Now, I’m probably subscribed to more activist lists than your average civically-minded person. But not that many more. And I’ve only signed up with organizations that I like, those that have missions about which I actually care. I want to know what they’re doing, and I want to help them reach their goals. But mostly, and please forgive me, friends who work at these organizations, I feel spammed by them.
You know why? Because most of the time, the stuff they ask me to do via email doesn’t seem like it’s going to accomplish anything. There’s no believable theory of change.
I know that running an email program is no piece of cake. It’s hard. Really hard. And I’m not saying that petitions or emails to decision-makers are always useless – in some cases they can be very powerful. But most of the time I’m asked to sign or send a message, it’s not clear to me how my signature or email plays a role in the bigger campaign.
I often suspect that campaign managers believe they are keeping me engaged by sending me these easy-to-take, one click actions. Maybe not so impactful, but something, right? Something to remind me that I care, help me climb the ladder of engagement. We’re all about engagement at Percolator, but I believe this is more along the lines of fake engagement, and long-term it doesn’t work.
You know what I want? I want organizations to ask me to do something that matters to their campaigns or programs. I want them to be successful, so when they ask me to do something meaningless, it makes me feel like their strategy probably isn’t good and that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket.
You might suggest to me that meaningful action is hard, time-consuming…too big an ask for a busy email activist. And I’ll reply that we’re all too busy for stuff that doesn’t work.
Make your asks count. Not just in your email, but especially in your email. There are over six million Google search results when you query “overflowing email inbox.” According to the recent eNonprofits Benchmarks Study by M+R and NTEN, email response rates for nonprofits fell 8% in 2012. Are meaningless action asks the only reason for this? Probably not, but I believe they are a big contributor to dismal stats and increased list churn.
So, here’s our advice: next time you ask your list to take an action, ask yourself if the action, when taken, is going to make a difference for your campaign. And I mean a real difference. And when you ask me to take the action, tell me, specifically, what impact it’s going to have, how the action fits into the theory of change of your campaign or program, and then report back to me on the results of my efforts.
Alternately, send me an email about something I want or need. Peter Murray just published a great article called The Secret of Scale in the Stanford Social Innovation Review discussing how organizations like the NRA and the AARP are so successful with their organizing efforts in part because they offer supporters valuable services and products. I wrote an article on this very topic back in my Groundwire days called What’s Your Engagement Superpower? Being of service is not only a great way to build relationships and deeper engagement with your base, it also means that when you need them they’ll be paying attention.
If your email stats tell you that the people on your list are hungry for your outreach and can’t wait for your next action request, you’re probably already being of service and mobilizing your base in ways that are meaningful. If your stats tell another story, however, it may be time to look at what you’re asking for or offering. Is it worth your time and mine? Does it count? Make it count!