Spinach shows the power of triggered email

Yes, spinach.  MIT engineers have used nanotechnology to create a type of spinach that can send emails.  If the spinach detects a compound found in explosives in the soil, it emits a signal that’s picked up by an infrared camera, which then emails scientists.

Or, in other words, spinach and MIT engineers have discovered the power of the triggered email.  Rarely is there an opportunity to be more relevant to your donor/constituent.  We go through contortions to create urgency with matching gift, annual funds, and such, but triggered emails have it naturally.  They relate either to something that a user just did or something important with their donor/member status.

And they work.  Experian data shows that triggered welcome emails have five times the click-through rate and eight times the revenue per email.  And they have more than five times as much revenue than a bulk welcome because of their timeliness.

So where should be considering triggered emails?

Sign-ups. This is any sort of sign-up: first donation, new subscriber, download, interest in volunteering, signing up for an event (for the before- or aftertimes), becoming a member, becoming a sustainer.  Beyond the initial confirmation and thank you, triggered emails can go beyond like a mini (or maxi) welcome series, where the welcome is to the mode of supporting.

New activities for previous supporters.  This is different from someone who is coming in new.  If your volunteer became a donor, donor became a sustainer, member signed up for an event, or the like, you need a different set of triggered emails from someone coming in anew.  If you confuse the two, you risk treating someone who has been with you for years as if they dropped out of the clear blue sky or assuming knowledge about your organization that new supporters don’t have.

Lapses.  Any potential lapses in membership or credit card expiration give you an opportunity (and the obligation) to follow up with the person to see if you can bring them back in the fold.  The most common reaction to a lapsed communication is “oh, I didn’t realize!” and a well-crafted, non-guilt-inducing approach can retain a donor or supporter for the long term.

As to content, it’s easy to include an auto-responder.  It’s a bit harder to take full advantage of the full spectrum of triggered emails, including:

  • Reporting back — what impact did the thing that triggered you have?
  • Learning more — whether it’s personal, about why someone is a supporter, or a gauge of satisfaction, learning more about a supporter can guide future communications and help you fix issues, both for that supporter and globally.
  • Next content — if you like this webinar we had, you may also like this position paper.  If this action alert aroused your passions, you may also want to take this action alert or engage as a volunteer.  These types of emails work for Amazon; they can work for you.
  • And of course making the next logical ask, ideally after you’ve done most of the previous ones.

And, for extra donor bonus points, triggered postal mail is now easier to do than ever.  Not many nonprofits — or their vendors — are taking full advantage of what a data-powered supply chain can do be in front of their donors when the time is most right.

After all, now that even spinach can send triggered email, we want to be thinking about the next strategy…

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