With the proliferation of Facebook, Twitter, and now Google Plus as electronic communication methods, the “old fashioned” email is often forgotten. However, take a quick look at your inbox. You still get tons of email every day, right? Chances are you have at least a couple of electronic newsletter/email marketing items in there. And you probably even look forward to reading at least a few of them. Nothing against social networking (we all love it), but sometimes people need to communicate with fully-formed sentences and ideas. That’s why a well-designed and thoughtfully written marketing email is still a great communication tool for your organization. Luckily, it’s very easy and inexpensive to get up and running.

Getting Started

There’s a ton of email marketing providers in existence. Most start in the $10-$15 dollar a month range and go up from there, based on the amount of email addresses you have on your list. The typical provider will offer a free trial, so you can test them all out to see which platform you like best. There are so many to choose from that we hesitate to recommend any particular one, but a few of the more prominent providers include Constant Contact, Mail ChimpInterspireiContactVertical Response, and Benchmark. A quick Google search will yield even more options. The important thing is to “try before you buy.” Some features to look for include: ease of use, high deliverability rates, anti-spam checking, and strong reporting functions.

Now What?

After you’ve picked a platform, it’s time to get into the meat and potatoes of your correspondence. Most providers offer quite a few design templates for you to use as a canvas. You should be able to customize the design to include your logos and other artwork. We recommend staying within the theme of your other marketing materials for branding purposes. Get this established, and you are ready for some content. You’ll want to be brief but informative. Most importantly, make sure you offer some information of value. The newsletter shouldn’t be void of self promotion (in fact, it’s a great place to mention volunteer opportunities and position a “donate now” button), but the recipients should look at it as a source of information first. This means they will look forward to receiving it and be open to your message. Also, keep in mind that, although you are offering information, it’s important to be brief. Articles should be no longer than 250 words and, depending on your design, you probably don’t want any more than two or three total. However, one great way to provide more than just a couple articles to your readers is to fashion your email as a news hub. Simply write very brief descriptions and then provide links out to interesting articles on the web. Readers will be thankful to you for compiling the news, but you won’t have to actually write the articles.

Don’t forget that all correspondence makes an impression, and an email marketing campaign is no different. Sending a poorly-designed e-newsletter is akin to showing up at someone’s office in cut-off jeans. Look to staff members within your organization to find those who are strong in design and writing. Use their skill sets to make sure your email marketing materials look professional and read well. If no one in your group fits this mold, consider finding such a person as the focus of your next volunteer recruitment efforts.

Worth the Time

An effective e-newsletter accomplishes many important goals. It provides useful information to your base of supporters and also allows you an avenue for marketing volunteer opportunities and fundraising events. Additionally, it gives you a platform to “blow your horn,” announcing accomplishments and milestones, showing that your organization is making strides – and that your donors’ dollars and volunteers’ hours are going to a worthy cause. And, finally, if sent on a monthly basis, email marketing campaigns keep your agency in the forefront of your supporters’ minds. Isn’t this something every nonprofit strives to achieve?

Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade of experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. He enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management software application that offers online event registration, email and SMS (text) messaging, report generation, and much more.