Although many see a divide between established fundraising methods and newer tactics – such as social media and email – we need to take a more holistic view of the relationship between the two to maximize the potential of both.

Both direct mail and email marketing methods can be effective, although direct mail still trumps email by a large margin. However, when email and direct mail methods are used together, the results are greater than if the two are used separately. One without the other is never going to be as effective as when the two methods are combined.

But here is the catch: the methods have to work in sync. When integrated, the messages need to support each other. For example, if the call to action in the direct mail campaign calls for a monthly gift to support a Rwanda orphanage, then the email must do the same. Manage the email and direct mail as a multi-channel campaign, not as stand-alone efforts.

The key is to align your message to each medium’s personality and nuance. For instance, direct mail copy can typically be more flushed out, while email copy needs to be short and to the point. When integrating these two channels, there are some basic guidelines you need to follow:

  1. Email should always be shorter than direct mail.
    Direct mail appeals can run as long as a couple thousand words, but an email of that length will lose your reader and potentially evoke a lot of un-subscribes. In the vast majority of cases, long emails are not effective and can cause more harm than good.
  2. Get to the point!
    In the same vein as above, make sure you get to the point quickly. You can’t be effective if your reader loses interest before your punchline. If you ramble, your audience will be too frustrated and confused to grasp the purpose of your email. Avoid this at all costs: this is the kiss of death for any type of communication.
  3. Don’t neglect the subject line.
    Email open rates are typically around 14 percent, so the subject line becomes critical to getting your emails read. The more interesting your subject line is, the higher your open rates will be. If the recipient’s interest is not piqued in the subject line, they won’t even open the email, much less read the entire message. Be sure to test various subject lines so you know which ones work best.
  4. Make the first ask ASAP.
    Most people don’t actually read a whole email, at least not initially. They tend to scan it, looking for something that catches their eye. When telling your story, you should interrupt the message in a natural way at the start, by introducing the call to action, which will be a fundraising ask in most cases. Draw their attention to this with bold text, colors, short sentences, etc..
  5. Make your fundraising ask more than once.
    In every email appeal, try to include multiple references to your call to action. Once early and, and then once more later. Just like a direct mail appeal, you can even come back to the call to action in a P.S. . And here is where a tried and true direct mail tactic can be helpful: make the call to action bold and hyperlink it out to your donation.
  1. Keep your paragraphs small.
    Walls of text are an email death sentence. Keep all your paragraphs brief, even as short as only one or two lines. Ensure that there is plenty of white space by breaking up the text into smaller units, and use bullet points whenever possible.

Much thanks to Kivi Leroux Miller, award-winning author, trainer, and nonprofit adviser, for this great list of commandments for converting direct mail campaigns to email. For her full list, please visit the Nonprofit Marketing Guide.