Email Marketing Success Tips for Non-Profits and Small Businesses

If you are a non-profit organization, a small-and-medium business enterprise or a start-up relying on digital communications and social media to grow your subscriber base and increase your outreach to potential customers, email marketing should be your main go-to-resource this year. Read on to see my top 3 email marketing campaigns.

In the 2016 NGO Online Technology Report (available here as PDF), one of the key findings is: 75% NGOs worldwide regularly send email updates to donors and supporters. Small NGOs have an average of 6,035 subscribers.

Why you should devote resources to email marketing?

For one, most email marketing clients, such as Vertical Response, offer free email credits every month to registered non-profits. This can be of tremendous help if you want to highlight an important report, launch a campaign or notify your subscribers about an upcoming event,  fundraiser activity or draw attention to a recent project that won you accolades. Email marketing works simply because it’s one of the most direct ways to reach your customers, clients, subscribers – in their inbox.

Using email marketing also allows non-profits and SMEs to evaluate the interest of their audience base. Through in-built analytical tools, email marketing platforms allow you to check the Open Rate, the Click Through Rate (CTR), the social media shares, demography and audience segmentation, and other valuable benchmarks of the messages you send out to your subscribers. With subsequent emails, you can tweak, modify and leverage content, videos, photos, and material that your subscribers find relevant. That is the beauty of email marketing – you can see results instantly and map this month on month.

Pro tip: Email marketing platforms also allow you to build your contacts database, reach out to multi-segmented audiences, check for design portability across different screens (desktop, tablet, mobile), pre-build templates to save time and cut down on duplication of messages.

This allows marketers, social media personnel and anybody from the organization to keep track of all the messages that are being sent out to your subscribers over a period of time, and how the overall marketing campaigns of your organization is evolving.

With lots of in-build tips, messages, advice, templates, and best practice samples provided by email marketing clients, this turns out to be one of the best online communications and marketing platform for community outreach, building customer loyalty, reporting, kickstarting important campaigns, and keeping track of your hits and misses.

What’s more, email marketing templates also give marketers the freedom to be more accessible, with both content and design. Based on your demography, you can choose to send out weekly, text-heavy emails, or super geeky infographics every month, or a serious compendium of statistics through an annual report – there’s flexibility in the style, font, images, videos, and social media channels you use and integrate in your email campaigns.

What’s your return on investment? According to data from DMA 2015, for every $1 invested, email marketing generates an average return of $38.


Email automation is a resource-saving habit

You are probably an overworked, multi-tasking, multi-designated team player. You happen to handle social media, email and newsletters, press releases, blogging, website updates, report writing, and a bunch of other content related tasks. Truth be told, we can really cut down on the message formulation time and save up resources if we pre-define a template for specific messages.

Most of the messages that we design and segment based on where our audiences are (social media, mobile, desktop, newspaper ads) can be segmented and replicated on email marketing platforms. Say, for instance, you want to organize a fundraiser and invite your local community teaching staff and administrators. Email marketing clients come pre-loaded with several templates that make it easier for you to select the background design and set the overall stylistic tone of the mailer; all you have to do is add the headline, the body text and a call to action: “Help us raise funds to save the school!”

Pro tip: One of the best features of email marketing clients is that you can segment your contacts list based on different categories.

You have the option of sending the email to a specific set of categories (school, government, parents, local politicians, press contacts – you get the drift) that you have already been building up and can continue to expand. You don’t have to scroll through your entire contacts database and select specific email ids.

Next step involves sending a follow-up. You can set a date for the same email to be resent to the subscriber base as a follow-up mechanism. You can continue to monitor the open rate or click through rates for the original email and the follow-up, allowing you to measure the best time of the day when emails are usually opened or the best day of the week when you get the most clicks.

That old saying (way back in the early 2000), when all marketers were heard saying that email is dead because of spam emails overcrowding our inboxes? And the other marketing camp who proclaimed email is dead because of the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp? Well, they would  be eating their words today. Email marketing clients allow you to post the link of the email to your social media channels, so you actually end up saving on time and can keep track of the traffic source.

A large majority of U.S. adults — 72% — prefer communication with companies to happen through email. This is a 2015 statistic!*

Mobile Phone user

Email marketing allows you to have an intimate relationship with all your subscribers

Here are my top 5 favorite email marketing campaigns by non-profit organizations, individuals and universities.

  1. A recent mailer I received was from Northeastern University’s Graduate School of Engineering (based in Boston, MA) whose intention was to thank me for writing a recommendation letter for a recently accepted student (my former colleague). But here’s what really delighted me about their message:

Your past recommendation is appreciated (no action needed) –

Thank you for writing a letter of recommendation for one or more past applicants to our graduate studies program. Receiving detailed and personal testimonials regarding the quality of applicants is critical to our admissions process.

