosting the nationally acclaimed Nonprofit Blog Carnival, and this month’s theme is: “If you could go back in time and give your younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, what would it be?” As I’ve done each of the last three year’s when I’ve hosted the carnival, I plan on focusing this month’s DonorDreams blog posts on the topic as a way to help inspire other non-profit bloggers to submit posts for consideration. The April 2016 Nonprofit Blog Carnival is scheduled to go live on Thursday, April 28, 2016.
Today’s time machine post involves a younger me who learned a valuable lesson about how not to use email. Enjoy!
Ahhhh, yes. I remember this embarrassing lesson very well. It occurred in the late 1990s when I was a young Boy Scout professional who was responsible for membership management, district-wide programming, local unit support and fundraising for a small suburban district in the Northwest Chicago suburbs. It was the 20th Century and the idea of email was new and evolving as a way to communicate with non-profit volunteers.
As a young GenX non-profit professional, I took to email like a duck takes to water. At the time, I thought this technology must have been sent from heaven because it was a solution to all of my volunteer management.
- Snail mail was too slow when it came to getting fundraising volunteers annual campaign progress reports
- FAX transmissions were only available to some volunteers, if their office had a FAX machine, and it wasn’t always acceptable to send someone something “not business-related” to their workplace
- Phone calls to check-in on fundraising volunteers took lots of time and the amount of “phone tag” was maddening
- Face-to-face meetings were great for doing collaborative work (e.g. planning, prospect evaluation, prospect assignment, etc), but . . . if the agenda didn’t seem important or substantive enough, and only included updates, then many people wouldn’t show up
So, it felt like email solved a lot of issues facing my younger-fundraising-self.
- I sent out annual campaign update reports via email
- I sent out meeting notices via email
- I asked volunteers for information via email
- I would even drop volunteers notes with reminders or requests via email
The more I used email, the more it felt like a “communications tool“. What I failed to understand was email is only an “information technology” tool.
To better understand what I just said, I will use a simple analogy . . .
Email is akin to the the envelope that you put a letter into. It is a vehicle to deliver a letter, report, etc. Email is NOT akin to the actual letter that you place inside of an envelope.
If I could go back in time and give my younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, it would be . . . DO NOT use email to have conversations with volunteers about things that are better done in-person or on the phone.
As I write these words, I am remembering an email I sent a volunteer. She was a great volunteer, but she and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on the need to start a second Cub Scout Pack at an elementary school to alleviate overcrowding at the existing unit. It got to the point where she simply stopped returning my calls, which is when I started sending emails.
I won’t go into details because they are embarrassing. As you can imagine:
- I tried to be clear with my reasons, but I came across as lecturing
- I referenced our previous discussions and tackled her objections, but I came across as confrontational
- I explained how this impacted my annual performance plan, which made it personal and cast me in the role of a selfish person rather than a mission-focused professional
You get the picture. <sigh> It was your basic email nightmare. And a few minutes after clicking the send button, I then learned the “recall email” function on the 20th Century version of dial-up AOL was a joke and didn’t work the way I thought it did.
The volunteer didn’t receive the email very well. I can’t imagine that anyone would. While she didn’t respond, she did resign her volunteer position. She never spoke to me again, but she did share the story with any volunteer who would listen. She also spoke to my executive director and forwarded the email to him. <ouch>
To this day, I have a hard time telling this story. It was a painful lesson to learn, and I sometimes find myself re-learning the same lesson with friends when I become careless and thoughtless with email threads and forget that “tone” cannot be heard in emails.
Sometimes, when I’m daydreaming, I imagine myself in a time machine going back to 1999 to have a serious conversation about email usage with my younger-fundraising-self. I also sometimes wonder if it would be helpful to take a page out of the Arnold Shwarzenegger Terminator movies by traveling back in time to sabotage the work of the person who created email. 😉
Do you have a story/experience with email that you’d be willing to share? Are there tips or guidelines you personally use to guide your decision-making around email vs. phone vs. meeting? If so, then please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.
