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Raising Thousands (if Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email

Madeline Stanionis


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The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to...

Raising Thousands (if Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email
by Madeline Stanionis, 108 pp., $24.95. (Click here for quantity discount information)

Perhaps you're skeptical.

After reading the title of this book, you’re saying: “Sure, Red Cross and Salvation Army can raise tons of money with email, but my agency isn’t a brand name. You’re telling me I can do the same!?”

Well, no. Author Madeline Stanionis isn’t claiming that. She’s President of Donordigital, not Pollyanna.

What she is saying is that you can raise a healthy amount -– thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars -– if you approach email fundraising with a measure of intelligence and creativity.

And you’ve got to hand it to Stanionis. Any consultant who would give away the store as she does in this book has something grander in mind than her own self interest.

And give away the store is what the author does.

Generously dispensing advice, insider tips, and recommendations she usually commands tidy sums for, Stanionis reveals precisely what you need to do, step by step, to raise substantial money with email.

And while it’s not as simple as sending hastily written emails every week or month, neither is it unduly complicated or time-consuming.

At heart, raising thousands of dollars with email is all about building your list, using timing to your advantage, crafting a series of coherent messages, presenting your email in a visually appealing way, and carefully observing your returns for clues to guide your future efforts.

That’s it really. And any organization following Stanionis’ trenchant advice will see immediate results.

Further, there’s plenty of material in the book to customize and adapt, as Stanionis offers a wealth of sample emails from diverse organizations.

And taking it a step further, in the Resources section of the book, the author shows you how to identify just the help you might need (a "messaging vendor" who can send your emails, for example).

Other books talk about “Internet fundraising," which usually encompasses e-commerce strategies such as online shopping malls and auctions. That’s all well and good, but many of us want to know one simple thing --– how can we raise more money with email? And do it now?

Raising Thousands (if Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email puts that question to rest.

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About the Author

Madeline Stanionis is the CEO of Watershed (www.watershedcompany.com), an online fundraising and advocacy agency. She is also past President and Creative Director of Donordigital, a full-service online fundraising, advocacy, and marketing company.

Madeline has been raising money, organizing, and communicating for organizations and causes for 20 years, not counting her second-grade campaign for George McGovern.

She served as director of individual giving at Health Access, a statewide health advocacy organization in California, and as Public Information Officer for the Alameda County Health Department (Berkeley, Oakland). Madeline was the founding executive director of Access to Software for All People (ASAP), a youth-run Web development business run as a non-profit social enterprise.

She is a frequent speaker and writer in fundraising, advocacy, and technology conferences and publications across the country, and co-convenes Web of Change, an international annual gathering that connects global leaders in online communications, technology, and activism who are actively building a better world.

Madeline holds a Masters of Social Work from San Francisco State University. She lives in Berkeley with her husband, Scott Connolly, and two rescued greyhounds, Daisy and Ajax.

Table of Contents

  1. Everybody’s doing it
  2. It’s all about the list
  3. It’s all about the timing
  4. Think campaigns, not appeals
  5. Compose yourself
  6. There’s a lot of noise out there
  7. The sum of your parts
  8. What to send when you’re not soliciting
  9. It’s all about the data
  10. Making the most of the numbers
  11. Conclusion

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Excerpt The following article is excerpted from Madeline Stanionis’ book, Raising Thousands (if Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, please call 508-359-0019.

Writing Emails for Fundraising
The “rules” are a bit different from your other communications

As far as email copy is concerned, there are two key writing components. The first is the subject line; the second is the body of the email itself. Since readers encounter the subject line first, let's begin there.

The scoop on subject lines

Talk about time being of the essence! To capture your constituents' attention and convince them that of the many emails bombarding their in-box, yours is the one they must read, you have a grand total of … one to two seconds!

With that in mind, let's address a few subject line fundamentals:

• Length. Email programs vary as to how many characters your reader will see. Be on the safe side and keep yours to about 50 characters.

