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Email Evangelism: ministries are using advanced email tactics.

Three years ago, the leaders at Revive Our Hearts (ROH) women's ministry decided to take its growing Internet program to the next level. The religious programming for women, part of Life Action Ministries, based in Buchanan, Mich., was looking for a better way to integrate what its audience heard on Nancy Leigh DeMoss' popular radio show with deeper, more insightful information on its Web site.

According to Aaron Paulus, interactive media director for Life Action Ministries which rolled out ROH's email strategy three years ago, the ministry started simply by emailing transcripts of the radio program to interested listeners. What Paulus and others found was that there was quickly an interest from its audience to receive more e-communications, which were also forwarded to friends.

"We decided we needed to help them go deeper with the resources on our Web site and truly connect with that day's content," Paulus said. "We started with our flagship e-newsletter, The Daily Connection, and now offer several different e-newsletters that women can subscribe to."

Of course, the e-newsletters that are distributed on a daily and weekly basis all link back to the ROH Web site. And there's not a page on the site that doesn't somehow remind viewers that they can subscribe to these e-newsletters. All of this is used to help women "go deeper" with the ministry.

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"Our email strategy is to get them back to the Web site and challenge them spiritually," Paulus said. "We want to be talking to them on an ongoing basis and encourage them and invest in them long term."

Of course, the next step is to encourage these women (mostly mothers with children) to become even more involved with the ministry, hopefully at a donor level. "Before we send our printed year-end solicitation piece, we send out an email--a 'coming to your mailbox soon' type communication," he said. "We also include a video link in that email that highlights our year-end needs."

Five to 10 days after prospective donors receive the printed piece, they are sent a follow-up email making sure they received the mailed piece. If they didn't, there is a link provided to download the piece from the Web site. Both the printed piece and the email communications are consistently branded.

Paulus said it's hard to determine how much of the organization's fundraising can be attributed specifically to email strategy since ROH uses a variety of strategies to promote online donations. But he said growth rates in general for the email campaigns have been very promising. In 2005, ROH doubled the number of email subscribers, and in 2006 and 2007, ROH experienced more than a 50-percent increase in subscribers each year. The ministry is on track to do the same in 2008, Paulus said.

BRINGING THEM BACK FOR MORE

It's no surprise that most email campaigns are used to drive readers back to organizations' Web sites. Chad Nykamp, director of marketing for Salem Web Network, said the company distributes daily and weekly emails to its 2.6 million subscribers--all to drive traffic back to its Web site. The Network, a for-profit group representing the largest faith-based audiences on the Internet, oversees popular sites, such as Crosswalk.com, OnePlace.com and Christianity.com.

Nykamp said his company uses a software solution to send out the many e-newsletters distributed each day. "It's my opinion that email is an important enough part of an organization's mission, that it's worth paying to do it the right way. There are so many good email platforms that are inexpensive that offer decent tracking and measurement tools. Study after study shows that email is one of the least expensive, but most effective marketing tools out there. It's such an asset, that you want to do it right."

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He recommended organizations research vendors through Clickz.com or the Direct Marketing Association. The most important thing is to find a platform that allows for testing and measuring of everything, including the email layout, subject line and "from" line.

Ray Pokorny, vice president of Web and interactive marketing for the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews (IFCJ), said the nonprofit not only tests and measures its email campaigns, but has also been spending more time analyzing different segments of email recipients.

IFCJ aims to promote the understanding between Jews and Christians and to build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns. The organization's e-newsletter campaign is distributed to more than 100,000 subscribers and is used to help educate readers about issues in Israel and raise funds to help address the concerns. One major push in recent years has been to raise funds to help renovate bomb shelters in the southern Israel city of Sderot, which has been under the attack of terrorist rockets fired from Gaza.

Pokorny said IFCJ's e-newsletter is used to raise funds for humanitarian needs, help Christians better understand the Jewish faith and mobilize grassroots efforts across the country.

"We might feature a certain news story and include a link where they can support that particular outreach through an online donation," he said.

Through its e-marketing efforts, Pokorny said IFCJ has seen continued growth in its online giving program during the past three years. For this year's first quarter, the organization experienced a 22-percent increase in online giving. Pokorny attributes much of that growth to the work his team has done on analyzing donors' online and offline giving patterns.

"We've been looking at different segments of our email subscribers and how they're giving," he said. Interestingly, some of the readers who enjoy receiving the e-newsletter, do not make their donation online. They prefer to send it the traditional way, by regular mail, he said.

Pokorny said his team sends multiple variations of the e-newsletter based on the analytics research. "We look at how they responded to something in the past few weeks, and we try to go back and target additional messages in a slightly different way."

IFCJ has also used its e-tools to survey its constituents on how well they understand current issues affecting Israel. In a recent survey, where more than 5,000 people responded, it was found that approximately 90 percent of the e-newsletter readers understood that the Israeli city of Sderot had been the target of missile attacks.

To continue growing its e-communications program, Pokorny said it's important to find ways to add to the recipient database. The group uses everything from Web site links, "Forward to a Friend" strategies, search engine marketing and banner ads to capture email addresses.

"For the past 12 to 18 months, we've been very intentional about capturing an email address at every level," he said. "We want a postal and online connection with all of our constituents."

Increasing Your Open Rates

Keeping email addresses current can make or break an email campaign. But Chad Nykamp with the Salem Web Network said getting the reader to actually open the e-newsletter and engage with the content is priority, too. Some of his tips include:

* Using a person's name in the "To" line, which can increase response by as much as 10 percent;

* Strategically think about the "From" line since 70 percent of readers make their decision to open an email based on the "From" line and subject line. Use the name of the organization or a well-known name from the organization in the "From" and subject lines (this can increase open rates by 32 percent to 60 percent)

* Design for the preview pane and tell "who" and "what" at a glance;

* Keep subject lines to 50 to 65 characters and avoid words, such as "help," "reminder" and "percent off" words that won't trip the spare filter but will negatively affect open rates;

* Don't repeat yourself in the subject line since this causes dramatic drops in open rates;

* Be straight-forward and avoid flashy phrases in the subject line. Don't use all caps or exclamation points;

* Questions are often the best-performing subject lines; and,

* Test subject lines over and over. This is truly the only way to determine what works and what doesn't work.

Improving Email Readership and Click-Throughs

Aaron Paulus, interactive media director with Life Action Ministries, provides these tips to create successful e-marketing campaigns:

* Design Graphically-Appealing Emails

Brand your emails graphically with your site. Include strategic photos throughout the emails. With the Revive Our Hearts emails, he also designed themes for each season to keep things graphically pleasing.

* Keep It Simple

One of the goals is not to overwhelm the reader with too much information in the email. "We try to keep our emails short, highlighting information and allowing them to click through to read the full report or story. We found that lengthy emails overwhelmed the reader," he said.

* Make Your Goal/Objective Of The Email Prominent

"For fundraising emails, we cut most of the clutter and made the one or two things we wanted to say to the reader very clear. Most people skim through emails so you need to make your message 'jump out' to the reader," he said.

* Test Subject Lines

Create two small segmentations and send out the same email with two different subject lines. "We often do this and analyze the results to determine which email has the best open rate. We then use that subject line to distribute the full email campaign," he said.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT
Author:Ghidotti, Natalie
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Jun 1, 2008
Words:1552
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