For any others interested in future graduate study, please remind them that:

  • Northeastern University (NU) is ranked among the best engineering universities, and is located within the heart of an engineering, higher education, and healthcare mecca: the City of Boston, Massachusetts.
  • NU has over 2500 graduate engineering students pursuing 20+ PhD, MS, and Certificate level graduate engineering programs. For our menu of programs visit:

What a brilliant and yet subtle way to remind me of my good deed, confirm that I am not expected to click or participate in any task again, and highlighting the merits of the university’s engineering program. It motivated me to pass on the message to other prospective students in my social circle who might want to take up engineering, and also send a public note of thanks to the University’s social media team. This is a class act!

2. Here’s a beautiful fundraising campaign mailer from U.S.-based Accion International, a global non-profit organization that supports microfinance institutions in their work to provide financial services to low-income clients. I am a big fan of their monthly emails and this one steals the show!


Hi Nilofar,

For Jamila in Tanzania, cupcakes are more than a sweet treat to be enjoyed with a glass of milk: they’re her livelihood.  When her husband died unexpectedly in a car accident, Jamila and her four children moved in with her brother. While she was grateful, she longed for independence. After learning to bake from a family member, Jamila aspired to open a small bakery. Thanks to support from Accion partner Akiba, Jamila’s dream came true.

This is a positive, affirmative email that does two things: highlights the efforts of Accion, and encouraging readers to help Accion continue their efforts by donating to their organization. They don’t use the typical charity model to solicit funds, but rely on an enterprising, fresh model of trade: an original recipe book in exchange for your donation.

3. HelpAge International is an organization I follow online, keenly keeping track of their social media campaigns and press releases. Their messages have clarity, are non-fussy and not heavy on design elements, and clearly communicate the intent to the reader. Here’s an example:


I work as a communications consultant for a United Nations-GAID initiated non-profit agency that works with persons with disabilities and governments. A chunk of my communications messages involves interacting with government agencies, policy makers, and state departments, and by that measure, the protocol is quite formal and traditional

Pro tip: Add the ‘Forward this email’ ‘Tell a friend’ ‘Share on social media’ options to all your mailers. “While conversion is still a primary focus, this doesn’t help you attract new leads. Encourage your readers to pass along your email to a friend or colleague if they found the content useful, and start tracking how many new people you can add to your database this way.” –

4. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum’s (one of Mumbai’s oldest museums) monthly newsletter and year end season’s special greetings are something I look forward to with delight.


I consult with museums and cultural organizations by crafting their digital marketing strategies, and so, keeping tabs on interesting, fresh and heartwarming mailers is part of my daily responsibility. The BDL doesn’t do anything fancy, or design-heavy, their focus in this New Year mailer is quite simply on this object. The email does a good job of making me want to immediately go to their website and browsing through their collections online. Job accomplished!

5. Youth Assembly at the UN
“Save the date” mailers are a daily inbox space kill, however, they do a pretty good job of garnering attention through the subject line. Save the date will instantly motivate readers to take a quick look at what the event is and whether they need to add it to their calendar. It serves as a strong ‘call to action’ message and usually will feature a couple of other call to action prompts such as “sign up today,” “early bird discount, register now,” “send in your applications,” “last date for submission is xyz,” highlighted throughout the body of the email.

This mailer from the Youth Assembly of the UN does a decent job of announcing an event through simple graphics (reminded me of clip art or stick figures) and draws attention to the date, the speakers, provides information for potential registrants, and tells us what to expect at the event. The neat division of information through color blocking and cute infographics keeps the message accessible and easy to scroll.

Pro tip: Individuals and organizations that invest in taking an effort to write customized and personalized messages for their segmented audience have won the other half of the battle (the first half is identifying your audience base).

Notable mention: Dan & Audrey’s Uncornered Market – travel wide, live deep.
I receive at least 10 newsletters (emailers) everyday in my professional inbox and can’t really quantify the mailers I receive – and don’t read or open – in my personal inbox. The subject line would be blaringly spammy, or the content would be image heavy and I am actually opening the email on my mobile. However, the most common reason why I choose to not continue reading an email campaign – and even go ahead and delete it – is because the tone of the message is not personalized.

Dan and Audrey

Greetings from an unusually warm and sunny Berlin, Germany! Having recently returned from a visit to St. Maarten and Anguilla in the Caribbean, we now look forward to unpacking our year in the coming days. This means stepping away from the glow of our laptops, indulging in guilty pleasures like reading books with a plate of Christmas cookies, enjoying long gatherings with friends, and catching up with family. In taking this mental space, we gain perspective to appreciate all that we have, especially in light of the violence that has sadly touched so many people around the world this year. This approach also allows us to better reflect and take a deep breath before another engaging year begins. Our next big destination is lined up for January and February. We’re excited as travels and projects fall into place for 2016. (Stay tuned for those announcements, as well as insights from our time in the Caribbean.)

If I feel the email is not speaking to me directly – 33 year old cultural marketing professional from India with a passion for the arts, digital communications, travel, books and food – then I am going to feel like part of a mass campaign target; just another click through ratio that needs to be measured and not wooed or wowed.

That was my five favorite email marketing campaigns by some of the most famous as well as not so famous organizations. I would love to see some of your favorite email marketing campaigns from non-profits and organizations you follow. Write in the comments box or ping me on Twitter.


Useful links:

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