002: The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Nonprofits

What’s the low-hanging fruit many nonprofits are missing?

The answer may surprise you — it’s email marketing.

I know, “email marketing” doesn’t sound as hip  as “social media marketing.” But marketing isn’t about being hip. It’s about finding out what can really drive results. Plus, I’m not the only one who believes in email marketing; Kenny Ortiz is also a big believer in its power.

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He’s been using email marketing at Cities Church, where he oversees communications & connections. He came on the Nonprofit Growth podcast to talk shop with me about email marketing. From there, I put together what I think is an incredibly helpful guide for any nonprofit on how to navigate effective email marketing:

Is Email Marketing Even Effective Anymore?

“With email, you’re not just getting in front of the right audience, you’re getting in front of the precise audience.” —Kenneth Ortiz

You’ve probably heard this: “email marketing is dead.” Kenny and I beg to differ. While email marketing may not be as prolific as it once was, it’s certainly not dead. Email marketing is still the most cost-efficient method of marketing. It’s cheaper and easier than social media or any other means of communication.

Here’s a few reasons why you should be using email marketing:

Emails target a specific person

Social media ads are effective at selecting the right audience, but email takes it up a notch. When you send an email to someone, you aren’t just targeting an audience, you’re targeting a specific person.

Email marketing is inexpensive

Many email services are incredibly cheap compared to Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or other social media advertisement, and yet, you can reach a huge network of people in an easy way.

How to Up Your Email Marketing Game:

1: Reach out immediately

Some nonprofits believe that if they immediately reply with an email, the recipient will feel like they’re getting too many emails, too soon. The opposite is actually true:

Studies have shown that one of the top indicators on whether or not a person will engage with you is how recently they connected with you in some other way.

So, when’s the best time to email someone? Immediately after they’ve responded to any other communication. The longer you wait to reconnect with someone, the less likely they are to continue engagement with you.

2: Make it quality

If people aren’t communicating back to you, it’s not because of receiving too much communication. It’s because of the quality of communication. You can send as much as you want … as long as it’s good communication.

3: Add value first

GaryVee is a well-known marketing personality who talks continuously about adding value; he has a saying (and the title of a book) that goes like this:  “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.” The basic premise is this:

It’s OK to have a “right hook,” but you have to preface it with a lot of “jab, jab, jab.”

What’s a right hook? Some marketers call this the ask: It’s the thing you are wanting from your people, your audience. For non-profits, it’s often donations.

What’s a jab? A jab is the value you provide your audience — the information, the content, the newsletter, the blog, podcasts, etc.

So, jab, jab, jab, right hook, means you must add value continuously when you engage with your audience, before asking for anything in return.

So, that’s the next question I asked Kenny:

How Nonprofits Can Add Value to Their People With Email Marketing

When you are trying to add value to your audience, ask yourself 1 simple question:

“Ask yourself: ‘What are my people already doing, & how can I make it easier for them?” —Kenny Ortiz

“What is my audience already doing, and how can I make it easier for them?”

When you ask yourself the above question, it brings up all sorts of ideas: What is my audience interested in? What are they struggling with? What information do they need and want? What makes them laugh? What engages them?

If your audience, your people, were all sports fans, then they’d probably be OK with any content around sports. If your audience were all living in the Twin Cities, you could assume they were no strangers to snow, snow shovels, needing chains on their car, etc., and knowing that could help you put together content about dealing with snow.

But if you’re a nonprofit like Cities Church, I have a more specific example — Here’s how Kenny engages his church community with material that’s relevant to them:

Cities Church has a network of weekly community groups led by laypeople. Every 2 weeks, Kenny sends the group leaders an email with links to the Gospel Coalition, stories in the New York Times, anything that he thinks the leaders would find useful to help lead their community group.

Recently, a leader mentioned to Kenny that they were trying to give some guidance to someone in their group about parenting. So, Kenny’s next email to the leaders focused on content that was specifically geared towards parenting.

So, Kenny asked himself: “What is my audience already doing, and how can I make it easier for them?” and then he built content around them.

Pro Tip: You don’t always have send original content: You can also create a list of links of curated content that you’ve filtered and found “the top resources on … ” to help engage your audience.

How to combine email marketing with other marketing campaigns.

There are a few specific ways you can use your email marketing within your overall marketing strategy to find that special “synergy.” Specifically, here are 2 ways to make that happen:

Inundate your audience (with love)

Inundating with love sounds cheesy, but here’s how it works in practice: After the pastor delivers a live sermon at Cities Church, Kenny puts a clip of the message on Instagram

… and Twitter

… and an email

… and on the church’s app.