(Note: You might also want to check out a post titled “Email vs. Phone Call vs. Face-to-Face” on the Leader Impact blog and all of the great links to other online articles embedded in that post.)
If you are a non-profit blogger who wants to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and submit a post for consideration on this month’s carnival theme, click here to read the “call for submissions” post I published last week. It should answer all of your questions and clearly explain how to submit your entry. If not, then simply email me and I’ll be happy to help.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Good morning, DonorDreams readers! As many of you know, my work schedule has become challenging in recent months, and I’ve asked a number of “virtual online friends” to help me out with guest blog posts. Today’s post is a Q&A session with Software Advice’s Janna Finch. The topic is focused on electronic donor communications (e.g. solicitations, stewardship activities, etc) and integration of all these things with your other software systems (e.g. donor database, CRM, financial management, etc). I hope you enjoy this morning’s post. Here’s to your health! ~Erik
There are many ways to ask individuals for donations and support, and not every nonprofit asks in the same way. However, a new report from the fundraising technology advisers at Software Advice indicates that more and more nonprofits are asking for donations through email marketing, and want those marketing tools to integrate with their fundraising database and accounting systems. Nonprofit market researcher and author of the report Janna Finch shares her insights on why nonprofits are seeing software with more functionality, addresses common questions about navigating software selection, and discusses implications for the fundraising space in 2015.
What was the most striking finding from your survey of nonprofits?
This year, 133 percent more buyers specifically requested built-in email marketing and outreach tools, and I was surprised to see such a large increase. It makes sense that nonprofits are requesting outreach functionality, of course, but this was a significant jump. Retaining existing donors by engaging them and building good relationships with them is a tried-and-true strategy for keeping consistent contributions. It’s good to see that small nonprofits are being proactive about trying to put new systems in place and considering new technology.
In replacing software, the top response was more functionality. What kind of functionality are buyers seeking and why?
Email marketing was by far the most-requested type of functionality at 42 percent, followed by automatic acknowledgements at 35 percent, reporting capabilities at 23 percent, and campaign management features and direct-mail support, both at 22 percent. In my interpretation, this indicates a desire to automate certain processes to be more organized and save time, generating more capacity to focus on furthering the mission of the organization.
Do you have any ideas or theories on what drove the increase in demand for email marketing?
I think that nonprofits understand the value of storytelling and personalized messaging for donors, and are looking for ways to do that more efficiently. It’s incredibly difficult to manage messaging for more than a few dozen donors without some kind of system, and software can make it easier. There are a good number of affordable fundraising systems with email marketing capabilities available today, so it’s hard to imagine why fundraisers wouldn’t want to consider using email-marketing tools.
What are some ways people can determine which fundraising software is best for their nonprofit?
There are three important considerations for nonprofits purchasing fundraising or donor management software—budget, staff/volunteer skill level and the activities you expect it to support. First, set your budget. If you’re not familiar with how fundraising software is priced, then read about total cost of ownership (TCO) so you know what licenses and fees vendors typically charge. Next, assess the technical literacy of everyone who will need to use the system. For example, if a nonprofit has lots of short-term volunteers who use the system, then ease of use should be priority. I also recommend creating a comprehensive list of every activity you want the software to support, few solutions truly “do it all,” and it can be helpful to prioritize the list into “need-to-have” and “like-to-have” categories.
What are the implications of the trends you identified for the fundraising tech space?
We see a trend of fundraising, donor management and CRM systems naturally morphing into a single system that supports all types of interactions with constituents and fundraising activities. There is overlap in what these systems do and how people use them, so it makes sense that this is happening. Hopefully these more comprehensive systems can make it easier for small nonprofits to amplify their message, better organize and protect their data, and promote long lasting relationships with donors and supporters.
You can read the full report here: Fundraising and Donor Management Software BuyerView | 2015
I’ve been blogging regularly since May 2011, which makes DonorDreams blog three years old next month. As with everything in life, there have been ups and there have been downs with things such as readership, content, and tech issues. I’m sure those of you who know me well, won’t be surprised to read that I tend to obsess over questions such as:
- Is the post is too long or too short? Will people read it?
