Rising to the Top of the Inbox

Thanks Flickr-Ryan McFarland

Labor Day has come and gone, the kids are back in school, and the vacation photos are uploaded, tagged and shared. Summer is over and it’s time to get back to work, which all too often means facing an overflowing inbox of email. I just returned from a few weeks of vacation to find over 160 messages vying for my attention. The vast majority got the swift kick to the trash folder, with personal email from friends and family getting an immediate reply. Then there were those few gems, emails that I subscribe to that always seem to be helpful, that I count on for ideas and resources. Doesn’t your organization want to be in that third group? The coveted, “Email Newsletters That People Enjoy Reading” category?

I found another intriguing thing in my email box that further heightens the need to be in this group – Gmail Priority Inbox. This handy tool pre-sorts your inbox for you – separating those emails that it deems a priority into one inbox, while leaving the others to fight for your attention in an easy-to-delete separate inbox. For example, emails from senders whose email you regularly open or reply to will now be marked as a priority.   Google will not be the only email provider with this service, as it sounds like Hotmail and Yahoo are looking to launch similar services.

With Gmail starting prioritization, and others looking into it, it is more important than ever to write emails that people will open.  It’s not hard to do, but it does take some planning and thought.

Here are some tips on writing emails that get opened and read.

1. Who are you writing to and why?


Thanks Flickr - 10ch

Stop and think about your audience and what their day and inbox looks like. Consider why are you writing to them and whatproblem your email is solving. Sometimes you just need to let your readers know about something, like an event or deadline, but unless your email is helpful it is likely headed to the trash. Often your readers want you to show them how they are a part of making something better in the world. So would they rather hear about your new staff members, or how their donation just helped someone?

Is there a way to segment your audience? The more you can tailor your emails to specific people, (e.g. donors, non-donors, volunteers, clients, geography) the closer you get to talking to them about what they care about. Every enewsletter you send out can have numerous versions, taking each part of your audience into consideration.

And while we are on the ‘Who’; who are you in their inbox? If the ‘From’ line of your email is a person, (e.g. Keith Moon at Saving the Planet Organization) as opposed to a position (e.g. Newsletter or the dreaded DoNotReply) you are more likely to get opened. By adding your name you become a person in the inbox, not just another nameless email fighting for attention.

2. Is your email program working hard enough for you?

When is the last time you looked at your email vendor? Daunting task, right? Well a new resource makes it real easy for you. The good folks over at Groundwire have put together an excellent comparison of the top email suite providers, with a specific focus on how they work for nonprofits. Download the report and take a little time over lunch to look it over. Could you be getting an easier to use or more integrated email provider?

3. Don’t rest on your laurels – stay up to date on what is happening in the world of email.

Sure, email has been around for a while, so we don’t think we need to keep up on it as much as all the new social media and other tools. But email changes too, and so does how people interact with it. One of  the ways to keep up is by checking out all the free resources on the email provider’s sites. For example, check out:

Mailchimp – They’ve got lots of great guides, like ‘How To Create An Email Marketing Plan’.  I also like their Chimp Charts,  which give you good benchmarks to measure how your email is performing.

eROI – These folks always have lots of great studies to keep you thinking -

Network for Good – All their content is tailored to nonprofits, so it is right on target. They offer lots of excellent trainings and their email suite is affordable and easy to use. Check out their resources for their latest webinars and white papers.

Campaign Monitor –  I always think of them as a good source for information on design. Check out their articles and resources to figure out if your Enewsletter design is as strong as you think it is and find tips on improving it.

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