Email Campaign Best Practices


In 2012, while working for a nonprofit in Washington, DC, I wrote and designed an email campaign for a year-end fundraising appeal.

Defying conventional belief within the organization, I took a different approach and drafted an email that conveyed a strong call to action, a simplified design and copy that was fewer than 200 words. The result was a single email that raised nearly $9,000 for the organization, the most they ever raised from an email appeal.

There are several reasons why this email campaign succeeded, and I'll explain the best practices that I used, but first, I'd like to mention what the organization had done prior.

Previously, the organization treated email campaigns like old-school written letters. They were long and didn't include any images. Furthermore, the copy didn't mention impact and simply stated the overall work the organization was doing. Email campaigns like this failed time after time.

My approach included cutting the copy drastically and focusing on the impact of a single program. Included was a photograph of a kid (we receive the parents' written consent to use the image) along with a few sentences of how the organization had positively impact his life. It conveyed emotion.

Then there was a strong ask. "We can't continue this work without your support," I wrote. It was true, but most staff within the organization refused to state this, instead asking, "Will you please consider supporting our organization?" The latter didn't have much appeal.

Few people want to support an organization; most desire to support youth whose lives are improved because of the work we do.

That said, here's what I learned from this email campaign and a takeaway with best practices.

Make the story compelling

In sales or fundraising, we're not only sales people, we're story tellers. Be buy in to stories, literally. Without a good story, it's hard to gain attention.

When composing an email campaign, keep in my the story you wish to tell and focus on that, and only that, throughout the email. (If you want to share additional stories, do so in different emails). Storytelling should be engaging and emotional.

When telling a story, remember that being authentic is a positive, as authenticity builds trust.

Be concise

Copy within an email campaign should be concise. Say what you need to say in as few words as possible and be direct. Don't leave people guessing. You're here to convey a message, create emotion and include a call to action. This can and should be done in as few words as possible.

Be consistent with your branding

Before you send an email campaign to your following, be sure to include your branding. Make sure your logo is included, the colors match those on your website and that your copy also reflects your brand.

Include calls to action

What action do you want the reader to take? This is one of the most important features of an email campaign. For nearly every email you send, you're proposing some type of engagement. Make it clear what action you want the reader to take.

Include a link (or even better, a button)

Most of time your call to action will include a link. Occasionally I'll add a text link within the body of the email. I use this method when I want the email to appear to come directly from me similar to a personal email (which they all do, anyway). But most of the time I include a button in a color that matches my branding. This creates a clear call to action and allows the reader to know exactly what's being asked of them.

If you go through all of these steps, you'll have a successes email campaign. With practice, these types of campaigns can be very effective. In fact, emails are often more powerful and reach more people than social media, as email open rates are higher than organic impressions on social media.

I've learned a lot since creating the campaign email for the nonprofit, and I now enjoy drafting and sending emails to my following. It's a great method for showcasing my work, sharing blog posts (like this one) and offering advice and tips to those interested in my line of work.

Email campaigns are powerful and should be included in marketing for every business, creative or proprietor.

Have questions or want to know more? Let me know how I can help by contacting me. Just click the Contact link at the top of this page.

Founder & CEO

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