How to transform your automated emails from good to great


How long after you hear the notification do you check to see what’s arrived in your inbox?

I’m betting for most of us, it’s no more than a few seconds. And the reason, according to recent research, is that when that email sound goes off, the brain releases a chemical call dopamine. The drug makes us feel good for a minute or so … and then we wait like lab-rats for the next hit.

Innovative email marketers and fundraisers know that when it comes to email, we’re all addicts. Email is still the alpha channel of communication for marketers and fundraisers. And so, they’ve developed a system to drip feed email to our inbox called email automation. If you aren’t familiar, email automation is the ability to send out individualized, customized messages – in mass – based upon any number of variables that you decide, like age, location, time of day, etc. You can also send auto responding messages based upon actions of your users – for example, automatically sending a “thank you” email when someone fills out the newsletter subscription form on your website. And it can be incredibly effective, if it’s done well.

If not— just take a look below at 20 so-called ‘personal’ emails I’ve recently received— all follow the same depressing formula, with the same predictable result. Delete.

Getting email right

Email is a human tool – so don’t be a robot

In their rush to fill up our inboxes, too many organizations have taken a lazy approach to email automation.

You’ve probably received some of these emails. The ones that feel like they’ve been written by a robot rather than a real person. You can sniff these sub-par emails out pretty quickly.

      • They’re usually a cold sell, devoid of any attempt at relationship building. This tactic normally has low conversion rates and is not an effective way to get a new lead or donor.
      • They often throw your first name around as if you’ve been friends for years.
      • They start with Re: or FW: in a poorly thought-out attempt at deception.
      • They’re impersonal, irrelevant, and disconnected – interesting, because the copy reads like they know you intimately but doesn’t include any particular details.

How your emails can stand out from the crowd

As marketers and influencers, how can you and I take advantage of email automation and create emails that go beyond the obvious? Emails that inform, inspire and lead to real action?

To begin with, we should avoid trying to use ‘tricks’ like the ones above. They don’t work. In addition, we need to treat people like people. Email is a form of communication like talking. And if you give people the respect they deserve, you’ll find your chances of them opening your email and responding to your call-to-action rapidly improve.

Here’s a few practical ways I’ve personally used automation to generate above-average results:

      • Customized messages. Don’t treat your whole email list the same—they’re not. Segment audiences by what you already know about them and make your value proposition more specific and more relevant to each one. For example, when someone first joins your email list, send them a few current, interesting details that they might not know about your organization.
      • Offer a warm welcome. When a subscriber joins your list, send them a short, non-salesy email to introduce yourself.
      • Thank your donors well. If you’re a fundraiser, you’ll know that every donor deserves a thank-you. This is especially true for first-timers. You can automate your email to include dynamic gift values and allocations, depending on your donors’ actions. Always keep it warm and human. For example, this can can help save time with personalized follow up with mid-level donors. You can treat them well and give them a customized message without the time investment of a major donor.
      • Event follow-up. Send a quick message to a delegate to thank them for attending, and invite them to join a private Facebook group, or even offer to meet you in person to continue the discussion.

Putting your email automation into overdrive

Once you’ve understood and mastered the fact that email automation is about relationship building, not spamming or fishing for new donors and leads, it’s time to take things up a notch.

Whether you’re dealing with customers or donors, it’s possible to control entire end-user relationships using email automation.

In fact, I know a number of organizations who have created email journeys for subscribers, where each open and click is monitored and the automation software delivers different emails depending on the recipient’s actions. It’s responsive, reactive, and relevant – surprisingly human for a machine.

This level of automation has the power to take your leads from interested to engaged through to fully committed, all without you lifting a finger. Of course, this degree of detail requires time and skill to set up and lots of tweaking, but if done well, is certainly worth the investment.

If you haven’t got into the email automation game, I want to encourage you to start simple with a great welcome message after someone subscribes to your email list. You can always get more sophisticated down the – but if you think too long about something you’ll never get around to getting it done.

In the end, no matter how simple or complex your email automation becomes, if you use it poorly, you’ll not only lose new subscribers – you might turn off some of your biggest givers. However, use it wisely, and you may just be surprised by just how effective — and rewarding — it can be.

To get sent new blogs via email, sign up here: