I received lots of post-Sandy email from nonprofits, with content all over the map, from direct pleas for assistance for those affected, to educational and advocacy emails tying severe weather to climate change. In looking through them all, one stands out: This email I received the day after the storm passed through Washington, DC from the Washington Humane Society.
Here’s why I love this email:
It’s very timely. This came out the day after the storm, and it reports back to supporters on how the animals fared.
It reinforces how trustworthy they are. They get the job done no matter the circumstances. The email talks about volunteers walking dogs and kitties getting adopted in spite of the bad weather.
It includes visual proof. They don’t just tell the story, they show it, complete with a photo of a kitty sleeping with rain hitting the window behind, and a volunteer going for a walk in rain gear.
It credits the donors. “We may be the hands and feet, but you are the heart and soul . . . We depend on you and so do the animals of our region.”
I was curious how the email came about. Since the storm was on everyone’s radar for a few days, I wondered if they had planned to do some kind of update like this in advance. So I talked to Darcy Levit, Director of Major Gifts.
Darcy told me that the email wasn’t planned. The morning after the storm, she was struck by the fact that so many staff had spent the night at the shelter — many more than the usual overnight crew. “There were sleeping bags everywhere,” she said, all to make sure that the animals were cared for no matter what happened. While there was some flooding, there was no major damage.
She thought it would be a good message to share with supporters, so she and other staff brainstormed some ideas for what to include in the email that morning, and then set about making it happen the same day. She checked their master calendar and with the events team to make sure there weren’t any conflicts with sending an email that day.
She then emailed shelter staff asking for some pictures that were taken around the time of the storm. Darcy says staff routinely take lots of photos and know they will often be used by the communications and fundraising staff, so she quickly had the examples she needed.
“The intent was to communicate that their dollars are hard at work, at all times, without asking for more in the email,” says Darcy. You’ll notice that the email does include one very soft ask (the linked word “support”) and they did receive some gifts.
But better yet were the email replies to the message. Darcy says she got a ton of messages back in reply to the storm email, from donors grateful to get an update on the animals, and she shared those with the front line staff. She considers herself the facilitator or the conduit between the donors and the staff who are making the good work happen. The staff shares stories with her to share with donors, and when donors send encouraging words back, she forwards them on to staff.
Thanks to Darcy and the Washington Humane Society for a great example of a donor engagement email!