Does Your Nonprofit Need an Email Newsletter Service?

Lori Halley 01 August 2008 11 comments

Why would your organization want to pay for an email marketing service, instead of simply using Outlook and your regular email server to contact your members?

There are a number of compelling reasons why even a small e-newsletter subscription list might best be handled by a dedicated email marketing service, starting — first and foremost — with reliable delivery.

Deliverability: If your organization’s email newsletter never makes it to your members’ Inbox, you might as well not bother to send it.

The best email marketing services work hard to maintain a good relationship with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to make sure their customers’ emails are delivered reliably, and a double opt-in feature will go a long way to keep your email blasts safe from spam complaints.

You might also want to look for a built-in spam score assessment tool to help you word your email messages so they won’t get trapped in standard spam filters.

Here are some other aspects of email marketing to consider when choosing a bulk email service:

List Building / Autoresponder: Let software automatically collect email addresses by encouraging people to subscribe to your newsletter through your website, and you’ll save a great many staff hours over building and managing that mailing list database by hand.

Acknowledge the subscriber with an autoresponder message that goes out to each person on sign-up. It’s a small courtesy that goes a long way to a professional appearance for your organization, and can save a great many duplicate sign-ups or queries from people who aren’t sure whether their subscription went through.

HTML Templates: Templates ensure a certain consistency from one newsletter to the next, and make the job of composition faster and more efficient. Customize a basic template to create an attractive visual presentation to match your newsletter to your website, for instant recognition and solid branding.

That said, please don’t forget those members who get their email as plain text, whether by choice or due to the limitations of technology available to them! Check to see that your message is still accessible and effective, when the fancy fonts and images are stripped out.

Advance Scheduling: Prepare your email in advance, when you’ve got the time to dedicate to the job, and schedule it to be mailed out at another date and time — whenever it best suits your needs.

There are any number of situations where the ability to date-shift your communications can be an advantage: A last-minute reminder sent out right before a special event? A fundraising campaign email launched on the same day your organization receives a high-profile reward, to make the most of media coverage? Or simply to make your workflow more efficient?

Tracking: How many newsletters get delivered, and what email addresses are dead or false? Managing your email contact list is much easier with a tool that’s designed for that purpose.

And a specialized bulk email service can offer much more information about what happens to your e-newsletters at the other end of the pipe. Which of your contacts are opening your emails? Who goes a step further, and actually clicks through the links you’ve included?

Reliable tracking helps to keep your contact database clean and lean, and gives you essential information about your readers’ actions so you can fine-tune the email content and presentation to meet their needs.

One more practical consideration: Bandwidth. If you’re sending out even a few hundred email newsletters even once a month, check the amount of data transfer that your regular Internet Service Provider or web host will allow.

What might seem like a frugal option at first — bulk emailing through your own email client or through your group’s website — could surprise you with a hefty fee for excess bandwidth at the end of the month.

Email Marketing Tools

There are a great many email marketing and autoresponder options to choose from, at various price points and with quite a range of features. How can you begin to choose the right bulk email tool to suit your organization’s communication needs and goals?

If you’ve subscribed to any e-newsletters yourself, it’s likely that one of these tools is bringing those emails to your Inbox: check the email footers to see what services those organizations have chosen to use, and ask colleagues in other nonprofits for their recommendations.

Here are a few services to get you started —

AWeber is arguably the gold standard of email marketing solutions, with a wide array of features and a sound reputation for reliable delivery. Prices start at $19/month for up to 500 emails and go up from there.

ConstantContact discontinued their free plan for small lists, last year, but remains a popular choice. Pricing now comes close to that of AWeber  (starting at $15/month for 500 emails), but word is that the deliverability has also improved to match.

GraphicMail offers qualified non-profit organizations the first 5,000 emails free. The pricing structure is based on a credit system, where 1 credit sends out 1 email. A monthly subscription starts at 2000 credits for $9.95, but unused credits can’t be carried over to the next month. The alternative “pay-as-you-go” plan charges $49.95 for 2000 credits but those credits do not expire and non-profits may be eligible for a 35% discount.

iContact is worth noting for its win of a Web 2.0 Award that gave high scores for usability and usefulness. Prices are based on the size of your contact list, not on the number of emails, starting at $9.95/month for 500 contacts, and a 20% discount is offered to non-profit organizations who can document their non-profit status.

Take advantage of the free trials offered by most email marketing services, to get a firsthand sense of how they compare and which one will best suit your communication needs. Do you have advice about bulk email management to pass along to other non-profit organizations and associations, or a favourite service you’d like to recommend?

 
Want to learn more about how your non-profit organization can make the most of social media on a small budget? Get updates from the Wild Apricot non-profit technology blog by RSS feed or by email, free!

