April 19, 2011
Case Study

Email Marketing: Double-send strategy boosts donations 55%

SUMMARY: It happens all the time. A person goes through their inbox, reads a subject line and deletes the message. Had the subject line been different, would the person have opened, clicked and converted?

See how one nonprofit garnered 55 percent more donations by sending an email twice -- first to all subscribers, and then with a new subject line to subscribers who did not open. Check out the results metrics from both messages.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

The year was coming to a close and the marketers at Avera McKennan Foundation were hoping to end December with a few more donations.

The nonprofit organization raises money for Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. For this effort, its marketers wanted to request funds for the Walsh Family Village, which provides housing for families of patients receiving care at the hospital.

Although the foundation had little experience with email marketing, Jennifer Dumke, Marketing Specialist, Avera McKennan Foundation, had experience with direct mail. She had seen one follow-up strategy achieve good results in direct mail, and felt it could work with email, as well.

"We've really learned that we have to do follow-ups on everything and send a second message, especially with direct mail," Dumke says. "With direct mail, though, it can be scary because you don't know who opened the first letter when you're sending the second."

But with email, the marketers could easily see who did not open the first message. Could she improve results by sending a second message to subscribers who did not open the first?


The marketers crafted an email campaign that leveraged video to request donations. After sending the first email, they planned to give the message a new subject line and send it again to subscribers who did not initially open.

Here are the steps they followed:

Step #1. Create a short video

The marketers had an uplifting video describing the story of a family who stayed at the Walsh Village. The foundation had never before used the video in a fundraising effort, but its audience had shown interest in similar material, Dumke says.

The marketers edited the video down to 57 seconds, just long enough to explain the family's situation, how the Village helped, and the family's appreciation (see useful links below).

The video had two benefits, Dumke says. First, the story illustrated a tangible example of how her organization helps families and what donators could expect their funds to support. Second, its appearance in the email would encourage subscribers to interact, she says.

"Anytime you can get more interaction involved with an appeal, the better."

Step #2. Create solicitation email

The email's copy also illustrated the tangible benefits of making a donation. The email noted that the average stay at the Village costs a family $48.50 per day. Subscribers were encouraged to help provide a family with a single "night at the Village" (see creative samples below). Rather than making a blind donation, subscribers could see exactly what they were supporting.

- Year-end timing

December is a popular time to make donations. The holiday spirit makes people more charitable and many people are trying to meet year-end deadlines for tax write-offs, Dumke says.

With this in mind, the team sent the message on Dec. 16, with two weeks left in the year, and incorporated Christmas into the message. The email included:

o Subject line: "Will you help?"
o Mention of Christmas in the text
o Gift-bow in the banner
o Video screen shot hyperlinked to video landing page
o Hyperlinked call-to-action in text, below the fold
o Green button to donate, above the fold

Step #3. Create a video landing page

The campaign's email featured a screenshot that linked to a landing page hosting the video (see creative samples below). The landing page included the following:

o Same banner image as the email, creating a visual connection
o Headline: Your Gift Supports "A Night at the Village"
o Two-sentence description of the effort
o Embedded video of the family's story
o Button to donate

The green button to donate was located directly next to the video. Visitors could clearly see the button while watching the family's story about the Walsh Village and could click the button at any time.

Step #4. Create donation page

The calls-to-action and donation buttons linked to a basic order from to process donations (see creative samples). Two key highlights on the page:

- Avera logo in header

Although the page did not feature the same banner as the email or video landing page, it did incorporate a large Avera logo. The logo was identical to those featured within the campaign's other banners. This helped create a loose visual connection between the email and the donation page.

- Payments in increments of $48.50

The email requested donations to provide a night for a family at the Village. With this in mind, the landing page requested donations of $48.50, $97, or an amount of the donor’s choosing.

Step #5. Create a new subject line, send second email

Dumke knew that follow-up messages often worked in direct mail marketing and wanted to try the idea with email.

After sending the first email, the marketers gave the message a new subject line and resent it to the subscribers who did not previously open (about 80 percent of the list). Since these subscribers had not seen this message, Dumke felt it would not do any harm, she says.

The new subject line:
o "A Special Year End Request"

- Timing is important

The team sent the second message twelve days after sending the first. This provided enough time to avoid irritating subscribers with two closely-timed emails.

Also, the email arrived on Dec. 28 with New Year's Day just around the corner. This further increased the urgency for qualifying for a 2010 tax break and helped motivate people to donate, Dumke says. The team also underscored this urgency in the new subject line.

The marketers were excited to see the second mailing add another 55 percent to the total donations received during the campaign.

"We got almost as good a response the second time as the first," Dumke says. "We were really surprised."

The first email achieved:

o 20% open rate
o 63% clickthrough rate on video screenshot
o 0.86% conversion rate

The second email was sent to fewer subscribers and achieved:

o 7.26% open rate
o 52% clickthrough rate on video screenshot
o 2.7% conversion rate

Both messages had a 1.1 percent opt-out rate.

"This is definitely something we're going to do going forward," Dumke says. "We're still working on the exact strategy, but I know we'll try it again."

Useful links related to this article


1. First email
2. Second email
3. Video landing page
4. Donation page

Members Library -- 'Mind Type' Segmenting Lifts Email Donations 42.5%: 6 steps to find subscribers' underlying motivations

Email Subject Lines: Longer subject increases opens 8.2%

Click Rain -- Helped develop the strategy and design the campaign

Walsh Family Village

Avera McKennan Foundation

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