• Shouting symbols ($, !, CAPS, *) and words such as: Free, Sale, Teens will land you in the spam filter. Avoid them. (Stay up to date on the "words to avoid' list by visiting: www.emailsherpa.com or www.clickz.com)

Tell, tease, take action

Depending on the situation, you'll speak in different voices with your subject line. For example, if your issue is timely, and your relationship with the donor is well-established, your job may simply be to "tell" him or her what is happening. Here's what I mean:

• A crisis occurs overseas and a relief agency sends an email letting donors know how they can help: "Send a blanket to Bamgarian flood victims."

• The “telling” approach also holds true for emails that help your users take care of business: "Order your Golf Gala tickets now," or "Your membership expires soon - renew today."

• Messages with time-sensitive content fall into the “telling” category as well: "Six vegan-friendly ways to decorate Easter eggs," delivered a few days before the holiday.

However, you won't always have straightforward opportunities to ”tell” the facts. Here's when a little “teasing” is needed to get your reader's attention:

• An email landed in my box last week with this subject line: "The movie President Bush doesn't want you to see." That provocative approach works for me … I want to find out just what that movie is.

• Another way to tease is by being a bit clever. Quick, easy-to-scan clever. “It's beginning to look a lot like justice..." sent just before the Christmas holidays by Earthjustice.

Lastly, whether you're telling or teasing, it's always important to use your subject line to call your readers to action. After all, nothing happens (i.e. sending you a donation, filling out a petition) until they take the next step.

The best "take action" emails are:

• Specific. Rather than exhort readers to "Tell them no", say instead: "Tell Big Tobacco to stop selling to children."

• Well-timed. Ideally, the topic is in the news.

• Local, if possible. "Tell Big Tobacco to stop selling to Boston children."

Once you’ve motivated your constituents to open your email, it's critical to give them something good to read.

Composing an email – three elements

Writing good emails starts with the basics of writing good copy, period. You must have a story to tell, offer a compelling reason to give, and use clear and persuasive language. Only a few key elements distinguish email copy from other forms of writing:

1) Make your email scannable

How do you read your own email? Do you pore over every word? Of course not. Neither do your constituents. If you're like most people, you tend to scan rather than read your messages.

Therefore make sure your message is “scannable.” That means:

  • Short sentences
  • Short paragraphs
  • Numerous links to your donation page
  • Graphic insets telling your reader what to do
  • Bullets
  • Selective use of bold and italics (reserve underlining for hyperlinks only)

Using these guidelines, your goal is to create a persuasive message that, in seven seconds or so, tells your constituent exactly what to do.

2) Keep it simple and short

In a direct mail fundraising letter, you have pages (sometimes as many as eight!) to let your story unfold. Not so with email!

Chances are good your constituents are a bit overwhelmed by the volume of email they receive, and a windy email will only add to the deluge. Keeping your message short and to the point is a service to your recipients. That means:

  • Presenting only one or two key points
  • Using as few words as possible to state your case
  • Avoiding the history of your appeal (this is no time for background info)

3) Keep the medium in mind

Email tends to be more casual than print. That means a more personal, less formal tone is appropriate and even expected. For example:

  • Salutations and closings are typically more relaxed. A letter might begin with “Dear Ms. Stanionis,” while an email would start with “Hello Madeline."
  • Email copywriters tend to use more colloquial terms. Direct mail copy might say, “We were truly overwhelmed by the generous response to our request.” In email, that translates to, “Wow! You overwhelmed us (and that’s hard to do)!"
  • An up-to-the-minute style of writing is also appropriate. In direct mail language: “It was lovely to celebrate our anniversary with you last month.” In email: “I’m writing this at midnight, just getting home after the anniversary party. Whew! What a night.”

In this article I've highlighted a few subtle ways in which writing email is different from other forms of writing. Still, good writing is good writing: specific, clear, and forceful. Email hasn’t changed that a bit!

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