December 17, 2012

How to create an email drip campaign for your nonprofit

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11 tips on moving subscribers to take action

Target audience: Nonprofits, fund-raisers, cause organizations, foundations, NGOs, social enterprises, social marketers, cause advocates.

John HaydonIf you’re a regular reader of Socialbrite, you already know that email marketing is extremely effective for converting transactions like donations, renewals and action alerts.

Email is also awesome for nurturing a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

What is an email drip campaign?

A Facebook fan who signs a petition might receive subsequent emails encouraging him to donate, share the petition with friends or share a story on Facebook

A drip campaign is an email marketing strategy intended to get subscribers to take specific actions over the course of the campaign. Drip campaigns consists of a series of messages delivered over a specific timeframe.

For example, a Facebook fan who signs a petition would then receive a series of emails over the next few weeks encouraging him to donate, share the petition with friends or share a story on Facebook.

The benefits of a drip campaign are that you can target the right messages to the right people at the right time. Drip campaigns also tend to get more opens and click-throughs than your run-of-the-mill monthly newsletter. Finally, after you set one up, drip campaigns essentially run themselves.

How to create a email drip campaign for your nonprofit

The technical steps for creating drip campaigns vary depending upon what email marketing software you use, but generally follow these steps (the example screen shots are taken from my Aweber account):

Create clear goals and objectives

1Decide what the objectives are for the campaign. Do you want petition signers to donate? Do you want folks who create a peer-to-peer fundraising page to get the most out of their fundraiser?

Select your segments

2Will you be targeting new petition signers? Lapsed donors? Current donors? This all depends on what your objectives are.

Determine message quantity and frequency

3Decide on the frequency and number of messages. You have to strike a balance between reminding them about the campaign and being a total pain in the ass.

Your message frequency will depend on what actions you want people to take, when you want those actions taken and how long the campaign is.

Write your email messages and subject lines

4Write the messages in advance, and base them on your understanding of what motivates your segments / personas.

Keep them super short and written in the second-person, as if you’re writing to a friend. Read this post on email marketing for more tips on writing more effective email messages.  And don’t forget to write awesome subject lines!

Create a unique list or segment for the campaign

5Creating a unique list allows you identify these folks for future campaigns — these folks signed the petition to save the sea turtles, and these folks signed the petition and donated.

You’ll also want to add opt-in forms for this list to your website, Facebook Page, blog or wherever you plan on capturing people.

Enter your messages into your email marketing tool

6After you’ve written your messages and subject lines, enter them into your email marketing tool, which as I’ve said will have a different process (I use Aweber, you might be using Constant Contact or MailChimp). Also, skip the fancy email templates and try using just rich text. In several tests I’ve done with clients, rich text email get a 17 percent higher average click-through rate over HTML templates; please test this for yourself.

Configure your message frequency

7In terms of how the drip part of all this works, the timing of your messages is typically kicked off when someone opts into various stages of the campaign.

For example, when someone signs a petition, he or she will receive an email the next day and then once a week for the next month. If that same person donates during that period, he or she is removed from this list and added to a different list with different, more relevant massages.

Most decent email marketing tools automate these types of rules.

Add an unsubscribe option to each message

8At the bottom of each message, give subscribers the option of unsubscribing. The last thing you need to is to piss people off by not making this easy. Again, most email marketing solutions automatically do this as well.

Launch your drip campaign

9Your campaign is launched as soon as the Web forms are live and people are aware of the campaign. We’ll talk about promoting your campaign later on, but for now just know that you need to promote it via multiple channels or it won’t work.

Measure your drip campaign

10The effectiveness of your campaign is solely based on a hypothesis up until it launches. After launch, you’ll want to start tracking open rates, click-though rates, unsubscribes and other stats important for measuring the effectiveness of your campaign.

One important thing, though: Measure right away — don’t wait after your campaign is over. The data you gather from day one will help you avoid unintended disasters by adjusting the messaging and frequency during the campaign. Measuring is your campaign’s GPS system.

Conduct a postmortem

11Unless someone was killed with your drip campaign, your postmortem will simply be a discussion (in person preferably) about what went well, what didn’t and how your organization is more capable.

What else can you add about drip campaigns? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section. John Haydon delivers social web strategy solutions for “the quick, the smart, and the slightly manic.” Curious? Then connect up: Contact John by email, see his profile page, visit the John Haydon blog, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment.

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