By putting the message everywhere, Kenny ensures the congregation is surrounded with the sermon at every possible turn. Someone recently quasi-complained to Kenny that they were feeling inundated:

“Everywhere I go, I see clips of the sermon!”

But guess what? That same person admitted that they had relistened and rewatched the sermon after Sunday service because they saw it in so many places. It works.

Pro Tip: With email marketing, you can redirect your audience back to the same piece of content over and over again, until they’ve read/listened/watched it. You just need to change the title of your email, like this:

New Sunday Sermon posted!

Have you seen the sermon yet?

Here’s what you missed from the [astor:

How to get more people to sign up for your email list:

“Email marketing is still very, very effective; it’s by far the most cost-efficient means of communicating with people.” —Kenny Ortiz

So, you know email marketing works, and you’re wondering how to get more addresses on that list. Here’s Kenny’s advice:

1) Start with retention

Most people will give you 1 or 2 chances, but if your emails aren’t providing value by then, they won’t open them any longer. Plus, when people stop opening your emails, it has a compounding negative effect: As email servers notice that less and less people are opening your emails, they will actually start sending your email straight to the “promotions” or even the “spam” filters.

2) Make it insanely easy for people to get on your email list

Is it insanely easy to get on your email list from your website? Here’s the scoop: People are willing to receive email marketing. They are not willing to do a lot of work to hunt down how to join —  so make it very, very easy for them.

3) Leverage other channels

Use your other marketing channels to gain email addresses. It’s pretty easy to add in a “click here to join our weekly blast” at the bottom of an engaging blog post on your website. There’s an easy tool I love called OptinMonster that will help you add in forms, buttons pop-ups, all sorts of cool things across your website that encourage people to sign up for your email list (and, they have a discount for nonprofits!).

Here’s what you should avoid in your email marketing:

1) Avoid any emails that have too many “right hooks” (or “asks”)

If you only get one thing from this entire blog, it’s this point right here:

Don’t make your marketing campaign all about “the ask” (or the “right hook).

Business are bad at this — they ask for too much, too soon, without providing value. You know who’s worse? Non-profits. You know who Kenny said is even worse? Religious non-profits. We ask, and ask, and ask, and rarely give anything of value in return.

There’s a reason GaryVee (the marketing guy) calls his book “jab, jab , jab, right hook” and not “jab, right hook.” It’s because you should be giving way more value than you are asking.

2) Avoid making the email marketing all about your organization, versus all about the audience

World Servants is a great example of someone who’s doing non-profit email marketing right:

World Servants is a religious non-profit that helps send high-school and college students across the world on short-term mission trips. If you give money for one of their mission trips to sponsor Courtney, you’ll then receive another email that says “Thank you  for your donation!” Then, you’ll get an email telling you more about Courtney’s trip. You’ll get another email after Courtney gets back from her trip, which will tell you all about her experience and who she helped. Finally, all throughout the year, World Servants sends emails explaining the impact your contribution has had on the world.

Do you see what they did? All along the way, World Servants ensures that you, the sponsor, are hearing all about what you care about — who you sponsored and their impact on the world.

The tech tools you need to get started with email marketing

Kenny and I put together a list of email marketing software nonprofits should check out. (By the way, none of these are sponsors!)

For smaller nonprofits

  • Mailchimp: Good, not perfect, great for one-off emails, relatively easy to start with, very inexpensive
  • AWeber: Editor is clunky, but it has more power to it
  • MailerLite.com: Incredibly inexpensive, my favorite tool for a budget

Midsize nonprofit

  • Infusionsoft: More expensive, Kenny’s favorite, very robust, great at creating sequences

Larger nonprofit

  • FellowshipOne: For churches, this is the most robust program out there, can be very expensive, but it has the most features. The Cadillac of church management software

Pro Tip (Saves $, if you’re using a WordPress website): If you’re using a WordPress website, and you’re really trying to pinch pennies, there are some free and inexpensive plug-ins that will actually help you turn your website into a CRM. Some of the plug-ins eve have limited sales funnel functionality. Plus, WordPress plays very well with Mailchimp.

Final thought:

Most people are going to be using their smartphones to view your email. So, no matter how you structure your email or what program you use, make sure you are creating every email marketing campaign with the smartphone in mind.

You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to the Nonprofit Growth podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or email.

Dan Sanchez, MBA

Dan Sanchez is a marketing director, co-host of the B2B Growth show, and blogger. He holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and BS in Marketing Management from Western Governors University. Learn more about Dan »

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