But now that email’s taken over from physical mail, how can non-profit organisations still get their donors to do their marketing for them?
I used to receive hundreds of charity address labels. Puppies, kittens, seals, ponies would stare balefully at me from their printed sheets, exhorting me to drop a few coins in their direction.
Such mailings work for two simple reasons.
1) A ‘gift’ such as a sheet of address labels, a key ring or badge aims to set up a mental accounting imbalance in the recipient. The way to right the scales again is to make a donation – to assuage your guilt at using a free product with a few shiny coins.
2) The address labels bear the logo, name and website of the donating organisation. Therefore as they pass through the mail system, get handled by the post person and opened by the recipient, they have enormous pass-on value for the brand. The original recipient of the labels becomes a distribution house for charity recognition.
But there’s a problem with free labels. Email.
As more of the world’s population get online, the volume of hard copy mail decreases. We’ve seen it here in the UK, with the Royal Mail having to diversify its offering as people send each other pictures of fluffy bunnies between Gmail accounts rather than post boxes.
People aren’t sending physical mail as much these days. So they’re not using your labels as much.
This makes your labels a cost overhead, rather than a revenue raiser.
And your spontaneous brand recognition might not be as high.
Don’t panic. There is a solution. Email labels
No, stop laughing. This is serious.
Every email has a footer facility, no matter what provider or client.
As a non-profit hoping to raise donations, this is your very own goldmine.
What I suggest you do is this:
Decide how you’re going to use this rich seam of possibility.
Are you going to produce a graphic which is a bumper sticker – e.g. Stop Animal Testing! – or a graphic which allows your supporter to show that they’ve actually done something for your cause?
Design up your banner accordingly.
Don’t make it too big. Remember that people use different screen resolutions. About the size of a stick of Wrigley’s gum held up against the screen might be just about right.
Write a few short user guides.
Make sure that you provide step by step instructions so that your supporters know how to add an email footer to all of their messages. You’ll need to decide if this is a flat image or whether it’s a clickable image link. If it’s a clickable link, make sure that you provide the link – and my advice would be to link to a specific page on your site that’s only accessible from the email link (this way you can track uptake).
For best effect, provide these guides on your website with screen grabs. If you don’t have time, then here are some links to online resources by client: Thunderbird | Outlook | Outlook Express | Hotmail | Yahoo! | Gmail
(If you want to get really clever, you can give your recipients HTML code which will pull the image live from your website, allowing you to change and update the images as/when you need to. You’ll need a different set of instructions for this, but it’s possible and will open up incredible possibilities for your organisation…)
Upload the banner and instructions to your website.
And, in essence, that’s it. How you then choose to market these to your supporters is up to you.
I believe that this simple, nearly free, approach will leverage awareness and donations for two primary reasons.
Reason 1: In the same way that physical address labels raise your profile, these will too.
Just think of the number of emails that most people send and receive a day. Now imagine how many times your image and message could be seen as it travels across the web.
All without costing you a single penny.
Reason 2: Social capital theory.
Including something like this in an email footer allows the sender to transmit part of their story with the content of the email. It’s a prop for part of their social capital – their standing within society as seen by others.
Further more, this social capital element has another strand – endorsement.
People used address labels because they were free and inoffensive. They fulfilled a need and a function pretty well.
Having an email footer implies endorsement over utility.
If you get someone who is at the centre of a local network and they’re prepared to take five minutes of their time to include an email footer banner for you, they’re endorsing your organisation, your goals and your achievements. Every single email they send from their societal niche will be endorsing you.
This is far, far more powerful than sticking an address label on an envelope.
So there we have it. Over to you.
I’ve thrown the idea out there, and I’m not charging you for it. That would be unfair.
What I want in return is for a non-profit to try this approach for six months and let me know how it went.
I know it will work. I know it has the potential to widen networks, deepen engagement and connect more individuals with your cause.
I know it can replace the physical address labels.
I just want you to prove it. After all, what will it cost you?