[Updated February 2018]
For most charities, most of the time, there are two dominant uses for email – keeping top of supporters’ minds with news updates, or pushing out specific targeted ‘calls to action’ (e.g. sign a petition; give an (additional) donation). These are often delivered in combination with other channels – and are ‘manual’ email processes.
What I mean by manual here is that they happen irrespective of what the supporter actually does, and run to a calendar of the charity’s own making.
They are gradually being superseded.
Email Automation for Charities
The strategic focus of most of our clients now is on delivering automated emails that respond to particular conditions and contexts. Email automation uses pre-coded ‘rules’ to send certain types of content to certain types of people, dependent upon their channel choices, relationship status and recent behaviour.
The screengrab below, from the IBM Watson Campaign Automation ESP (one of many such tools we use), illustrates the point. It shows a set of instructions to the email system to send an email when a user has: either responded to an email in a certain way OR searched for a certain item of your web-site, OR not bought anything for a certain period, AND has talked positively on social media OR followed your company AND visited your organisation’s web-site today.
It’s an elaborate, mythical example, but it tries to make a point.
The cultural shift underway here is seizmic for charities.
The Benefits of Automation
Instead of standing in the shoes of the appeal manager and spraying content out when funding needs dictate, automation empowers a fundraising planner to pre-assemble the supporter’s experience around their predictable individual needs. The content and calls to action they receive then happen when they are most relevant, and most easily actionable for the supporter.
In a test comparing one email sent instantly in response to cart abandonment, versus one sent 24 hours later, SeeWhy (now owned by SAP) found the instant email generated almost THREE times the revenue per email.
Once emails are automated, another benefit occurs too; there is space for reflection. This means time can then be devoted to observing and analysing actual supporter behaviour over the long haul – and designing effective tests to improve their experience.
In hard, financial terms, a recent content refinement to one of our clients’ automated donor emails extrapolates to a six figure revenue increase if repeated month by month. The benefit of making this small one-time change is now captured ‘automatically’ – prior to further, and continual improvement…
Delivering a Supporter Experience
This move to rule-based and/or responsive email also affects how a charity organises itself. In an increasingly automated marketing environment, the centre of a charity’s thinking ceases to be just about campaign ROI. For starters it becomes about increasing the underlying value OF supporters (their engagement and contribution – which then drive conversion, retention and activation).
But further on still, the core concern of the charity becomes about delivering, and innovating the experiential value FOR the supporter.
Its key value-creating activities are henceforth the management of its databases; the intelligent design of supporter experiences; and the imaginative personalisation of its engagement. Charities will increasingly need more people generating insight; more designing journeys; more producing content; and more coding rulesets. While less resource will be focused on manually constructed campaigns.
Charities are becoming data-dependent organisations that need to put data at the heart of their thinking.
Tim Kitchin is client service director and director of consulting at Copper, the digital marketing agency.