What to look for in a non-profit email marketing provider

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There's a lot of confusion among nonprofits when it comes to choosing an email marketing service. There are a couple of free options, but you could end up spending a lot in time and energy getting them to work for you. So what are the essential qualities of a great email service? Here they are in descending order of importance...

1. Reputation

In order to get your email delivered to the maximum amount of people, you need to go with a company who has a rock solid reputation. If they don't have a great reputation, their deliverability rate goes down. That's bad for you because then people don't get your emails. You can usually tell if a company has a great reputation if they require a "confirmed" or even better "double" opt-in. A double opt-in is where you make your subscribers click a link to confirm their subscription to your list. It just says to the email provider and to you that the subscriber is absolutely sure she wants to get email from you. You might think that's a dumb idea. It's not for a couple of reasons:

a. People subscribing to your list need to be really excited about hearing from you. Remember that you're talking to your ideal donor.

b. It keeps you from being annoying and giving people the wrong idea about your organization. If someone isn't really that excited, they might think bad thoughts every time you send them an unwanted email. The last thing we want to do as fundraisers is annoy people...right?

2. Auto-Responders

You need unlimited auto-responders. I'll talk more about them in the future. An auto-responder is a series of messages that get sent automatically when someone signs up for your newsletter. All you do is write a series of high-quality, super-informational messages about your cause or organization (preferably your cause), and they are automatically sent to first-time subscribers. It's a great way to introduce people to your organization and it can get them into the habit of opening emails from you. Plus you only have to do it once and it keeps working over and over.

3. Phone Support

I need phone support with just about any product or service I buy. Call me old fashioned, but even the quickest responding email ticket system sucks compared to hopping on the phone with someone and having them talk you through an issue or problem you're having.

So Which Company Should I Go With?

Aweber Communications [full disclosure: this is an affiliate link] is the best with Mailchimp coming in as a close second. Both have solid reputations (Aweber a little more so) and unlimited auto-responders. The only reason I don't whole-heartedly recommend Mailchimp is because they let me down once. Long story short, the emails I was sending out weren't getting delivered. To add insult to injury, Mailchimp wasn't even telling me the emails were "bouncing." I had to hear it from my co-workers. I tried everything, but in the end, nothing worked and the committee suffered for it.

Mailchimp is supposed to be a great service. I've heard a lot of great things, but I won't be using them again any time soon. Also, Mailchimp doesn't have phone support. So there you go. Feel free to try them out. I'm not saying it won't work for you, and they've certainly got a lot of shiny features that Aweber doesn't have, but it's all for naught if you can't send emails. Aweber, on the other hand, is solid and time-tested.

They've got everything I need and I'm a happy customer. You'll end up paying a little more per month, but it's worth it for me. [Note: Aweber has a 25% discount for nonprofits and the first 3 months are free]

P.S. Don't use Vertical Response or Constant Contact. Even though Vertical Response is free for nonprofits, they don't have auto-responders. Trust me, you need those. As for Constant Contact, they're just generally sucky, and you're only allowed a limited number of auto-responders. Remember, we're going for unlimited.

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