- Is the headline going to capture readers’ attention and result in a click-through?
- Is the email subject line going to result in a higher open rate?
- Is the tweet too long or too short? Will it result in a RT?
- Are my sentences too long? What about my paragraphs?
I know some of you are rolling your eyes and chalking these questions up to my obsessive personality. While this reaction is well deserved, the reality is that there is a science to how you compose your non-profit organization’s emails, tweets, blog posts, etc. And since you’re not emailing, tweeting and blogging just for the heck of it, I think it is important to understand the science behind these things, especially if you want people to read your stuff.
Last week, an old friend of mine from high school poked me on Facebook and posted an article from Kevan Lee at the Buffer blog. He does an awesome job of untangling the facts and figures while sharing some really great charts and graphs on this subject.
If you want your donors to read your Facebook posts, tweets, website and blog content, then this link is worth the click. Kevan even developed a wonderful little infographic to help you remember and use the content in his post. I’ve included it in this post for your review.
When it comes to evaluation strategies for DonorDreams blog, I have not been very fancy because I don’t have any money budgeted for those types of activities. The blog is just a labor of love. So, when I’ve wanted to know something (e.g. whether or not the theme formatting of the blog is attractive, etc), I’ve simply asked readers and friends for feedback. How did I do this? I went on Facebook and Twitter and asked.
Does your agency evaluate and play with content, length of content, and promotion strategies? If so, what have you found? What measurement strategies did you use? What did you do with what you learned? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other!
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Keep your non-profit email marketing out of the Trash Can
By Rose Reinert
Chapter three of “The Social Media Bible” by Lon Safko did not just hit home for me, but it provided some phenomenal insight on how to increase the likelihood that your e-news will make it past the Trash Can and make an impact.
E-mail is so common, sometimes its power as a marketing tool is overlooked as the new and flashy social media trends continue to emerge.
What are the benefits of utilizing e-mail for marketing? Let’s take a look:
- What other marketing medium allows you to reach 5,000 to 50,000 of your potential customers for (nearly) free or a very small cost?
- What other marketing tool allows you to count how many impressions, responses, conversations, and pass- alongs your e-mail had?
Well, there you have it! This e-newsletter is important, can make a difference, and is trackable and affordable. Eureka!
But wait . . . there are tricks to the trade that you need to learn in order to maximize the effectiveness of your agency’s email strategy.
Content is King
The most important question in all marketing is one we broached in last week’s blog — WIIFM — “What’s In It for Me?”
With e-mail you have to convert the WIIFM for your reader quickly, and I mean within seconds.
Many times, just with a glance of the subject line, you are asking your recipient to quickly calculate their investment in reading your message.
Think about your organization, and how you communicate with donors. Every time you ask them to open a piece of direct mail, look at an e-mail or visit your website, there is a transaction. It is not a one-time thing either, every time you have to convince them of their WIIFM.
This entire concept is presented by Safkow in this passage:
“Suppose for some reason, that you really wanted to read the newspaper advertisements today. Your eyes are scanning over the pages of many ads, one of which catches your eye. You decide to not turn the page, but to look at the heading for that ad. How long do you think you are willing to spend to determine if the WIIFM is worth your stopping to read further? A study showed that people are willing to invest or spend only 1.54 seconds of time to make that determination.”
Wow! As I read on, Safko unveiled some great information to help maximize my e-mail efforts.
Your subject line has to convince your recipient in roughly 1.5 seconds whether he should move on to the next stage of investment.
If they decide to continue reading, you now have a whopping 5 seconds! Although much more time than 1.5 seconds, it only allows a person to read about one sentence.
So, within the first seconds of reading your e-mail message, your reader must find WIIFM to remain engaged. If you successfully do this, you move into the third phase which is conversion.
Your reader is likely to read on and follow your call to action, or click-through to your website.
Always remember . . . your e-mail message should always be about building and strengthening a relationship with the reader.
Practice makes Perfect
As you work to perfect your strategies, it is important to take some time to test it through what Safko calls segmenting.
