How to Start and Manage Your Nonprofit Email Marketing Calendar

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By Robert Carnes
Published January 4, 2021
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The average nonprofit sends out about 66 emails to each subscriber during the course of a year. That’s an email every five days. That’s too many emails to try and wing it.

Planning out your nonprofit’s email marketing strategy for an entire year can be daunting, but creating the structure and parameters for an email marketing calendar sets your nonprofit up for success. There’s no time like the present to start building your organization’s calendar for next year.

To help with this undertaking, we’ve gathered some best practices, tips, and tools any nonprofit can leverage to maximize a nonprofit email marketing calendar for this year and beyond.

For more on nonprofit marketing and best practices shaped by modern insights, attend the Collaborative: Virtual Sessions for free.

1. Determine How Often You’ll Send Emails

Before you can create an annual email calendar, determine your publishing cadence. The frequency of your emails has a major influence on your nonprofit email marketing success.

It’s true that sending too many emails is a major reason people unsubscribe from an email list. However, some organizations fear this so much that they shy away from outreach that could otherwise help supporters feel more informed and engaged with their work.

Don’t be afraid to send emails. Your subscribers have already bought into your nonprofit’s mission and want to hear from you—just be intentional with what you have to say.

Studies have shown that most (86%) of email subscribers want to get an email from brands “at least monthly.” About 60% of that same group said they’d like to hear “at least weekly.” Survey your email list to see how often they’d like to get emails from you.

One way to avoid email fatigue is by segmenting your donors. Dividing your audience into major buckets—such as event promotion, newsletters, donor appeals, education, and more—helps you find balance and keep from annoying people with the same asks repeatedly.

2. Plan Out Major Holidays and Events

Timing plays a huge role in successful nonprofit email marketing. Think about the context of when your audience will be receiving each email. One thing every nonprofit can plan for are the major holidays and events during the year. Add those as immovable pillars around which to plan your calendar.

Every month, there are a number of important cause awareness days (or occasionally they span the entire month). Mark which of these are relevant to your organization, and if you don’t already plan to host a campaign around the occasion, plan to at least share an email acknowledging the awareness day and how recipients can take action to honor it.

Beyond email marketing, check out our practical suggestions and examples for how else your organization can take advantage of these annual moments.

Finally, one important date every nonprofit should keep in mind is Giving Tuesday, the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving and kickoff to the holiday fundraising season. Download our 10 Giving Tuesday Email Templates to plan your communications leading up to, during, and after this important calendar event. Then use our 16 free email templates for Giving Tuesday through the rest of December.

3. Coordinate With Other Content Efforts

As you plan for your organization’s major fundraising events, campaigns, or anniversaries during the course of the year, coordinate how your nonprofit email marketing calendar builds upon and correlates with your other content efforts.

This includes blog posts, social media content, and direct mailings. The important thing is that your email content supports the rest of your organization’s efforts, rather than work against them.

Create an email content calendar in a place that’s easy to read and edit. Most marketers use a spreadsheet like Google Sheets or Excel. CoSchedule and HubSpot both have pre-made templates nonprofits can use to create a spreadsheet content calendar.

A more sophisticated solution might be developing a content calendar within a project management system. Tools like Asana, Monday.com, or Trello can be used to create tasks, set deadlines, and assign roles to people. Figure out what details you’ll need to track, like publication date, subject line, email list, content category, and call to action link.

4. Share the Email Calendar for Collaboration

Share your email content calendar with the team members who need to know about it. This will likely include your organization’s staff, and perhaps a few key volunteers or board members. Adjust their permissions so only the appropriate people can make edits.

It’s probably worth scheduling a meeting (or doing a screen recording) to walk through the calendar at a high level so everyone understands how it all works. Internal collaboration is crucial for effective email marketing.

This ensures everyone on your team understands what emails will go out when. It also helps to minimize the number of last-minute email blast requests because they’ll see the amount of work that goes into planning this email calendar.

In order to make sure everyone stays in sync even when plans change, or you need to plan out the next part of your calendar, consider scheduling a regular meeting for email stakeholders to touch base on new or upcoming messages.

5. Plan Ahead and Automate Where Possible

Figure out what email elements you can create ahead of time. Build templates in your email marketing platform that cut down on time later. For example, write email copy that can be filled in with details as information becomes available.

Identify places where you can automate emails. For instance, create post-event surveys to automatically be sent out to all event attendees after the scheduled event. All you’ve got to do is tag the right people as attendees to trigger the email.

With Classy, you can also schedule milestone emails for your peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns ahead of time that get automatically sent to a fundraiser when they hit a certain amount or percentage of their fundraising goal. This is an easy and automated way to celebrate your fundraisers and keep them feeling engaged.

Spend time experimenting with automation within your email platform. Tools like Mailchimp, Active Campaign, and HubSpot make it easy to set up email series based on a user’s behavior. This helps you maximize your time and scale your email efforts.

You could also decide on a few email campaigns to A/B test for subject lines or content formats, so you can stay proactive about improving your content. Forty percent of brands almost never do any sort of email testing, so this is a missed opportunity in many cases.

6. Set Benchmarks And Collect Data

Just as with any other marketing effort, set goals for your email content and measure your results against them.

For example, you could plan to have an average open rate across emails of 30% with an average click rate of 3%. That would be above the nonprofit industry average rates of 20.3% and 2.6%, respectively. To make sure your email list stays healthy, you could expect your list would grow by 20%, while maintaining a churn rate of less than 5%.

Make sure your email marketing platform measures those data points, or figure out a way to calculate them yourself. Then schedule quarterly dates to look at these numbers with your leadership team to see how you’re measuring up.

If you’re behind on those numbers, you can adjust as you go to try to get the data back on track. This means that you won’t get to the end of the year and wonder what happened.

Time to Start Planning Your Email Calendar

To paraphrase a saying, the best time to start was yesterday; the second best time is today. In other words, there’s no time to waste in starting planning for next year’s email calendar. The sooner you begin, the more effective and helpful it will be to you.

Getting the hard work done ahead of time means that you’ll be able to do more management and less grunt work when things get busy.

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