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 01 August 2008 at 7:27 PM

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Comments

  • Matt said:

    Friday, 01 August 2008 at 12:22 PM

    I'd also mention Vertical Response has a program for NFP's (those that qualify) for free email marketing services, up to a monthly volume of 10K messages. More info here: http://www.verticalresponse.com/non-profits/

    Cheers and thanks for all the good info.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall said:

    Saturday, 02 August 2008 at 3:47 PM

    I've been using EzEzine, which has variable pricing levels that affect how much customization you can do and the stats you can access. It's not good if you have an established list, though, because you have to start from scratch as part of their spam fighting measures.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 06 August 2008 at 8:58 PM

    @Matt, thanks very much for mentioning the VR nonprofit program as another option - "shopping around" is essential, these days!

    Sharon, I hadn't heard of EzEzine before - thanks for this. I see there's a free package for very small mailers (200 send limit): but even the starter account (1000 send limit for $7/month) looks like another good choice for an organization that's just beginning to "dip a toe" into electronic newsletter publishing.

    Anyone have other e-newsletter or mass-emailing companies to recommend, that we can add to the list?

  • Allan Leonard said:

    Wednesday, 27 August 2008 at 1:26 PM

    Hmm. I'm grateful for this article and links. But one reason I signed up to Wild Apricot was the sake of integration. Through WA, I enjoy sending email messages, with uploaded images and links back to our site, to our board members and other individuals who sign up to receive periodical messages from us. I'd prefer to see WA's emailing service enhanced, than to start having to manage two mailing lists.

    BTW, I've used Constant Contact before. They are very intolerant re spam. If only one person on your list reports you as spam, for whatever reason, they'll close your entire account.

  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 28 August 2008 at 5:01 AM

    Hi Allan,

    Our blog is not about Wild Apricot but rather about non-profit technology in general. Hence the article. We do plan to keep enhancing WA email newsletter service, but this is a separate subject.

    Interesting point about Constant Contact.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 28 August 2008 at 9:56 AM

    Allan, your comment is a reminder of how difficult the spammers do make things for genuine communicators!

    Being super-strict about spam complaints is one way that bulk emailers like Constant Contact maintain a positive working relationship with all the various ISPs, to keep off their blacklists. It's a great thing when it works *for* you to get your email delivered -- but not so good if one rogue comment can shut you down!

    I'm reminded, too, of the importance of double opt-in for email subscriptions (and an easy way for your subscribers to opt out when they want to) -- as well as keeping a clean mailing list so that duplicate entries don't mean that emails are sent by accident to the wrong person. This applies no matter what tool or method of email contact your organization uses, of course.

  • Paul  said:

    Saturday, 06 September 2008 at 6:39 AM

    Great article Rebecca -- you really hit some points. As printing and postage continues to rise, email marketing will continue to be the way to go. I'm still surprised at how many churches, and other organizations, print and mail their newsletter. Obviously, not everybody (older) used the internet, but organizations should offer a choice between getting a print newsletter or going green and receiving it by email.

    While there are thousands of services that provide a delivery method for your campaign, our business realizes part of the problem with consistent communication is time. Most people either don't have the time, or skills, to put together a fun, educational and informative newsletter month after month. eNewsletterSolutions provides prewritten articles and campaign management -- a real time saver for busy orgnaizations.

    Keep up the great work. Happy Sailing ... _/) Paul

  • Dan Course said:

    Tuesday, 28 October 2008 at 7:51 AM

    Lot's of people forget that sending more emails than less often results in people hitting the delete key!

    This leads to people being pe*d off with your service!

    We've written a short blog to help people out,

    http://www.thoughtden.co.uk/blog/2008/10/28/email-campaigns-get-it-right/

    Don't forget, the stuff you want to send doesn't want to be acted upon as spam, so only send relevant stuff, then people will treat it like e-mail!

  • Chip Kingsbury said:

    Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 7:32 PM

    I'd like to find an email service that does not require me to create my newsletters online. I don't have the bandwidth to do that. Connections here too slow (East Africa). I need to create my newsletter offline, then upload as one file and then have the newsletter company take it from there. I tried several of the ones mentioned here. They all require that you create your newsletter online at their website. I get timed out, connections break, everything just freezes, etc. I need something I can use offline.

    Recommendations?

    Blessings,

    Chip

  • Tom Burns said:

    Thursday, 13 August 2009 at 11:01 AM

    I've had a good experience with <a href='http://www.aweber.com/?321827'>AWeber</a> over the past 2 years.

    For larger lists the pricing is competitive, and the service is reliable. I've had a few issues but their support was able to help out and was surprisingly helpful, in fact.

  • Wayne said:

    Friday, 21 August 2009 at 1:21 PM

    Has anyone had any experience with Campaign Monitor or CreateGo? Positive or negative?

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