Posted by Jay Wilkinson

Thanks to a constant flux of email messages, people are slammed with hundreds of messages every day. Look at your own inbox. Engaging a prospect or new supporter with an email message is a little like trying to grab a waiter’s attention at a busy restaurant.

There are some elements, though, that make a successful email stand out in a crowded inbox. Here are five critical components that I believe are crucial for effective email marketing for nonprofits.

Consistent branding.

Your website and your email template should go together—this means keeping both your communication and design style consistent. Don’t use one style on your site but another in your email message. Consistency in branding promotes trust, something that’s crucial in email marketing for nonprofits. (And, of course, always include your logo.)

Refer to a friend.

Always include an option for the email recipient to share your message with a friend—it’s a great way to grow your list and spread the word about your organization.

Link to your website.

Send readers to your website, but don’t just invite them with a general, “Hey, go check us out online.” Tell them why to visit your site—this is really important. Whether you’re offering more earth-saving tips or providing a list of licensed child care providers in the community, be specific about what they can find.

Vital content.

Don’t send the same message more than once—keep the content of each email fresh, current and relevant. People have short attention spans online and especially in email. Email content should be compelling each time. Otherwise recipients will grow bored and accustomed to hitting delete even before opening.

CAN-SPAM compliance (opt in/opt out option).

This is huge—perhaps the most important part of email for nonprofits. CAN-SPAM laws were enacted in 2003 to curtail the massive amount of email being sent as spam. Even today, more than 90% of email messages are considered spam. At the bottom of each message there should be a statement saying that the email is compliant with CAN-SPAM laws and give the reader an option to unsubscribe.

One last thing that’s crucial—be sure to use a professional email marketing tool. Don’t try to conduct an email marketing campaign from a personal account on Yahoo!, Gmail or Outlook—your organization may risk getting blacklisted. Stick with the professionals and find an easy-to-use tool specifically designed for email marketing for nonprofits. Your email can only be effective if it lands in someone’s inbox and not their spam folder.