email marketing

Whenever we approach a new decade, it’s always fun to look back to what life was like 10 years before and how much different things are today.

For example, in 2010, we can reflect on Lady Gaga shocking the world with her meat dress, everyone having an opinion on the final episode of Lost, the first iPad touted as the next big tech trend, and Toy Story 3 becoming another blockbuster hit in the series. Compare that to today, where Lady Gaga is an Oscar winner, the TV landscape is fractured into streaming services, smartwatches have replaced tablets as the hot tech trend, and … Toy Story 4 was a blockbuster hit.

I guess some things don’t change.

But we’re not here to talk pop culture. We’re here to examine how much email marketing has changed in the last decade and how that has affected fundraising for nonprofits.

The simple truth is that email marketing is all grown up now. If we look at the 1990s as the infancy of email marketing and the early 2000s as its adolescence, then email marketing is clearly now an adult with a spouse, a house in the ’burbs and 2.5 children.

In order to understand how email marketing and fundraising have changed, we first must delve into why they have changed. And there are two main catalysts – technology and human behavior – that have intertwined to bring us to where we are today.

Technology has come a long way

Look no further than your pocket to understand how technology has affected email.

The proliferation of smartphones across the U.S. has been the most dramatic technology trend in the last decade. In 2010, 62.6 million Americans had a smartphone. Today, that number has more than quadrupled to 270 million.

Going hand in hand with mobile phone technology have been the advancements in mobile broadband internet.

A decade ago, 4G internet was just making its debut, while much of the country still had 3G mobile speeds maxing out at 1.5 Mbps. Simple tasks like trying to check the weather or getting a map to load on your phone proved daunting at times. Today, the average mobile speed is over 30 Mbps, allowing people to easily stream 4K movies on their devices.

Another key tech factor is the advancements that have been made in email itself. Sure, we can use emojis in subject lines and animated GIFs in the body of emails today, but it goes much deeper than that.

Think about these three important email innovations:

  • Segmentation of email lists: We can break our email lists down into well-defined groups based on a wide variety of data points.
  • Automation of email sends: We can program a set of emails to be sent at specific times or as a reaction to specific behaviors.
  • Personalization of email content: We can create messages that resonate more deeply on a personal level, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Smartphones, mobile speed and email advancements combine to bring a level of sophistication to email that nonprofits in 2010 could only dream of.

People have changed their behavior, too

Closely related to each of these technology changes is how people have adapted to their use.

We have smartphones with fast internet speeds and email access at all hours of the day. We no longer need to sit down at our home or office computers to view email. We now check business and personal emails periodically throughout the work week and on weekends.

We are fully connected to the online world no matter where we go. It’s little surprise, then, that we’ve gone from 27% of emails opened on mobile in 2011 to 62% in 2019.

As a result, businesses have continued to increase their investment in email marketing as they try to catch us on the go. The number of emails sent and received per day has jumped from 205.6 in 2015 to 293.6 in 2019. That’s a 43% increase in just four years.

Our inboxes are flooded with far more emails than a decade ago – and that’s not even considering all the spam and junk. This has led many people to overlook or simply ignore a lot of emails today.

Finally, when it comes to charitable giving, donors have changed their behavior.

Groups like Generation X and millennials have grown up using email from a young age. Their comfort level with email makes it a natural channel for engagement and donations.

We’re seeing a shift from direct mail to email as a primary giving outlet among these donors, who are beginning to enter their prime giving years.

Nonprofit marketers have taken notice

These technological advancements and behavioral adaptations have combined to change the way nonprofits connect with donors online.

Digital marketing was once a reactionary strategy to what other channels were doing. Email was simply a companion to direct mail, telling donors what they’ll see when the mail arrives.

Rather than just a vehicle for a one-time donation, email now focuses on the lifetime cycle of a donor. Today, email can accomplish the following:

  • convert leads by integrating engagement with other channels like digital media
  • steward current donors by providing valuable information
  • retain donors by delivering the right messaging before they lapse
  • encourage donors to sign up for monthly donor programs
  • invite committed donors to special events or volunteer opportunities

And, of course, email can still be a key fundraising vehicle for your digital program.

We can use segmentation, automation and personalization in a complex series of campaigns to ensure that donors receive the right message at the right time to achieve the goals stated above.

Has a donor not opened an email in the last six months? We can segment them out and automate a personalized message that encourages them to come back.

Ultimately, this creates better experiences for donors. As we gather data on their areas of interests, we can provide emails tailored specifically to their wants and needs.

This is a huge difference compared to the capabilities we saw a decade ago. But these technological tactics are only effective because people’s behavior has changed as well.

The increasing use of smartphones and a growing indifference toward email necessitates messaging that resonates more deeply. And the comfort with email among donors as they have matured has led to email as a primary channel for donations that fits perfectly into an omnichannel fundraising approach.

We’ve come a long way in 10 years, and it will be exciting to see how technological advancements like artificial intelligence, 5G, blockchain, and augmented reality will change donors and marketers by 2030.