How to Coordinate Your Org’s Next Big Email Campaign

Getting ready to send out an email out on behalf of your nonprofit?

If there’s one project that unifies (or divides!) departments most, it’s the email campaign. Volunteer managers, fundraisers, & program staff all need to email their constituents. Even the ops staff don’t get a break, as they’re often the ones putting those lists together for us!

But whether this is your first campaign or your fiftieth, this 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 with Planning a Campaign

Sending a message on behalf of your org is a lift. That’s because regardless of your role, a successful email campaign requires 3 different buckets of work:

  • The Creative side, in the form of your messaging and media
  • The Technical side, when it comes to list requirements and segmenting
  • The Management side, in the form of collaborators, proofreaders, last-minute-changers/EDs, and anyone else with a hand in getting this thing out.

Managing 3 different efforts towards one, harmonious result is a challenge – regardless of whether you’re coordinating the staff responsible, or doing it all yourself.

Where to Start

Like any project, start with the goal of the email. What is the action you want readers to take?

This question really is as simple as it sounds. Some common outcomes to shoot for:

  • Getting readers to RSVP to an event
  • Getting them to click a link to a web 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; donor, volunteer, prospective supporter, constituent?

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


1. Start with your send date.

Figure out when you want to send that email, and try giving yourself 2-4 weeks lead time if you can! Also, make sure your date is flexible in the event you fall a few days behind.

*Tip*: Keep in mind any time sensitive actions that you’re asking of your audience – like RSVP’ing to an event – and use those deadlines as your compass.

I like drawing out my project plans, so for this example, that’s what we’re doing.

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

2. Set targets for any follow-up emails, too.

Depending on the ask, follow-up emails may be helpful (or necessary) for your overall strategy. That includes reminder emails (ex. donation reminders) and acknowledgements (ex. thanking someone for attending your event).

Often times, these campaigns happen as an after-thought. But by figuring this out in advance, you can streamline your entire process.

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 – including deadlines & requirements.

Next to the actual email, the list is where many nonprofit peeps go wrong.

Why? Well typically, one of three things happens:

  • You incorrectly assume your list is sitting somewhere, waiting to be used.
  • You underestimate your list requirements, much to the chagrin of your data person.
  • You don’t have the spreadsheet know-how to segment (here are some tips for that!) and you didn’t give your data person enough of a heads up!

Don’t procrastinate on this one, especially if you’re depending on someone else to get that list together for you. Consider 3 list dates for your project plan: 1) when you need to submit your request by, 2) when you need it in your possession, and 3) when it needs to be set up in your email service provider.

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.

Maybe other staff in your org are responsible for writing the email. In that case, you’re likely the person helping to coordinate those revisions – like shuffling drafts back and forth between teams.

In that case, make sure you leave ample time for edits, revisions, and more revisions! This is often the most time-consuming aspect of a campaign, due to how many cooks are in the kitchen. Prepare to consolidate everyone’s edits, relay that to your writers, re-circulate the email five more times, and ultimately learn that your executive director wants to change the whole thing anyway. 😂

Email Campaign Planning Step 4: Content Planning
Here, my goal is to share the first draf of my emailt 2 weeks out from the send date – and to finalize it within 1 week.

But wait…what if you’re the person writing the email? Well, welcome to the multiple hats club! Here are the 3 things you’ll need to get this right:

  1. A clear call to action. What are you asking people to do? Check out this piece by the Nonprofit MarCommunity, who went out and asked a bunch of nonprofit professionals what makes for a great CTA
  2. A message that captures the essence of your org’s work. Don’t assume that everyone on your list knows what your org does, or even how!
  3. A message written in your org’s “voice”. Here’s a great explanation from CauseVox on how to figure this out.

4. Don’t forget images!

Surely you weren’t going to send an email with just words! Photos, gifs and other multimedia make your emails more engaging to readers. Link up with your design/marketing staff to ensure that you’re including images that will catch someone’s attention and really speak to your nonprofit’s mission.

And throw that process on your timeline while you’re at it, too.

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 and test your email.

Most of us don’t have a designer on staff who can build emails for us. So leave plenty of time – at least a few days – to arrange your message and media files on your email template.

And make sure to circulate that final email to your team before hitting send! While you’re at it, double check that all your links redirect to the proper place. You don’t want to be that person who needs to send the ‘oops’ email after a big mess-up (something yours truly has had to do!).

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. Create a system for organizing your to-do’s.

I’ve drawn out the plan this way, just so I could illustrate the 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 youn. It can be paper, a digital drawing program like what I used here (Apple Paint, if you’re curious) or even your email calendar. As long as it helps you stay focused and on task!

*Tip*: If you’re into apps and third-party software, you can also try project management tools like Trello or Asana. Asana lets you invite staff members to your team, so that you can assign them tasks & deadlines (but full disclosure, I don’t know the costs for that system).

And there ya have it!

Email campaign planning is a mystery if you’ve never done it, and typically a headache once you start. Depending on the size of your org and the capacity, you may find yourself coordinating, or completely overseeing, all the moving pieces!

But as long as you treat each email campaign like the project that it is – with deadlines, tasks and assignments – you’re setting yourself up for a successful campaign execution.

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

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