Five Keys to Successful Email Communications

When it comes to email communications, it’s easy to get into a routine of doing what you’ve always done: sending emails on the same day each week, executing similar content patterns, adding the same creative and calls to action…

However, I’d like to challenge you with a different approach. Throughout this article you’ll read about the five keys to successful email communications.

As we journey together throughout this process, let’s take a creative approach and imagine we’re building a garden together. Each element of the garden will represent a different part of email communications.

Pick up your rake and let’s get started!

Data Health: The Soil

As we consider the first step to building our garden, let’s look at the soil in which everything will be planted… data!

Data is the foundation for all strategic insights into email performance. And the health of the garden relies on the soil. If the soil is not in good condition, the garden will not flourish.

Prioritizing data health is a crucial factor when it comes to improving email communications. People often jump into adding new creative elements, changing content, or acquiring new leads before digging into the health of their existing email list and fully understanding their audience.

Here are a few simple data health steps to optimize email performance:

  • Ensure your email domain is authenticated and follow best practices to avoid spam triggers.
  • Implement an email list cleaning plan to improve sender reputation and re-engage contacts through an email re-engagement series.
  • Group/segment audiences and tailor communications to them accordingly.

Content: The Seed

Now that our soil is in good shape, let’s begin working on the primary part of our garden – planting seeds!

The seeds represent our email content. Without seeds, our garden wouldn’t exist.

Let’s look at a few ways to optimize our email content:

  • Communications Calendar: It’s important to understand how all channels work together to form a holistic communications plan. Mapping out content will allow oversight into the overarching strategy as you test into different content types. At the end of the day, we must also be flexible as needed. For example, a timely news event could be an opportunity for your organization to send an email about your stance as a believer, ways to pray over the country, or how to take action through a donation.
  • Content Type: Don’t be afraid to branch out and experiment with new content patterns. Here are a few ideas that go beyond typical E-appeals or E-newsletters:
    • Consider planning omnichannel content around a holistic campaign theme each month. Tie all communications (social, email, website, direct mail) back to a centralized theme.
    • Take advantage of current events and explain why your organization’s mission is important. Timeliness and relevance are critical to keep in mind.
    • Test long form vs. short form content – you never know which content will perform best until you test it!
    • Try storytelling from different perspectives.
  • Set Up the Ask: Keep fundraising content donor centric and impact driven. When organizations become too “org focused” it undermines the impact the donor’s support is making.

Additionally, think about other “asks” you can involve your audience in to cultivate them further. Establish a rhythm to keep the donor engaged with relevant communications. A few examples: ask them to share a branded media kit with friends to expand the reach of your organization, present an ask to watch a video and share on social media, complete an activity, read a devotional, take a survey, provide your own story of impact, encourage the staff, and so on. And remember, it’s important to point back to your owned media on the website for optimal SEO and website health.

While fundraising asks are vital, we must also keep in mind diversification of the content type when it comes to the ask. When do you this effectively, your ask for support will be even more impactful.

Creative: The Garden’s Framework

As we look at the garden, let’s consider the framework which positions it… the garden box!

The purpose of email creative is to frame your content and showcase its purpose, just as a garden box displays the fruition of its seeds.

It’s crucial to test which creative causes the most engagement. There is a healthy balance between written and visual storytelling. Typically, organizations are only good at one. However, both are important when it comes to communicating the impact of your ministry. In some cases, too much creative within an email could distract the reader from the desired call to action… which is why testing is key.

Take a look at a few ways to bring your emails to life creatively:

  • GIFs
  • Videos
  • Dynamic Email Banners
  • Animations
  • Infographics
  • Template variations
  • HTML fully designed emails

A large part of cutting-edge creativity stems from staying up to date with design, technology, and user experience trends. Research provides insight for you to test new approaches, which could ultimately help your organization become more profitable in the long run.

You have the freedom to frame your content in a visually appealing way. It’s a scientifically proven fact that humans “feel” before they think. So, the goal for implementing strong creative is to evoke an emotion tied to the content presented within the email.

Frequency: Watering the Garden

Back to the garden. Different plants require different frequencies of watering, sunlight and food. Taking this analogy into email communications – it’s the same scenario!

I frequently hear the question, “How often should I communicate to my email audience?”

Ready for the answer? It depends.

There’s no magic number when it comes to frequency. Each email audience is unique. However, when it comes frequency, relevance is key. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  • Be present with your audience. This doesn’t necessarily mean communicating every single day so much as ensuring they are kept in the loop and understand the impact your organization is making.
  • If you have content worth sharing… send an email! If your audience perceives your content as highly relevant, they will look forward to receiving it. However, don’t send frequent emails out of obligation if you don’t have something valuable to share. Think quality of content over quantity. If you aim for quantity, people will begin to notice and potentially unsubscribe.
  • Allow the audience to adjust to a lesser email frequency if the only frequency you offer is daily, (such as daily devos, news, tips etc.) We live in a time where customization is no longer an option, it’s required for people to stay engaged. There are other ways people can engage with your organization. We don’t want to force them to opt into daily emails if they do not desire to receive them.

Analysis: The Gardener

Last and certainly not least, let’s talk about the gardener.

We are the gardeners, and we have oversight into how the garden is doing. Is it thriving or dying? Does it need more or less water?

As we consider emails, the copy and creative could change all day long, but if we don’t learn from the overall performance and apply our learnings, we will never take email performance to the next level.

While it can be easy to get caught up in email acquisition, the primary focus of email should be to have an engaged, healthy list, rather than growing the number of subscribers to simply say you are continuously growing. If you’re not growing your list in a way that balances the quantity of emails with the quality of those interested in what you’ll be communicating, the churn of subscribers could be costly when it comes to your email sender reputation.

The growth and success of the garden all ties back to analysis.

And the question is how will you tweak, correct, and optimize your email communications?

Don’t plant a beautiful garden and walk away. Tend to it… it will thrive if you do!

There you have it! Five steps to improving your email communications.

I hope you have gained strategic insight from our time together. Just look at that beautiful garden we created.

Happy emailing!


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Ready to take the next step? Dunham+Company is here to help your organization have more impact and establish deeper relationships with your donors and supporters.

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