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March 9th, 2020

You’ve done the hard work of collecting emails from donors, members, subscribers, event participants and activists. You’ve run them through your onboarding series, made multiple offers that you believe should keep them engaged …

… but they’re no longer opening or responding to your emails.

What can a fundraiser do to engage their audiences?

You can’t keep sending emails to non-engaged recipients—Google, Y!, AOL and other providers might start sorting your email as spam, which will ruin your reputation and your deliverability will decline along with your open rates. You can simply discontinue emailing to non-openers, losing them forever …

… or you can follow this proven 6-step strategy to engage your recipients. 

1. Segment your audience by engagement factors. This is the critical first step since you want your active audiences to remain engaged. In fact, most platforms like MailChimp and Engaging Networks have engagement factors setup by default, so this step is easy depending on your e-mail service provider (ESP). Take these segments that aren’t engaging out of your typical communication program and follow the next steps until they are re-engaged.

2. Develop a targeted communication calendar. Rather than immediately embarking on a re-engagement campaign, you can consider adjusting your communication strategy to this audience in the interim. By limiting your full schedule to those who are actively engaged with your e-mails, you will ensure deliverability for your campaigns that drive the most revenue. This approach should only be considered for programs with a robust communication schedule with a variety of messages.  

Look back over your past 90-120 days to determine which emails had the highest open rates from your engaged audience. Was it a limited-time offer, a free item or discount, a compelling story about your work? Was there a winning subject line that generated response, or a call to action that had a high click-through?

Take that knowledge and adjust the communications calendar for the audience prior to the point which they would fall into the reactivation campaign. This could be an audience that hasn’t opened an email in the last 6-12 months for example. Only send this audience e-mails that have the highest engagement keeping in mind that they will automatically flow back into the active email schedule once they open an e-mail. You can maximize the impact of these high engagement campaigns by re-deploying the email a few days later with a different subject line to the audience that did not open the e-mail.

All forms of marketing are measurable, so be sure to review your results by audience so you can accurately gauge the performance of your campaigns.

3. Segment further and finer. Rather than chasing all your non-responders, determine which ones would make the best long-term supporters. If they came in on an emergency appeal (flood, hurricane, disaster) or without a gift, their LTV will probably be lower and more difficult to re-engage. However, if they were a long-term or higher-dollar supporter, they are worth the effort to re-engage.

Once you’ve identified the best of the best remaining audience members, decide what items matter most to them, and mass-personalize a series of targeted emails to each audience. Were they long-term supporters? Then send a printable certificate that recognizes their loyalty, perhaps with a free gift offer. Were they engaged on a special project? Do a follow-up story with video links or other documentation on how your charity made an impact. Are they still engaged through direct mail support? Then place a reminder in their mailings to confirm their email address and to add your sender’s address as a trusted sender.

4. Ask their opinion. It’s always good to receive feedback and surveys are great ways to engage your audience.

Send out a mini survey, making sure that any promises you make can be fulfilled. Some supporters want less frequent email, so be sure that they can be suppressed to whatever options you propose.

Leave space for comments and suggestions, read the comments and reply to each one individually. Give the respondents an opportunity to reply to the email and not just leave comments. This option can help with your engagement factors and improve your reputation.

5. Kiss them goodbye … but nicely. Tried all the above and some are still not responding? Try a last gasp effort. Be careful if the recipients are still active donors or supporters in another channel. Nothing is worse than telling a current donor good-bye!

Couch your communication as “Want to continue receiving our emails?” or “Be sure to open this last email from me.” Many supporters want to remain active through other channels, especially special event participants, but are not that engaged in email. Honor their wishes, give them options for a more limited schedule, and then remove them from active communications. 

If possible, set up an automated reactivation campaign that will deploy to smaller segments daily instead of larger blasts on a weekly or monthly basis. For more details about re-engagement series be sure to check out Kelly’s blog. Incorporating all-text (no graphics) into this “drip” approach typically prevents email providers from placing your communications into the dreaded spam folder, yielding higher delivery in active inboxes. 

Using the tactics above, a recent three-part series for one of MarkeTeam’s clients generated a 30% re-engagement rate.

6. Review your results. All forms of marketing are measurable, so be sure to review your results by audience so you can accurately gauge the performance of your campaigns. What actions worked best? Can they be extended to additional audiences? Can the best actions be used as interventions at the 45-day or 60-day mark to keep audiences engaged? Are the successful actions repeatable and able to be set up automatically?

The hard work is developing a system that generates results. Once you have that under control, rolling it out on a regular basis takes much less time and effort!

Blog written by Andy Johnson | Vice President, Analytics