This session was delivered by Rachel Collinson.


  • SMTP server (like a sorting office) > DNS server > domain > MTA server (most problems happen here- spam check) > user account > recipient fetches email
  • It’s not easy to get an email through all that to someone, which is why you can’t send big emails from your usual domain address (e.g. Staff on a work outlook account)
  • Sendgrid / engaging networks get round that, signals legitimacy, works the system


  • People read emails at certain times of day 2pm, Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday is a good time to send
  • Test best practice against what we’ve learnt as an organisation – important not to overhaul based on general best practice and waste the work your org has learned
  • Some people get hundreds of emails a day, what’s going to make yours stand out

Sender and subject lines:

  • Make sure your sender is personalised, not from an organisation
  • Subject line – something that looks personal, like it might enrich someone’s life “an extremely intimate form of communication”
  • People flippantly email without thinking, there’s often no filter “straight from finger to send”
  • Think as if you’re writing to a friend
  • Over 50% of emails in the UK are read on mobile, could be up to 75% depending on your audience
  • This often cuts off long the sender and subject
  • It’s not mobile optimal to have “trouble viewing this?” in the first line – put it somewhere else
  • Email on Acid for testing email templates
  • Salience
  • Relevance
  • Reference something that’s going on in the news so it looks current and relevant – open rates shoot up then
  • Everyone on your team writes a subject line on a postit and passes to the next person, collaborative but not “by comity”
  • Focus on them as a reader and a person, not about what we want from them, but about what they might be worried about
  • Or have something to offer them, like tips / info
  • Split test between two


  • Single issue always wins. Always!
  • Ask the person to do one thing
  • If you ask them to do two things, they’ll do one of them
  • By splitting different asks into different emails, people will act on both
  • People forwarding them on is important, but they won’t forward a big enews if there’s only one thing they’re actually interested in sharing
  • The things people would share around the campfire are the things you should share
  • Treat your audience like your friend, tell them something you think they’ll like, as it happens

Characteristics of success:

  • Simple – few characters, clear reasons, simple asks
  • Unexpected – surprising
  • Concrete – easy to imagine, can be sensory details, things that paint a picture
  • Credible – can mean based in fact / legitimised somehow
  • Emotional- and charities shouldn’t be afraid of using humour
  • Stories – like currency in communications


  • Crucial that content is readable on mobile
  • Plaintext alternative essential
  • BlackBerry and iPhone 3 will come through as a blank email


  • Names are a must but there’s more – use their location, workplace, things that matter to them
  • Use dynamic targeting

Attention grabbing:

  • Distractions are everywhere
  • People’s IQ drops by 10 points when they surf the web – too many distractions
  • It’s not insulting to dumb content down to the basics
  • Use short words as often as possible
  • Short sentences, less than 20 words
  • Anglo Saxon origin rather than Latin based words e.g.
  • Converse – talk
  • Complementary – free
  • Facilitate – help
  • Regulations – rules
  • Use the same sender so they know you, trust and relationship building, allows you to put yourself into it so people feel like they know who you are
  • Template – make sure the responsive code pulls out the first line of the email, not all the browser stuff
  • Logo alt text
  • Don’t be confusing, one call to action
  • Don’t be confusing in the footers
  • Test buttons against simple text links
  • Emails need a purpose
  • Be careful about disconnect
  • Paint a clear, concrete picture
  • Emails are about give and take, be careful you’re giving as much as you’re asking for
  • Stats make people go into analytics mode, which means you lose them on the powerful emotive stuff that makes someone take action
  • But of course it depends on audiences, e.g. a medical journal versus a charity email
  • Stats can be mixed in with the story to emphasise the problem, e.g. 1 in 4 people every year will experience a mental health problem

After the click:

  • Supporter journey, design it like a story
  • Test that story – did their experience match the story that you wrote
  • Does the journey you’re sending them on have a joined up brand – email template to website consistency
  • Pre fill forms, you know about them because you sent them an email, annoying if they have to fill in their details again at site stage
  • Pre filled forms get 3x the response


  • By the time that’s elapsed since their last campaign action
  • By the action they’ve taken
  • By where they live
  • By how much they’ve donated
  • Lapsed donors can end up giving more than the moderate donors because you’ve made them feel special
  • Relevant personal content = higher conversion rate and better response


  • No vanity metrics
  • Decide what you want to find out
  • The open rate tells you about trust, subject line, timing, sender
  • Click through rate tells you whether the content is good
  • Conversion rate tells you whether the site is working well
  • Emails sent to actions taken will give you a response rate you can compare to other campaigns
  • Open rates are estimated based in conversion pixels (why you don’t know about BlackBerry open rates – no images)
  • 5% is a big response rate for a charity ask

Negative feedback:

  • ‘Mark as spam’ is a big problem for you being a trusted sender
  • .9% is a big unsubscribe rate
  • Run an opt in campaign to make sure you’re not working harder than you need to


  • A/B testing – change just one thing
  • Make sure the result is statistically significant

Community building:

  • Much less likely to unsubscribe if they get to know you as a person / sender
  • Feature the story of a subscriber so you’re building a community between people on the list
  • Ask people a question and share the response in the email
  • Have a guest writer
  • Remind people of something they did in a previous campaign (value and personalisation, also taps into people wanting to be consistent, loyal and good)
  • Don’t leave it too long before get in touch with people
  • Don’t worry about sending too often, if you have something good and campaigny each time they’ll open it
  • You also get round the issue of people thinking “oh, who’s this?” and unsubscribe
  • 1:3 ratio – for every ask you make, give 3 things back
  • When they read our emails they feel good, not burdened
  • People need reminding to do things – follow ups are important, segment by people who didn’t open or click on the email
  • You get a higher response rate to reminders than to the original email – it’s useful, it plays on them maybe feeling guilty for not doing it the first time
  • Don’t do that sneaking dishonest thing of re: or fwd:
  • Make actions forwarable for people, provide the rest for them so they don’t need to do the work, give it a plain text version so it doesn’t look to brandy when they forward it on
  • Reactivation campaign – “have I upset you?” – cleanses the list, saves time and money, gives you better stats
  • Use professionals and agencies to judge your content so you get an objective view
  • A story that has another level of meaning can work – parallel examples
  • Get stories from supporters
  • There is a whole world of untapped storytelling out there – people who hit the mark without even knowing it

Top tips:

  1. Use email on acid to check spam and appearance
  2. Test, test, test – get colleagues to checktoo
  3. Consider who from, subject line, timing
  4. Success format
  5. Keep sentences and words short
  6. Subscribers are not a list, they are people – personalise
  7. Reminders
  8. Reactivation campaigns
  9. Email around once a week, with something to say
  10. Culture change – free food, tell the story of what works, get some peer endorsement
  11. Run pilot project pitch – you don’t have to do this forever but would you like to be part of our pilot – present the results back to them
  12. More likely to adopt it because they’ve asked for it and bought into the process – they’ll never look back
  13. Use the transformational index to measure social impact