Your Bad Emails Are Hurting Your Organization

Before I launch into my well-intentioned rant on the importance of email, I’d like to first explain a few things:

I don’t know anyone who works at the following organization, but I’m fairly confident that they’re all committed, capable individuals who manage to turn meager resources into amazing things. This is not a critique of anyone’s work–it is a critique of how organizations invest (or do not invest) in new media, and how that could potentially impact future donors, volunteers, etc. I’ve worked in nonprofits and have sent my share of criminally bad emails, and I know that a nonprofit’s web presence is most often the result of resources, not of talent or sheer will. We make the best with what we’re given, but even the most talented online organizer can’t turn a $5K  budget into a $100K one.

Okay, here we go.

I’ve been a subscriber to NARAL Pro-Choice America emails for several years. As a new media professional, I subscribe to every nonprofit email list under the sun–but NARAL emails always stood out for their design and best practices. Over time, I began to associate their expertly crafted emails to the NARAL brand. In my mind, they were more internet savvy (and therefore, more effective) than NOW or Planned Parenthood. When it came to reproductive rights, I would support NARAL. Afterall, I live and breathe on the web. I want the organizations that I support to meet me online.

Here is an example of what I was receiving from NARAL back in 2006 and 2007:You can find another example, here.

There is so much to like about the above email. The text above the banner pulls you in, and offers a quick “click here” for the impatient among us. The banner serves as a second subject line, to reinforce the central “ask” of the email. The sidebar graphic is appealing and in-keeping with the banner’s design. Even today, several years later, this email looks pretty current, right?

Note: I’m fairly certain that during this time, NARAL was contracting with an email advocacy vendor (Watershed, perhaps?). If anyone has any details on that, let me know in the comments.

I didn’t realize the impact of these early emails until last week, when I received this, uh, 1997-ish email:

This email prompted an investigation deep into the recesses of my gmail archives. Something just didn’t seem right. “Wasn’t it NARAL,” I thought, “who sent those great advocacy emails way back when?” I was right.

There is so much wrong with this email, I don’t even know where to begin. I’m sure it goes without explanation, but let’s all take a moment to admire that DONATE button. Tell me, would you give money to an organization with an email like this!? I sure wouldn’t.

In this case, NARAL would be better off sending nothing at all. This email degrades their brand, and the damage is long-lasting. I volunteered for NARAL back in October, amid a barrage of volunteer & donation asks from other organizations. The reason I chose NARAL? I’m guessing it was those early emails. For some reason, I had the impression that volunteering a few hours with NARAL would go farther than a few hours with DFA or MoveOn. Unfortunately, that impression is now gone. Send a few more of these and you might lose me forever.

The bottom line is that image matters. Your bad emails and websites are not just be failing to attract new donors and volunteers–they might be turning away your old ones, too. Your investment in new media is an investment in your future. How much does your organization budget for new media? Does it match your investment in direct mail, communications and donor relations combined? ‘Cause it should.

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