This week, Thomas Gensemer, the online campaign strategist for the Obama campaign raised an uproar in the Nonprofit world when speaking in London he advised charities to ditch e-mail newsletters, calling them a waste of time. He said that short, personalized e-mail messages to supporters that offer clean instructions for participation are a more effective online strategy.
Third Sector and Philanthropy Today reported on this, Twitter is aflutter with posts about the subject and it is a topic for popular discussions on LinkedIn. Social Media and nonprofit bloggers are writing about the topic just as I am doing right now. Comments at Philanthropy Today from nonprofits state strongly that email newsletters are especially effective for small and locally based nonprofits.
Philanthropy Today Article and Comments
So which is it? I think the answer is both. Let’s start by looking at some objective data. Convio recently completed its second annual benchmarks study. It did find that web usage and revenue continue to grow. However, it also found that email open rates have declined from 22% in just one year to 14%. “Email fatigue” is causing people to seek new techniques to connect with supporters.. A few years ago I opened almost every email newsletter I received. Now I get so many that I open a small percentage - hmmm… maybe about 14% - and most of those I skim rather than really read.
Sean Stannard-Stockton at Tactical Philanthropy had a great blog post last week - which was being retweeted like mad on Twitter - on using Twitter as a “filter.” I was surprised and honored to be listed as one of the people on his filter that he reads all the time. Ah, but I digress….. The point being that today we all are on information overload, and a good way to handle this is to have your own filtering system. Some social Media tools, especially Twitter, are excellent filtering tools.
Tactical Philanthropy on Information Filtering
I think that Thomas Gensemer was too quick to dismiss email newsletters but I also agree that we should be conscious of changing trends. Short, one topic emails can supplement the longer multi-topic one. Titles like “Nonprofit A Monthly Newsletter” are more likely to be deleted than “Nonprofit A Receives Award for Outstanding Program” or “Join Us in for an Evening to Remember.”
I’ve been thinking about this as it pertains to my own newsletter. I used to feature a long two page article on one subject as a pdf attachment. I get great feedback on these articles and I know that some people appreciate them. But I now try to alternate with shorter, newsier emails for those people who respond better to that format.
It is not time yet to throw out the email newsletter but it is time to update your whole online approach. Integrating the enewsletter with Social Media and introducing short, focused emails may be a good start.
Both Forrester Research and Pew Research have recently released studies which show that Baby Boomers are very active consumers of socially created content. They leave their opinions on Web sites and join social networks. If you think that this Social Media stuff is for reaching people in their 20’s, think again. It is becoming the way to reach that all important Boomer generation too.
For a great article with additional great links on this subject, visit Beth’s Blog:
Beth's Blog: How Your Nonprofit Can Reach Baby Boomers with Social Media
I hope you'll leave you comments on this subject. It will make for a great discussion.
Consider my Social Networking for Nonprofits workshop on March 20th. I’ll post on that soon.