Charity Begins in the Inbox

I received an email appeal from Blue Cross, the animal welfare charity this week. They were launching their 2010 Xmas catalogue, and it was the usual combination of fluffy kittens, beseeching brown eyes, and the un-missable opportunity to send “Merry Meerkats” Christmas cards to all of my friends and family this year!

However, my professional interest also meant that I subjected the email to a quick critique, and the first thing that struck me was the lack of an unsubscribe link. Let’s ignore the fact that industry legislation dictates that all marketing emails should have one, and focus for the time being on simply wondering if Blue Cross realises how badly this simple omission might be affecting their fund raising efforts ? While their intentions are unquestionably worthy, sometimes consumers have a change of heart about wanting to receive marketing emails. And when they do, if they can’t find an unsubscribe link, they are going to hit the junk button instead.

From there, it’s a vicious circle. Spam complaints degrade the sender’s reputation metrics. Or even worse – they get blocked. Either way, that’s less emails in the inbox. Which in turn means less emails opened, less clicks generated, and less conversions to sale. And ultimately meaning less funds in the coffers to try and find homes for all of those poor animals who are currently in their care, and for whom finding a loving new home would be the best Christmas present ever.

Blue Cross is missing some other tricks as well:

• When you sign up to receive their emails, they ask for your forename. So why does the resulting email then address me as “Dear Supporter” ? Especially for a charity, a strong relationship with its members is vital, and good personalisation is an easy win in this regard.

• The large single image that forms the top third of the email is roughly the same size as your average preview pane. So guess what the average recipient is going to see when they receive one of these emails, and images have yet to be enabled ( there is no request to be added to trusted senders list, by the way ). That’s right – nothing ! Not good when you are trying to steal a march in the recognition stakes.

• They should also think about trying to get their email program certified ( it isn’t at present ). Some of the large certification vendors such as Return Path offer free certification to charities, and this confers big benefits in terms of getting onside with the likes of Hotmail and Yahoo!, and automatic image enablement is a major driver in obtaining improved response rates.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking Blue Cross. They are an extremely worthy organisation, and deserve every penny of support that they generate. But as an e-marketer, my experience of charities is that they will spend the bare minimum possible when it comes to their email campaigns. Unfortunately, as with so many aspects of life, penny wise can equate with pound foolish, and this would seem to be the case here. As I’ve explained above, the application of just a smidgen of email best practice would go a long way to improving the performance of these campaigns, and ultimately that is going to mean more funds in the coffers to help them achieve the exceptionally noble cause that they represent.

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About Guy Hanson

Guy has spent more than 20 years working in various aspects of marketing and data management. His current employment with Return Path’s professional services team represents a natural fit - providing response consulting solutions to a broad range of international clients to optimise the performance of their email marketing programmes. Guy is a regular contributor to the EM press and a frequent speaker at major industry events. He has also led the delivery of numerous whitepapers, including the DMA’s Email Marketing Best Practice Guidelines.