Posted by Lisa Thompson

Email marketing has been around for a while, but it remains a pillar of effective marketing. With 91% of all U.S. consumers checking email daily, email marketing should be a major player in your nonprofit’s outreach efforts.

Here are five top benefits:

  1. It allows you to grow your nonprofit’s constituent base.
  2. It’s easy to measure results. You have records that keep track of everything, and on the back end, everything is in an archived form.
  3. It has a high return on investment. According to the American Marketing Association, email marketing has the highest ROI among all marketing tools used by nonprofits nationwide.
  4. It’s fast. When you need to communicate something last minute or turn around a campaign in a short amount of time, email is quick and easy.
  5. It’s green—something that’s important to many consumers.

There are many best practices to keep in mind with nonprofit email marketing, but let’s boil it down to five—if you keep these in mind when you’re planning your next email campaign, you’ll be rockin’ your emails far ahead of the curve. Email marketing is not rocket science, but there are certainly mistakes and pitfalls that even the best marketers make. These tips will help you avoid some of the most common.

Make your emails easy to scan. An email inbox is a rough place to land because the competition is steep. People are inundated with hundreds of messages every day and most rarely take the time to read an entire message, especially a marketing message. Look at your emails this way: If a user liked your subject line enough to open your message, it should be clear what action you want her to take without her reading the entire email. Clear headlines, call-to-action buttons, great images and links can all help increase scanability. Bonus points if your emails look great on mobile.

Just have one call to action. Ask yourself, “What one thing do I want to accomplish with this message?” and make your call to action support that goal. You only have a few seconds to get people to act, so be clear about what you want them to do, whether it’s sign up for an event, volunteer or donate. Including a secondary link in the email is fine—but keep your main message and your primary call to action in sync with one another.

Consistently send emails. Far too often, nonprofits will only send an email when they’re in the middle of a huge fundraising drive or they need volunteer support. While these might be important times to reach your subscribers, it’s crucial to engage with them all the time, not just when you want something. Email should be more than just a solicitation channel; it should be used to build relationships and stay in touch with supporters. Look ahead, create a schedule and regularly engage with your subscribers.

Use alt text for images. Even with Gmail now showing images by default, it’s essential that you use alt text with your images. The alt text is what shows in place of the image before the user downloads it. Use alt text to describe what’s happening in the picture and to reinforce your call to action.

Write subject lines that get messages opened. Even the most engaging emails about your nonprofit will be worthless if they don’t get opened—and that’s why your subject line is so important. For some people, the subject line is an afterthought, but really, it’s one of the most important parts of your email strategy. A few tips: Keep it short. Subject lines under 50 characters are most effective. If appropriate, use localization—adding the name of a city or area tends to get people to click. And be clear. People want to know exactly what the email is about, so a vague subject line will often get overlooked.