Segmenting is no more than splitting your distribution list. Split the list into five and send the exact same body of the message, but with five different subject lines. When doing this, remember to:
- Pay close attention to the nouns, verbs and adjectives you use.
- Take your time and be deliberate.
- Send it out and see if there was a difference in the open rates or click-through rates.
Next, test the first line, again taking care with how you craft it. See the results and keep doing what seems to work.
Finally, test some different times of the day in sending the e-mails.
Ultimately, after about a year, you will have perfected your delivery to maximize your efforts and engage your readers.
You know what Douglas Adams says (according to Brainy Quote). . . “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.” This quotation kind of sums it all up when I hear non-profit staff complaining about how disengaged their board members are, while they are in the middle of sending out another long email to those same board volunteers.
Let me start by telling you that I am one of the biggest offenders of overusing email. Guilty as charged! I need to seek help, but they say the first step in getting better is admitting you have problem.
My good friend (and former supervisor) used to remind me constantly that he believed email should be used as an “information tool” rather than a “communication tool“.
I spent many years contemplating this advice.
In the final analysis, he was saying email should be compared to snail-mail and the United States Postal Service. Email is like a stamp that you’re putting on a letter. He would advocate using email to send a document, but don’t use it to engage someone in a conversation about something.
I can almost hear him saying: “If you need to engage someone in something, then pick-up the darn phone!”
Of course, I don’t see this issue as being quite so black and white. Email technology has made tasks like coordinating meetings and answering simple questions really easy. So, I guess I don’t completely agree that email is only good for sending out agendas, meeting notes, etc.
HOWEVER . . .
Many of us are overusing email and doing so in ways that result in disengagement. I understand this is a serious assertion, but stay with me on this one.
When I look at my email inbox, I do a lot of scanning. I first look at the names of people who sent me something. As I do this, I am deleting anything that vaguely looks like spam or advertising. I don’t even open it. After this first purge, I re-visit those who are left standing and start looking at subject lines. I’m essentially trying to prioritize what I should open first versus leave for later when I have more time. And when I say “leave for later,” it could be days or weeks later.
(Confession time: at the time of this post, I currently have 1,027 unopened emails . . . I am truly embarrassed.)
I suspect some of you do the same thing. (Of course, de-nial isn’t just a river in Egypt as the old expression goes)
I also suspect that many of you are sending emails of all sorts to your board members’ work email address.
Finally, I am willing to bet that many board volunteers prioritize their work emails ahead of anything they get pertaining to their volunteer commitments. It is just a guess, but I think I’m on solid ground.
So, what just happened? You were put on the back burner regardless of how important you think your email might be.
In today’s fast paced world, I believe the technology revolution has created a new set of assumptions around communications:
- If something is very important, it warrants a face-to-face meeting.
- If something is pressing or needs to be discussed, it gets done by phone.
- If something isn’t time sensitive, it gets put in an email or a snail-mail envelope.
Am I over-simplifying? Maybe, but then again I don’t think I’m too far off.
If you’re still with me, then it is hard not to conclude that sending lots of emails to your board members is the equivalent of sending them lots of unimportant stuff.
Choosing how and what and when to communicate with your board volunteers is important.
If you want to be relegated to the back burner of a board member’s email inbox, then keep sending those emails.
Here’s a suggestion . . .
- Look at your board roster and select the names of your three most influential board members.
- Sort your email outbox by name/email address
- Count how many emails you’ve sent to each of those board volunteers.
- If you’re averaging more than one per week, then you may want to re-examine how you communicate with them.
You may want to do a quick inventory of what you’re emailing board members. Once you develop a list, set-up informal policies for yourself on what is acceptable to email, what should be a phone call, and what needs to be done in-person.
The following are a few suggestions that I have:
- Distribution of agendas and meeting notes — email
- Checking in to see if a board volunteer completed something — phone
- Getting buy-in from board volunteers on something — meeting
- Coordinating calendars for a meeting — email
- Checking to see who is still coming to a meeting (e.g. quorum call) — phone
- Circling around to a board volunteer who was expected to make a meeting but didn’t show and needs to be “in the loop“– phone (possibly even a meeting over a cup of coffee)
There are lots of times that we shouldn’t be using email, but unfortunately we do it because it is convenient. If you have a moment, I suggest you read a wikiHow article titled “How to Know when Not to Use Email“. It is definitely worth the click!
