How to Coordinate Your Nonprofit’s Next Big Email Campaign

Okay gang! Who’s getting ready to send an email on behalf of their org?

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If there’s one project that unifies (or divides) departments most, it’s the email campaign. Volunteer managers, fundraisers, & program staff all have constituents to engage.

Even the ops staff don’t get a break here. They’re often the ones pulling those lists!

But whether this is your first campaign or your fiftieth, it doesn’t have to be chaos.  A good process never hurt nobody, and you’ll definitely need one to execute something this important.

There’s a method to this particular nonprofit madness. Let’s talk email.

The Challenge

Campaigns are a real lift. That’s because a successful email campaign requires 3 different buckets of work:

  • The Creative side – in the form of your messaging and media
  • The Technical side – like lists, segmentation, and tracking
  • The Management side – in the form of collaborators, proofreaders, last-minute-changers/EDs, and anyone else with a hand in getting this out.

Managing 3 different efforts towards one, harmonious result? Big challenge. That’s true whether you’re working with colleagues, or doing it all yourself.

Before You Start Planning

Like any project, start with goals. What is the action you want readers to take in your campaign?

It’s as simple as it sounds! Some common CTA’s (calls to action) are:

  • Getting readers to RSVP to an event
  • Getting them to click a link to a resource or article
  • Getting them to share something on social media
  • Persuading them to donate time or money

Then, focus on your audience. Who are the people you want to reach? Specifically, what is their relationship to your org and what is their level of engagement?

Once you’re clear on who you’re emailing & why, it’s time to get to planning.

How to Plan & Organize Your Nonprofit’s Email Campaign

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1. Start with your send date & work backwards.

First, figure out when you want to send that first email campaign. I find visuals helpful, so we’ll diagram each step of the planning process.

Email Campaign Planning Step 1: Target Send
My digital scrap paper for planning this email campaign. Step 1: start with your send date!

2. Throw in any additional emails.

Depending on the campaign, cultivation or follow-up emails may be necessary. That could be event reminders, additional donation CTAs, or thank you emails.

In my experience, these campaigns can be an after-thought. But planning for them in advance makes the entire process so much easier for everyone involved.

Email Campaign Planning Step 2: Follow Ups
In this example, let’s send a reminder email one week after our initial email.

3. Get your list needs in order.

The list is where many nonprofit peeps can go wrong. Here’s why.

  • You incorrectly assume your list is sitting somewhere, waiting to be used
  • You underestimate the complexity of your list requirements
  • You aren’t specific enough with your list requirements
  • Your list is a messy spreadsheet in desperate need of some TLC
  • Your list is full of people who have opted out or haven’t engaged in years

At the end of the day, good lists take time. So consider 3 dates when planning around lists: 1) when to request a list from your data person, 2) when you’d like it ready, and 3) when you need to schedule it in your email platform.

Email Campaign Planning Step 3: List requirements
Let’s say this is a fundraising email. I want to email donors who gave last year, but not this year (also known as LYBNTS). As long as my Database Manager Ethel gives me my list 5 days out, I’ll be golden.

3. Get a jump on content planning.

Even if other staff are responsible for writing the email, someone needs to handle the actual coordination. How does a message get from word doc draft to someone’s inbox?

Identify the milestones and add to your plan. Leave ample time for edits, revisions, and those last-minute (often ED-driven) pivots. 😂

Email Campaign Planning Step 4: Content Planning
The yellow dots show the different phases of the drafting process. My goal is to get a first draft shared with my team 2 weeks from send.

4. Don’t forget images & design.

Surely you weren’t going to send an email with just words! Photos, gifs and other media make emails more engaging to read.

But in some cases, they take time to collect. So link up with your design team, to see how much time they need to get those assets together. Then, add it to your timeline.

Email Campaign Planning Step 5: Media Planning
The pink dots on the timeline represent my media requests to our Marketing Manager, “Lucy.”

5. Include time to build & test your email.

Gang. Avoid building, testing and scheduling your email on your send date. It’s a stressful dance, ripe for mistakes if you end up rushing.

Instead, build those tasks into your timeline. Give yourself at least a few days before your target to compose the email in your ESP and send tests to stakeholders.

Email Campaign Planning Step 6: Build & Test Your Email
You officially have a campaign plan in place. May the email odds be ever in your favor.

6. Finally, decide on a system for organizing your tasks.

I’ve drawn out the plan above, just so I could illustrate the thought process. But I’m more of a spreadsheet gal. Here’s how I might’ve actually organized my tasks:

Use a system that works for you. It can be paper, a Google Drawing, or even your email calendar. As long as it helps you stay focused!

*10-22-2020 Edited to add: Hello! I’m still a spreadsheet gal. But these days, I love using tools like Asana to organize my projects. I’m working on a video that shows how I’d organize an email project there. If you want to see it, subscribe and you’ll hear when it’s ready!

To conclude – an organized campaign is a happy one.

Email planning is a mystery if you’ve never done it, and typically a headache once you start.

But success is a matter of organization. As long as you treat each email campaign like the project that it is – with tasks, deadlines and assignments – you’re setting yourself up for a much more pleasant experience.

What tips do you have for organizing an email campaign? Share in the comments!

Share your thoughts!