5 email marketing mistakes charities make and how to steer clear

Email marketing remains a highly effective method for publicising and increasing donations for charities. When done well, they can engage readers to become life-long supporters of your cause.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few mistakes that are all-too-easy to make. In this article we take a look at five of the major errors that charities and businesses both make, and how they can be simply avoided.

1. Not asking for permission

Securing permission for your emails is more important than ever now that the transition to new GDPR regulations are underway.

If you don’t know already (though you definitely should), changes to GDPR will be law in 2018, so you have a few more months to get your organisation lined up for it.  These regulations have the recipient in mind, and focus on protecting their interests, as you should too.

As tempting as it can be to add various people from your address book to certain emails regardless of what they signed up to receive, this not only creates a bad impression but will also be a punishable offence.

Readers should be totally aware of what type of mail they will be getting from you at the point of sign-up, whether this is a monthly newsletter or a weekly donation-campaign update.

Being transparent from the beginning will create a better relationship between your and your reader. It’s equally important to make sure it’s straight forward for your subscribers to opt-out of your emails. If it’s unnecessarily complicated, subscribers will be more likely to complain or develop a worse perception of your charity.

2.  Not including a clear call-to-action

It’s great when you get every bit of information your reader needs into your email, but it’s still important to promote them to explore.

Call to actions within emails are a crucial tool for charities. Whether it’s donations, newsletter subscribers, blog readers or volunteers you’re after, you want it to be as easy as possible for readers to get involved. Linking to a sign-up form of FAQ’s page hugely increase the chance of an email recipient engaging because it’s straight-forward for them to do so.

Email campaigns also aren’t the best medium for conveying a complex message. If you have an email that’s unnecessarily heavy on text, there’s a high chance some readers will just ignore it. Instead, select the key information that you want the readers to know and make this highly visible within the email. With this, you can then offer the reader the chance to find out more if they choose.

Be careful though; while links are hugely useful, too many can be just as  much of a negative. A a general rule, the majority of your emails should contain between one and seven links, depending on the content.

It’s also worth considering having a dedicated landing page that continues the message within the email if possible. Building a dedicated landing page for your email marketing campaign makes it easy for readers to donate or volunteer for you.

3. Sending Image-only Based Emails

Only 33% of email subscribers have images turned on by default. This means many of your recipients may only see your email in its plain text version. For the readers who don’t choose to ‘display pictures’, your email will display as one long empty box that cannot be read.

There are times when image-only emails make sense. For charities it’s understood that images can be hugely emotive and offer a clear depiction of your cause. Realistically though, if the majority aren’t even seeing this emotive content, there’s only so useful it can be at encouraging donations.


Text-only emails have a 40% higher click through rate than picture emails; this is almost exclusively because it’s just more broadly accessed. That isn’t to say don’t use images at all, as there are positives to both sides. Just be weary if you do use images, make sure you have text which directly links to the image, so that those with images turned off are still able to follow. So as an overview:

  • Only use images where necessary.
  • Combine images with written content so everyone can follow your email.
  • Stick to appropriate image sizes so that the email isn’t too large.
  • Make your images hyperlinks to directly related content
  • Use a fitting image-title so that it’s clear, even with images not displayed.

If  you stick to these basic pointers, there’s no reason why you can’t successfully use images in your emails.

4. Sending the wrong content to the wrong people 

Personalisation is great until you’re sending half your contact list an email starting with ‘Hi First name…’.

It starts with your CRM, whether that’s Excel, Salesforce or your email marketing platform itself. It’s got to be neat and tidy before you start including data fields in your email content.

It’s easy to overestimate the value of your old database, downloaded from your CRM, that you haven’t cleaned out for years. If you haven’t managed to get certain information, such as first name or location, for some people, then it’s generally worth avoiding this level of personaliation. There is a certain level of trust that is lost when this happens. Any decent marketing platform will allow you to send test emails that utilize full personalisation rendering so that you don’t have to risk it.

Not including data fields, however.  doesn’t mean your emails have to be broad and unfriendly. You can personalise the user’s experience in other ways. One key way is by segmenting your contact lists so that you’re only sending people what they’re likely to be interested in. In mistake number one, we talk about sending to people you aren’t supposed to; while this one isn’t a legal matter, it’s important for conversions.

If you’re nurturing leads well, you should know at least a little about your prospects and donors. This might be their donation record, activity on your site or reception to your past emails. It’s key that you  use this information wisely to incorporate elements of personalisatio.

All in all. it’s more valuable to build a small list of engaged supporters than send aimlessly to a large following, who, in reality don’t read your communications or see them as spam.

5. Ignoring your reports

Finally, it’s vital to study campaign reports every single time you send out an email.

After doing all the right steps leading up to sending a campaign, it makes sense to track if it has actually worked effectively. Many email marketing platforms have extensive reporting built-in, saving you a lot of work. tt-mail is one example that offers a wide array of information, from open rates to links clicked and time spent.

If, for example, you have performed an email subject split test, you’re going to want to see which worked better for your readers. Done over time, you’ll be able to build up a much greater understanding of what your readers appreciate. As a result, you’re emails are likely to see more and more success.

Of course, there may be some trial and error in your campaigns, and checking your reports is a great way to see if something new has paid off.

Better yet, you can use analytics from one of your other platforms, such as your website or twitter, to inform what you try on your email marketing platform. Google, Facebook and Twitter all offer analytics for views and engagement.

An example of cross-examining analytics would be: if your Google analytics on your site tell you that you get most visitors at 3 p.m, this could be a good time to try sending your newsletter. This is because you know that your kind of audience are online then and viewing your content.


Copyright © 2017 Tech Trust.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License