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How to Write Advocacy Email: Email Usability

I have poked around some of the online literature on email formats, spam, etc. (Past Email Related Posts ) I even picked up Jacob Nielsen's study on "Email Newsletter Usability" (A good review but not worth the $$$$ for advocacy groups). I think there are a few great resources out there for the nonprofit community that focus on using email to build "high" touch feel of an organization. (OneNW has lots of good insights)

However, the uses and success of email is always changing. Today, spam is choking inboxes of even the most casual users. It seems like email strategy needs to change too.

Nielsen does hit some gems in his latest work. First, new insight is the email is a "burden" perspective. Means that advocacy groups should only use the email to communicate key information..If you wouldn't pick up the phone and tell someone about the content or you wouldn't pay to send the information don't abuse your readers because sending fluff because email is free. Nielsen suggests considering email is a "burden" on the reader. (Unfortunately, those that send email don't often think about that point before they set up the monthly spam.) This advise starts to run counter to some opinions I used to have about using email as the always on "connection" between the groups and members. (I also look forward to comments that suggest that nonprofit relationship mail is treated "better".)

Content and message drive the success of the communication but here are some tips that might be useful.

Email Tips:
1. Most valuable "property" is the (FROM) and (SUBJECT)
2. Set up (FROM) addresses that are informative (<30secondactions>, <2min2HelpRivers> etc. Can still be from your email address but play around with the name of the FROM also personal messages are really good)
3. Very Clear and Specific Subject Line (Never generic like important, Call to actions..newsletter 2, etc.)
4. People seem to like conformation emails. (whenever they do something .Sign up, etc)
5. Tell folks what they want to know first. (We need you to look at issue X for 2 minutes with us. We want you to Y).
6. Include full contact information from sender.
7. Design the content to be scanable top lines are key. Yet also offer complete thoughts (link to additional and backup support)
8. Very Brief and To the Point
9. Make sure the email answers key questions that the content might raise
10. In general email Newsletters have very low open and read rates

Email Use and Tricks Rules:
1. Subscribe on your website
2. Tell a Friend on Your Website
3. Send A Confirmation Email
4. Make subscribe Easy and unsubscribe Easy

From Nielsen: "A striking conclusion from the study is that processing email is a stressful burden on people. Users frequently told us that they were too busy to deal with certain email messages and that they considered any fluff in messages a waste of time. When users "check their email," they're dealing with multiple requests for their time, including messages from their boss, colleagues, and family. People just want to be done with most email, and quickly move past anything that is not absolutely essential.

Gideon Rosenblatt's Blog: Email usability