Six reasons why no one read your latest union e-bulletin

January 18, 2011

So, you’ve signed up for MailChimp, got yourself a new email template design, and started to track emails… and found out that none of your members read it. Why?


Here are six reasons why your latest email was rubbish. Perhaps the open-rate was below average, or no one clicked through to the links, or perhaps there were a lot of spam reports. Or, sin of sins, perhaps the email was for one of your union’s events and no members turned up.

1. Your subject line was weak

I’ve written before about the need to ensure your email subject lines are engaging, descriptive and not “spammy”.

The subject line is important – most people see the the subject first, before they see the content or design. So your subject needs to make them want to open your email.

Most email services let you do A/B testing for subject lines. This means you send one version of the email with one subject line to a segment of your email list, and another version of the email with another subject line to another segment of your email list. Whichever gets the highest open rate after a set period of time goes to the remainder of your list. This means you’re more likely to send emails that are more likely to be opened by your recipients.

A few tips:

There’s a great article about writing email subject lines for non-profits here.

2. The design was poor

It’s not enough to plonk a logo or a photo in your email. You need to make sure that your design looks good in a variety of different email reading programs, including Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo, among others. What looks good on your computer may look like rubbish on your member’s computer.

As far as design goes – don’t go overboard. Keep things simple and clean – often a logo and your union’s colours are enough. You don’t need loads of CSS or other fancy stuff (unless there’s a reason and you can do it well).

Also, remember to include a plain-text version of the email. Many email readers block images or default to plain-text. Without a plain-text version of your email, it may not be visible, could get blocked as spam or turn into computer-gibberish.

Most email marketing services create plain text version of your emails automatically.

3. It was too long

I’ve seen emails that are over 1000 words long. Great, tedious diatribes. I’ve seen as open-rates to those union members have dwindled to almost nothing as a result.

Today’s Internet users are getting more and more used to short communications. Twitter limits you to 140 characters. Facebook focuses on short status updates. People’s online attention span is getting shorter.

There is some research that lots of people don’t scroll down in emails they get – if they can’t read it on the screen all at once, they’re unlikely to scroll down. (This is not always the case of course, but worth keeping in mind.)

There are some emails that can be long – e-newsletters and bulletins for example can have a lot of content. However, increasingly non-profits are just including “teasers” in their emails with links to the longer article on their website. This is something that unions could keep in mind.

4. There was no call to action

Every email you send to your members should have a call to action. This could just be a link to your website, but there should be a reason you’re sending your email (see next point). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve received emails from unions (or had to send them myself) that are just “for information” – instead of asking members to do something.

The take-away. Have a call to action in every email – even alerts and updates. Make it clear, bold and up front.

5. There was no reason to send the email

This ties into the “no call to action” problem. Everyone – including your members – gets scores (or even 100s) of emails each day. Your union’s emails are just one amongst the many jostling to be opened, read and acted upon. Don’t waste your members’ time (not to mention yours) by sending emails that don’t have a point to them.

Before you hit send, stop and ask yourself: “Why am I sending this message?” Does the message have a clear purpose? If you can’t answer these questions adequately, then you are probably doing more harm than good. You are certainly ensuring that the next time you send an email to that member, they are less likely to read it.

6. You didn’t follow it up

Nothing beats in person, one to one communication. Emails let you communicate with 100s or even 1000s of members, but without following them up, it’s still a waste. This is especially the case if you’ve asked them to do something like fill out a form, poll or register for an event.

The follow up could be via email or a phone call. It could even be automated. Lots of email marketing services have auto-responder options, which let you set up automatic email responses to specific actions or circumstances.

[box type=”note”]These are just some of the common mistakes that I see all the time – and have been guilty of doing myself. Do you have something to confess? Have I missed something obvious? [/box]

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