Email marketing software makes it easier to keep in touch with the people you need to, be they volunteers, funders, customers or service users. For small audiences and short and factual messages, your traditional email, sent as a blind copy to each of the recipients (for data protection) may well suffice. But email marketing software enables you to add professional looking visual cues and messages to your mail so that they’re more inviting and quicker to comprehend. And, as an added advantage, they let you see who reads them and who went on to view any action links that you provided. Furthermore, you can address each reader by name, so it’s like more like sending an individual email to every reader. Much friendlier. Here are some examples of different ways to use them:

  • For regular newsletters, perhaps different versions to funders, volunteers and service users.
  • Announcement of forthcoming events, with links to sign up
  • A fundraising campaign for a specific purpose, with a donation link

They say that pictures paint a thousand words, so short messages supported by appropriate visual cues can have more of the impact than long paragraphs of text. As part of a multiple channel strategy, to include website and social media, you can attract new interest in your cause and then retain them their through regular contact.

Our research

As with other software described in this resource, the basic functions of email marketing software are often supplemented by special features that relate to a particular circumstance. For example, if you’re wanting to build a large following and then sell them things by email, some software packages will have extra features to support online trading. For our research though we focussed on the basic requirements that we described in the introduction and, in particular, on software that has a well specified version that is free for the long term. We’ve then set out the results in the attached table. Further explanation about each of the columns will add to your understanding of the key software features that you’ll need.

As all of the software packages included have free versions, why not pick one or two and then try them out?

The spreadsheet headings

Drag and drop editing. This is what makes the software easy to use. The software provides content blocks and a simple editing facility for each block. It’s called drag and drop because that’s how it works. On the screen will be the draft email you’re working on and then adjacent to it, there will be the list of content blocks. You then click on the block you need, drag it and drop into the draft email, by clicking, holding and releasing your mouse or pad button, and then edit. They’re likely to include:

  • Text only
  • Image only
  • Text and image together
  • Video
  • Section dividers
  • Social media links
  • Action button.

Templates: Some software versions offered some simple templates for things like newsletters and announcements although most charge for access to the full range of designs. From experience the free templates, where provided are likely to meet the needs of most of our members.

Audience segmentation: If you want to keep in touch with more than one type of contact (for example volunteers and service users) you’ll need the software to make it simple to identify them separately when you’re writing to them. Some software achieves this by segmenting contacts into separate audiences and some by equipping individual contact records with tags so that you can send to all the contacts in your audience that contain a particular tag.

Campaign Report: At the very basic level, you should be able to see all the contacts you sent the email to, which ones if any failed to reach their destination, which contacts opened the email and which contacts clicked on any action tabs that you included. That way you can review the success of each campaign and know who is taking regular interest.

Landing Page: Sometimes you may want to run a campaign where you need to provide more information than can reasonably be put into an email. If you have a website, you have the option of including a website page for the campaign that you can direct to from the email. If you haven’t a website, or if your website isn’t easy to edit or if you just want to keep the whole campaign separately, the landing page facility is a useful one; it allows to you to quickly generate an appropriate page via the email software.

Sign up forms: This facility enables you to design an online sign up form for people to use subscribe to your emails, which automatically updates your contact database in the email software. The link to the sign up form can be added to your website or social media.

Upload current subscribers: If you’ve already built up a reasonable sized audience for our emails it would be a shame to have to get them all to sign up again. We think most of the software we looked would allow that, even where it wasn’t clear but it’s something to check, using the help facility on the particular software site, before you proceed.

Surveys: It can be useful to be able to design surveys to enable feedback from contacts. In some of the software packages, this is straightforward to do. The survey is hosted by the software provider and all the results are available to you though the software. We even use this for registration portals so it’s a very versatile tool.

SMS: It is technically feasible to run your campaign by text, if you think that would better suit your particular audience. This is because most email software generates an online version of your email so that, if the recipient prefers, the content can be viewed in a web browser. So you could just send the link to the page to your audience by text. However, few of the email packages that we looked at have that available at the moment. Take a look at Sendinblue if you’re really interested in this approach.

GDPR compliance built in: Even when you’re a not-for-profit organisation, the GDPR legislation sees this type of communication as marketing, so you need to take care. Where compliance is built into the software your database editing rights will be automatically limited so that you don’t break the rules, enforce qualifying sign up processes and will automatically include and enforce the unsubscribe option for contacts who want to use it. It would be nice to think that all software would take care of this automatically but in some cases it’s not clear and we strongly recommend checking with the provider before use.

Free version limits and Next level Pricing: Developers understandably set limits on how much you can use the free version before you have to sign up for their paid service. Many are sufficiently generous for small organisations to never need to pay but all they’re all different so we’ve summarised the activity levels for the free version and the cost of the next level if you decide you need to upgrade.

Feature Comparision

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