A note from me: This is a repost from a former co-worker over at Event 360, Joann Collins. You can check out the original post here (go ahead, click on it and give them the traffic!). While Joann’s advice is focused on fundraising emails, it’s great advice for any marketer that’s trying to get their audience to take action. Last time I checked, I’m pretty sure that’s what all marketers are trying to do (myself included!).
My favorite piece of advice is:
…try to have a specific underlying reason for every email beyond “we haven’t sent an email in a while, so we should probably touch base with our participants.”
Great advice, right? Happy reading.
When I was in college, a children’s literature professor taught me a phrase that has stuck with me whenever I’m trying to write. She said, “You don’t bark at a cat.” What she meant was: Keep your audience in mind when you’re writing. In the context of the course I was taking, she meant that we should write the way a child wants to read. As I started writing emails and websites for fundraising events for my career, “you don’t bark at a cat” meant that I should get to know my audience and write content that will speak to them.
As technology has developed, we now have the ability to meow at our cat audience in more customized and personalized ways.
The first way is to include personalized information in the content. This starts with a personalized greeting (“Hi, Joann!” instead of “Dear Friend,”) but expands with many more detailed touches – including the recipient’s participation type or fundraising totals, their username if you’re asking them to log in your website and they haven’t logged in recently, or a list of what rewards they may have won or milestones they may have reached.
The next step goes beyond plugging in the recipient’s personal details to customizing the content so it speaks to them and their experience. If you’ve collected their reason for participating in your event, or know their connection to your cause, then craft your message based on that information. The language that motivates someone who joined your event as part of a corporate team and has no personal connection to your cause will be different than the language that motivates someone who joined your event as an individual participant because they are personally affected by your cause.
This doesn’t mean that every single sentence has to be different for every audience. Customize where it makes sense. Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you have something different to say to someone who is new to your event, versus someone who has participated before?
- Can you acknowledge your star fundraisers and spur them to increased success, while prodding those who haven’t fundraised at all with a few simple directions?
- Do your team captains need specific instruction that your individual participants don’t?
- Is talking about your top fundraising rewards just going to discourage your beginner fundraisers, while lower reward level details might discourage your high performers?
Customize the content so the information in the email is exactly and only what the participant needs to read. Customizing your content in this way can also make it more concise. If you can remove the information that participants don’t need to know and only show it to those people for whom it’s relevant, then your emails will be shorter overall. You will no longer be asking readers to wade through long paragraphs that say things like “If you’re a team captain, then…” or “If you’re new to our event, then…” because the reader will only be seeing the information that applies to them.
The third way to customize your content is in the overall strategy and timing. Once you’ve personalized and customized the content, you can think about what emails could be added or removed for some audiences. As much as possible, try to have a specific underlying reason for every email beyond “we haven’t sent an email in a while, so we should probably touch base with our participants.” An email that is triggered by someone reaching a certain fundraising level, and acknowledges that accomplishment within the email, is more likely to be read than a general fundraising reminder that you sent out “just because.” If your emails are triggered by a participant’s action, then you are having a conversation with them, rather than just talking at them at regular intervals.
As you use each of these three approaches to customize and personalize your eCommunications, planning is important. Before you begin your communications, you should have a roadmap of where you are going, and what you will be saying when. Naturally, some things might change along the way depending on circumstances, but the bulk of your emails should be the result of an overarching strategy.
Creating a strategy, and then personalizing and customizing your email timing, audiences and content, will ensure that your event participants feel like you are speaking their language, and you aren’t meowing at dogs or barking at cats.
A graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Southern California, Joann Buckley Collins has been writing for fundraising events and helping nonprofits develop communication strategies since 1998. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two young sons, who think that “mommy writes emails all day.” When not writing emails, Joann is hiking, playing tennis, reading and cooking. You can find Joann on LinkedIn.
Robin Williams didn’t die from suicide. I only just heard the sad, sad news of Robin Williams’s death. My wife sent me a message to tell me he had died, and, when I asked her what he died from, she told me something that nobody in the news seems to be talking about.
When people die from cancer, their cause of death can be various horrible things – seizure, stroke, pneumonia – and when someone dies after battling cancer, and people ask “How did they die?”, you never hear anyone say “pulmonary embolism”, the answer is always “cancer”. A Pulmonary Embolism can be the final cause of death with some cancers, but when a friend of mine died from cancer, he died from cancer. That was it. And when I asked my wife what Robin Williams died from, she, very wisely, replied “Depression”.
The word “suicide” gives many people the impression that “it was his own decision,” or “he chose to die, whereas most people with cancer fight to live.” And, because Depression is still such a misunderstood condition, you can hardly blame people for not really understanding. Just a quick search on Twitter will show how many people have little sympathy for those who commit suicide…
But, just as a Pulmonary Embolism is a fatal symptom of cancer, suicide is a fatal symptom of Depression. Depression is an illness, not a choice of lifestyle. You can’t just “cheer up” with depression, just as you can’t choose not to have cancer. When someone commits suicide as a result of Depression, they die from Depression – an illness that kills millions each year. It is hard to know exactly how many people actually die from Depression each year because the figures and statistics only seem to show how many people die from “suicide” each year (and you don’t necessarily have to suffer Depression to commit suicide, it’s usually just implied). But considering that one person commits suicide every 14 minutes in the US alone, we clearly need to do more to battle this illness, and the stigmas that continue to surround it. Perhaps Depression might lose some its “it was his own fault” stigma, if we start focussing on the illness, rather than the symptom. Robin Williams didn’t die from suicide. He died from Depression*. It wasn’t his choice to suffer that.