I have covered the look/feel and the content of holiday solicitation emails in my last two posts. I would like to use this third and final post to discuss frequency, directness, testing, and metrics. Frequency:
Holiday emails should (obviously) go out prior to the holiday in questions. For most examples this means November/December. You can start even earlier if you are collecting funds that will need to be spent prior to a holiday project. Heck, even the occasional "Christmas in July" usually doesn't hurt. Just do not only ask for money and do it all the time.
One oft-overlooked feature of this is cultivating a list in the first place. You should be building trust, providing value/a service to your readers throughout the rest of the year. If you do, and can prove that your holiday campaign is worthwhile, you will succeed. If you ignore your list until December, forget it.
When you are cultivating your list throughout the rest of the year; how often should you send emails? It depends on your mission, your audiences involvement, and the resources you have to devote to it.
- Mission: What is your purpose and how does your communications plan fit in? Daily Candy and Very Short List deliver terse, daily emails. But if the Red Cross started doing that, I would definitely unsubscribe. Most importantly, send emails when you have something to say and keep it in line with your overall mission.
- Audience: How often does your audience want to hear from you? How does your email fit into their lives? Devote a couple of months to testing this. Consider this example: Split your list in two, and then start the first group with frequent emails (say, four times/week) and gradually decrease over two months to just one email every two weeks. Compare this with the other group which you start sending emails to slowly and build up to four times/week over the same amount of time. Because this is over the same time period, seasonal reading habits won't effect you. Plus, by splitting the group you negate the variable of how the frequency was changed (build up or slow down) and can focus on your audience's interaction with your content. How did they respond when they got more frequent emails vs. less frequent ones? A short testing period usually produces clear trends.
- Resources: Writing, editing, proofing, coding, and testing emails takes time. Plus, your writer needs to read enough or be in enough meetings to know what s/he is talking about. Are you willing to devote the time and staff costs to that? Do not budget in 2 hours/week and expect e-communications gold. You get out of it what you put into it.
I was at a birthday party many years ago and someone said, "I want a corner piece of cake with the giant frosting rose on it." That stuck with me. What gumption! What nerve! I'd never have the temerity to utter those words. Ha, that's what I thought.
Solicitation emails are not rude. It is not impolite to ask for money. The faster you get over that, the more successful you will be. You are giving donors the opportunity to invest in your mission. This is probably the most important thing I have learned about development over the years. I hate to bury this key message in a long blog post, but I delight knowing only the most committed reader will find it. So, congrats!
Ask for the piece of cake you want. As long as you can justify that you will use their money wisely, most donors appreciate pluck. Besides, they are used to people kissing their asses all day long. It is a nice break for them to meet with a confident, knowledgeable person such as yourself. And I guarantee that you will take home more money than the ass-kisser. Repeat this mantra: Ask for the piece of cake that you want!
How are you going to pass if you don't practice?
I mentioned it before, but it's worth mentioning again: Test, test, test. Test anything, even crazy ideas. You never know how people engage your emails and the information you garner could be invaluable.
Some ideas: test tiny changes to your subject line, left and right alignment for an image or informational box, whether a table of contents helps open rates (because it pops up for users with Outlook), the effect of the email coming from a man vs. a woman, etc. This is a good article with three great ideas. (I especially love the third one, coming from politics and all...)
One thing to mention: do not include so many variables that one might effect another. If you test six different things all at once, you cannot reliably say which variable had a given effect. Be patient and test little by little. At one company, we tested whether including our company name in the header effected open rates. The difference is a matter of 20 characters or so, but we wanted to see the difference. (I'm sorry, I don't remember the outcome of that test. Anyway, it depends a lot on your audience - "industry standard" is a misnomer.)
How reliable are metrics?
As a co-worker is apt to say, "Metrics only matter when you have something to compare them to," and it's true. Did you know that when individuals view an email in their Outlook preview pane that it does not count as an open? All HTML emails (emails with images or hyperlinks) contain a 1x1 pixel image that is the equivalent of an invisible picture. Images in your email are actually located on the sender's server. When you open an HTML email, images are pulled from the sender's server, trigger that 1x1 picture, and that is how they know the email has been opened - because that tiny image has called out to serve up the "picture." (If you have ever opened an email with red "X"s all over it, those boxes are images that have not yet been downloaded, so you know it has not counted as an "open.")
This is just one example of a misleading so-called fact. Sure, most folks properly open emails, but it is not as solid a figure as most people think. There are many, many examples just like this one. I deal in metrics in my day job and there is a lot you can discern from them. But you should also have a healthy distrust of assumptions based upon them.
Thanks for reading
As an overall supplement to this three part series, please see this article. It sums up what we need to do to create trust in a relationship marketing environment.
I hope this series has been helpful. This is in no way a definitive list of everything you need to know about online solicitation emails. It would be foolhardy even to attempt since this game (the strategy, mediums, abilities) changes so quickly. However, I hope these tips sound reasonable because they will increase your bottom line. This may be a new venue or method for this transaction, but the philosophy behind it goes back much, much further. Good luck and let me know how it goes!
(If you liked this series and do not want to miss out on future posts, subscribe to the blog. Thanks!)