Do you overuse email? Are you seeking a support group like me? LOL What are you doing about it? Can you add to the list above regarding when it is OK to use email vs. phone vs. in-person meetings for various communications with board volunteers? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share. Your kindergarten teacher would be proud of you. 😉
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
A few days ago, while vacationing in Michigan for the Labor Day weekend, I started reading “The Social Media Bible” by Lon Safko. As the pages turned and I read about marketing within a social media framework (including tactics, tools and strategies), I can’t tell you how many “ah-ha” and “hmmmm” fundraising moments that I experienced. On Tuesday, the book inspired me to post about the costs associated with bad word of mouth and how this should evolve into a “generative question” around which to organize your board meetings. Yesterday, the book had me wondering how many of your donors are “lurkers”. Today, we end this week’s series with a tip of the hat to the importance of email.
Safko reminds readers on page 62 that email is a lot older than you may remember. Sure, the first email was sent “around 7:00 pm in the autumn of 1971 as a test . . .” However, when you stop to think about it, many of us have actively and heavily been using email as an information tool (and many times inappropriately as a communication tool) for two decades.
On page 63, Safro shares a chart comparing direct mail to email marketing. I’ve tried to re-create that chart for you below:
Direct Mail versus E-Mail Marketing
|(Source: The Social Media Bible 3rd edition, page 63)|
|Development Time||3 to 6 weeks||2 days|
|Cost per Unit||$1.25||$0.10|
|Response Rate||0.1 to 2 percent||5 to 15 percent|
In the table underneath this one (table 3.2), Safro lists a number of primary goals that businesses reported in a benchmark survey on MarketingProfs.com.
Can you guess which primary goal topped the list for companies email marketing programs?
So, I suggested in today’s blog post title that email is really the cornerstone of most non-profit organization’s resource development programs. I came to this conclusion (kind of like those old forehead slapping V8 commercials) after reading the last few data points. Let’s do the math . . .
- It takes less time to develop a stewardship piece that you email compared to the one you drop-off at the post office.
- Communicating ROI to donors via email is significantly cheaper than a paper newsletter or mail piece.
- More people will read your email piece; whereas, your letter or newsletter is likely bound for the shredder before it is even opened.
- Our for-profit cousins (who have all of the money and calculate every ROI angle) have determined that email marketing programs are great for “building relationships”.
As I think back to my days on the front line, I start counting how many emails and html email documents I sent donors compared to stewardship letters and paper newsletters. From a pure “tally ’em up” perspective, it is now obvious to me how important email has become to most non-profit organization’s resource development programs.
So, here is the kicker . . .
- Are you asking donors to provide their email addresses on your annual campaign pledge cards? Maybe.
- Are you including an email field on your special event registration forms? Not typically.
- Are you asking donors to provide their email as part of an eNewsletter request on your website. No.
- Do you use online donor surveys as a way to capture donor email addresses? Huh?
- Do you run online contests to secure donor email addresses? Never.
- Do you flat-out just ask donors to provide their email address to you? No.
If email marketing is a relationship development tool according to the for-profit industry, then non-profits need to focus their efforts and start catching up.
In fact, email is more than just a cornerstone for your organization’s resource development program . . . it forms the foundation of your agency’s social media strategy (which is the funnel you need to get donors to the info on your website and that coveted “Donate Now” button).
Before some of you burn me at the stake for this blog post, please understand that I am not advocating elimination of your more traditional marketing and mail strategies. I am suggesting that the future is all about cross-channel communication and putting the decision-making into the hands of donors. THAT is what I call being “donor-centered”!!!
How many email addresses does your organization have in its house file or donor database? How did you acquire them? What strategies worked better than others? Have you tracked and compare your donor retention rates between donors who receive ROI info via email versus other traditional methods? Do you see a difference?
Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC