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Care2 Team 28 min read

Why Should Nonprofits Use Email Marketing? Making the Case

While it’s true that email has been around a lot longer than many modern communication methods, its strengths as a marketing channel have never faltered. Email marketing stands out as one of the most reliable, highest-return strategies for nonprofits.

In fact, 77% of people from all age groups prefer email marketing over seeing promotional content on other platforms like Instagram or YouTube. In comparison to channels like social media and direct mail, email marketing has the highest average ROI of 4200%, or $42 for every $1 spent. 

With a solid email marketing strategy, your nonprofit can build stronger relationships with new and existing donors, raise awareness for your mission, and motivate supporters to give. Email is simple to manage and highly customizable, allowing your organization to quickly target specific audiences and encourage them to take the intended next step. 

Most organizations already think of email as a foundational communication channel, so why is it so often not used to its fullest marketing and fundraising potential? Neglecting email’s vast potential might mean you’re losing time and money spent on other outlets. 

So what makes email such a smart investment for nonprofits? Let’s take a closer look at three key reasons:

Understanding the Value of Nonprofit Email

Let’s first lay out some context. The current state of nonprofit email performance is trending upwards and is indicative of the fact that donors prefer email over any other type of communication. In terms of fundraising dollars, overall online giving has grown by 12.1% since 2021, with email accounting for 15% of all online revenue.

In a digital landscape where nonprofit marketing comes in many shapes and sizes, email remains the top performer for reaching donors and motivating them to give. Specifically, email marketing can help your nonprofit:

  • Target donors and prospects at all giving levels in segmented communications that are relevant to the recipients.

  • Automate and schedule messages, saving your nonprofit time and effort.

  • Ensure that messages are seen since emails can be read at any time once they’ve been received, unlike a digital ad that can easily be scrolled past. 

  • Easily track results and implement strategic improvements to maximize conversions.

But despite email’s proven track record and benefits, most nonprofits aren’t making the most of this essential marketing tool. 70% of nonprofits do not have an outlined email marketing strategy, and 71% of nonprofits aren’t taking advantage of email’s automation capabilities. Plus, incomplete or low-quality email lists prevent nonprofits from reaching enough passionate supporters and converting them into loyal donors. 

While email is a proven method to strengthen your nonprofit’s outreach, it also requires a strong strategy and investing in high-quality address append services. With a robust contact list and well-designed content that encourages readers to take action, you can foster an engaged and growing base of support. 

What’s the Literal Value of Your Email List?

Before we take a closer look at the case for investing in email, let’s try a quick exercise: What’s the literal value of your nonprofit’s current list of email addresses? 

How much value is it currently delivering for your mission? What’s the average lifetime value of your contacts? If you can’t answer these questions, you’re certainly not alone, but that is a sign that your organization could be going much further to drive value with email.

Try our free tool: The Care2 Email ROI Calculator

Once you calculate your current email ROI, keep it mind and consider all the ways in which you currently do and don’t use email to reach donors. Chances are you’ll recognize some strategic gaps and opportunities for improvement as we examine the case for investing in email.

Reason 1: The Inherent Strengths of Email

Email marketing has multiple advantages that make it naturally more favorable and effective for nonprofits than other channels. Explore these inherent strengths that make email stand out from the crowd:

  • Email is cost-effective and can drive a greater ROI than any other channel. Consumers and donors alike are more receptive to engaging based on an email request. In fact, 60% of consumers say they’ve made a purchase directly from a marketing email, as opposed to only 12.5% of customers who said they’d consider clicking ‘buy’ on a social media advertisement. Once you have a solid email strategy, contact lists, and the right tools, you can run effective campaigns at scale. 
  • Email is easy and fast to use, enabling your nonprofit to draft messages in advance and send them at ideal times. Plus, your nonprofit can automatically send emails, such as by triggering a welcome journey for new contacts, to keep subscribers engaged and save your nonprofit time. 
  • Email is highly adaptable for various audiences and purposes. Use email to reengage lapsed donors, ask new donors for their continued support, encourage recurring givers to give more. Along with donation requests, your nonprofit can leverage email to generate engagement with educational materials and updates on your programs and services. 
  • Email is a highly preferred communication method for donors and is more likely to be seen. 61% of consumers prefer brands to communicate with them via email. The average person checks for new emails 15 times per day, making it highly likely that donors will take note of your communications. 
  • Email is easy to track, test, and improve. These analytics can inform your nonprofit’s marketing strategy and how you can refine the content or frequency of your messaging to more effectively reach donors. Metrics like open rate, click-through rate, subscriber growth rate, and donor conversion rate are all helpful to understand your audience and the emails they respond best to. 
  • Email helps you reach donors quickly. 21% of emails are opened within the first hour they’re sent, ensuring that more urgent messages, such as promoting your nonprofit’s giving day campaign, are likely to be read almost immediately when sent to a target audience. An attention-grabbing subject line can give donors a glimpse into your email content and help boost your open rate. 

Email marketing can be incredibly valuable for your audience and help deliver content that’s hyper-specific and relevant to their interests. However, behind every successful email campaign is a strong marketing strategy that aligns your nonprofit’s goals with a plan of action. By leveraging email’s inherent strengths, your nonprofit can develop a communication strategy that drives results and makes supporters more passionate about your cause.  

Reason 2: The Flexibility of Email to Support Any Goal

Whether your nonprofit wants to increase its brand visibility, boost traffic to your donation page, or promote its upcoming events, email marketing can effectively meet any objective. Its high level of adaptability makes it the strongest communication method to improve relationships with supporters and bring your nonprofit closer to meeting its goals. 

Let’s consider the example of Cats Protection, a cat welfare charity that wanted to use email to attract new supporters and drive policy changes. After implementing a new email marketing strategy with a robust contacts list, Cats Protection gained tens of thousands of donors, jump-started a healthy recurring giving program, and successfully pushed the UK government to take action against the sale of sick and underage kittens. 

If your nonprofit has big goals like Cats Protection, email marketing offers your organization the best opportunity to bring your objectives to fruition.

Let’s take a closer look at the most important use cases for email.

Using Email for Fundraising

Email is the top performing online channel for encouraging donors to give. By tailoring your content to your audience and making a strong case for support, your emails can go a long way to support your fundraising goals. Incorporating smarter email tactics into your various campaigns creates a built-in revenue booster. Plus, standalone email appeals can always be deployed to engage key audiences and drive results year-round.

A well-crafted fundraising email should have the following qualities:

  • Purposeful. Your email should be to the point and relevant to your recipients. Keep in mind your email’s central goal, whether that’s to ask donors to sign up for your recurring giving program or to increase their next donation by $10. If you combine too many appeals into one long-winded email, donors will be less likely to give. Ensure that your emails are also going to the right audiences by segmenting your messages to specific donors, such as new or lapsed donors. 

  • Engaging. The layout of your email should be visually appealing and include branding elements, such as images of your nonprofit in action and your nonprofit’s logo. This will help increase your nonprofit’s brand visibility. However, if your visual design is too complicated, it may distract people from reading your donation appeal. Incorporate visual elements smoothly into your content so they don’t get in the way. 

  • Impactful. Your email should tell a story that connects supporters with your cause. For example, you can spotlight constituents your nonprofit has directly benefited or a project that your nonprofit was able to complete thanks to donors’ contributions. Use imagery to help your story come to life, but remember to keep it brief so your email remains focused. 

  • Direct. End your email with a strong call to action that lets readers know the specific next step they should take. Your call to action should express urgency so donors are motivated to give as soon as they read your email. Be sure to include a link to your donation page so that donors can easily find how to give without doing too much searching. 

By incorporating these characteristics, your emails can grab readers’ attention and drive them to donate. Ensure that your readers have a good understanding of your email’s content before opening it by including a relevant subject line. A catchy subject line and straightforward email will make it much more likely that recipients will open, read, and complete your target action! 

Using Email for Stewardship

Email can be used to nurture relationships over time and keep your work on supporters’ minds. For example, nonprofits commonly craft email journeys to welcome new supporters and introduce them to their impactful work and programs. Sending a series of emails can help strengthen supporters’ connections to your nonprofit, make them more passionate about your cause, and make them more likely to seek out additional ways to get involved. 

Your nonprofit likely has a variety of supporters, including donors at all giving levels, volunteers, and other subscribers. Instead of sending generic emails to everyone that are unlikely to spur action, your email journeys should be highly tailored to a more specific audience’s needs and interests in your organization. 

Used in this way, email stewardship makes it easy to direct supporters’ attention to particular resources, web pages, petitions, and more, while also allowing you to easily generate new engagement data about their interests. By better understanding your audience, your nonprofit can continually optimize your email stewardship journeys and segmentation strategies over time. 

Using Email for Acquisition and Awareness

Email can be an extremely effective way to reach broader audiences and acquire brand new donors when you partner with a trusted consent-based email acquisition source. Care2 can help you secure email lists tailored to your mission and give you the foundation you need to grow a thriving donor community. 

Once you’ve acquired contacts of individuals interested in your cause, send targeted emails to grow your donor acquisition rates and increase awareness. Consider launching a welcome email journey that will introduce new supporters to your mission and the impact your nonprofit is making in its community. This will help recipients become more familiar with your organization, therefore increasing trust in your nonprofit. 

Let’s consider the example of Citymeals on Wheels, a nonprofit that delivers meals to New York’s homebound elderly. Citymeals on Wheels needed to reach the right audience to garner local support. After working with Care2, Citymeals on Wheels turned a fast ROI while dramatically growing its base of support through email—not through expensive ads or erratic social media strategies. 

Using Email for Operations Support

Email is the most convenient and efficient way to get the word out for a variety of different contexts. Whether your nonprofit needs to solicit more volunteer support or simply wants to share event details with registrants, email allows your nonprofit to effectively communicate with your supporters—and get the responses you need. 

To better manage your email communications, we recommend creating one or more email calendars. An email calendar lays out when your emails will be sent, so you can avoid sending too many or too few emails to a certain audience. As a result, you can keep your intended audience’s attention and secure their support for your biggest priorities, like raising more revenue for your latest fundraising campaign, enlisting additional volunteer support, and more. 

As you send out email journeys and stewardship streams, you’ll be able to learn more about what best engages your donors as individuals using metrics such as open rate, click through rate, and, most importantly, donor conversion rate. This knowledge will inform your communication and appeals strategies and how you can shape your content to best encourage engagement. 

Reason 3: The Challenges of Other Marketing Channels

Beyond email, there’s a wide world of other communication and marketing channels, such as social media, digital advertising, direct mail, and phone. However, these methods do not come close to matching email’s ROI or driving the same level of engagement. Email is the preferred communication method among donors and offers the most flexibility for nonprofits to achieve their goals. 

But while alternative marketing channels have several challenges and are less likely to produce the quick results your nonprofit needs, you shouldn’t abandon them altogether. These channels can be used to support your email marketing efforts and drive extra engagement with your nonprofit. 

Let’s take a closer look at the obstacles associated with these alternative marketing channels and how you can still leverage them as part of a well-rounded strategy to increase donor touchpoints and expand your reach. 

Learn more about how Care2 works to recruit new supporters for your nonprofit organization