8 Tips to Write Emails Your Association Members Will Open

Associations, Communications Strategy // Improve your association’s email open rate and boost member engagement, building a stronger personalized communications strategy along the way.

Gabrielle Wathen
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Let me guess – your inbox is overflowing with so much content that you don’t know which way is up, much less which emails are worth your time. What to open? What to ignore? It’s a relatable circumstance for anyone with an email address (and fun fact: active email accounts are expected to hit 5.6 billion by 2019). Keep this in mind when trying to reach your busy members.

A “good” email open rate among members depends on your industry and the end goal of your email.

Recent data shows that:

  • The average email open rate (across all industries) is 16.19%
  • The average email open rate for the Civic/Social Membership industry (e.g., associations, chambers, clubs) is 23.09%

If your target audience has opted into your communications, the open rate should be on the higher end. How do your association’s metrics stack up? Regardless of how great your content is, if your members aren’t opening your emails, your message isn’t getting out there.

Stiff competition from all industries means that before you can vie for an open, we have to make it out of the spam filter or Outlook’s latest clutter folder. Alas, convincing people with overflowing inboxes to click on your email takes some finesse.

Follow our tips to improve your association’s email open rate and boost member engagement, building a stronger communications strategy along the way.

Tip #1: Allow for Email Opt-in + Topic Selection

Many associations see membership as an automatic email opt-in. The logic here being, if someone wants to be a member, then that person also wants to receive emails from the organization. That is not always the case. Members may want email from you, but only on topics that are relevant to them.

If you send out different kinds of emails (newsletters, event information, system communications about your technology etc.) and you want to improve open rates, allow members to opt in to each of them separately. Giving your members the opportunity to select the kind of information they want to receive from your association will mean more opens for your emails.

Resource: Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation [Explained]

But let’s be honest – not every member is going to take the time to select the topics they’re interested in. Data pulled from engagement platforms like marketing automation or your association’s online community can help inform your decisions and personalize your outreach, helping you better understand what matters to your members to improve their experience. Smart segmentation will help you achieve more personalized outcomes.

Resource: What is an Online Community? The Basics + Benefits

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Tip #2: Let Association Members Choose Email Frequency

If you’ve ever been bombarded by communications from groups on social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, you know how wonderful it is being given the option to decide within your settings how often you want to receive communications within each group. Allowing your members to make the same decision can improve your open rate and lower your unsubscribes.

A member may love getting a weekly communication from you, but daily emails are too much, or they may love a daily communication and don’t need to see a weekly wrap-up. Let them make that choice.

People commonly unsubscribe from emails if they’re being sent too many or the ones they are sent aren’t providing real value. If you give them this freedom to control how often they receive email communications, they are more likely to open your emails when they arrive in their inbox. Don’t be the cause of your own unsubscribes. Provide community members options.

(PS: Members should also have this type of flexibility within your association’s online community, in regards to how often they receive emails about discussions, updates, etc.)

Tip #3: Deliver Value + Quality from Day One

Very few people will revisit a restaurant with terrible food more than once. While you might excuse bad service and give the establishment another try (if you otherwise enjoyed the dining experience), you won’t sit through a meal of low quality.

The same is true of email marketing communications. If you are sending your members content that is not valuable or of good quality (in their eyes), they won’t keep opening your emails to see if the next email improved. Your email communications will go straight to the trash.

However, if you concentrate on providing high-quality personalized content in your emails, you’ll earn a reputation for it. If you fail to connect to your members through that first email, they probably won’t trash your future communications…yet. They might give you a few more chances to redeem your value, but only a few.

Work smarter with behavioral data and marketing automation to send your subscribers more relevant, personalized content at the right time, boosting open rates.

Resource: The 3 Best Data Points to Grab from Your AMS for Marketing Automation Campaigns

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020

Tip #4: Ditch the “[email protected]” Email Address

Nothing says SPAM faster than seeing an email sent from a no-reply address or generic email address. Use a REAL association staffer’s email, create an email address just for sends, and/or set up rules that make email responses easier to handle.

Sending from no-reply takes the personalization out of your outreach and a human element out of your association, failing to communicate that you’re a real organization dedicated to communicating with its members.

Resource: Be on the Guest List, Not the Blacklist: Improving Your Email Deliverability

On Writing the Perfect Subject Line

With a strong reputation for creating valuable content and providing your members with the freedom to choose how they hear from the association, it’s time to perfect the part of the email that you know your members will see. Most people decide whether to open an email based on:

If either is unappealing to your members, they won’t open it. What works in a subject line varies depending on your audience. You’ll want to test a few and see what types get the most opens. Generally speaking, the best subject lines are usually short (50 characters or fewer means it won’t get truncated in the preview pane) and don’t include the dreaded SPAM words.

Let’s dive into some additional tips for subject lines that work across general audiences. However, consider the interests of your individual members when writing your emails.

Tip #5: Use Puns, Humor, Emojis, or a Casual Tone (Audience Appropriate)

This tip can be hugely effective if it reflects your association and preferences of your members. A medical society’s email communication may not be the proper arena for a very casual use of hipster slang (unless the society is trying to recruit or retain hipsters, of course). Did you know:

  • The use of emoji in email marketing messages increased 775% in 1 year [MediaPost]

This tip is for a specific set of associations that have a good handle on their audience’s preferences. An association of Baby Boomers, for instance, may enjoy a reference to the Beatles; while that same reference may be lost on Gen Z.

Resource: 17 Essential Email Design Tips + Inspiration for the Non-Designer

Tip #6: Tell Your Members What They Need to Know

In your subject line, do your best to tell your members exactly what the email contains without causing recipients to make decisions about the email’s content before they even open the email.

Consider something like:

  • Important info about tonight’s event

This example creates interest in the information and the event without giving away the main points in the subject line. It’s direct and timely with a hint of tease. Depending on the message that you are conveying, a direct approach might work best.

Consider this for emails where the goal is to communicate important logistical or technical updates. These are for emails where you are answering a straightforward question for your members, such as updates to a chapter event or a change in the functionality of your online community where you need all of your members to be informed.

Tip #7: Personalize It

A personalized subject line can differentiate your email from the rest, and they’re more likely to be opened. Add in fields that allow you to personalize the subject line. According to Hubspot, emails that include the first name of the recipient in their subject line have a higher click-through rate than those that don’t.

Instead of saying “question about your recent purchase,” try:

  • Hi [Name], question about your recent ticket purchase

In a world where Siri knows how long it will take us to get home before we even ask, personalization is key. Your members joined your association looking to connect in some way. Whether it be with your organization or other members, they want a more personal relationship.

Studies show that:

  • 82% of marketers reported an increase in open rates through email personalization, while 75% believe that personalization yields higher click-through rates

Resource: Your Guide to Effective [Not Annoying] Marketing Personalization

Tip #8: Don’t Use the Same Subject Line for Recurring Emails

If you send out a consistent communication such as a weekly or monthly newsletter, don’t use “Newsletter” as the subject line each time – booooring (and uninformative).

Include some of the content to pique member interest. The following example is a little long but tells members what they can expect:

  • Info on new events, using Instagram + managing risk 

Sending emails with the same subject line is a quick way to land in the trash or worse the read later folder. Recipients may have an idea of what content is typically in your newsletter, but without any further explanation there is no pull to read more.

If your emails are getting help up in the approval process within your department before you even hit send, the next resource is for you.

Resource: Testing, Testing: 4 Tips to Streamline the Email Approval Process

Association Email Strategy Takeaway

Members will open your emails if they find value in the content you are sending and if you allow them to choose the way in which you communicate with them. This may mean some members will opt-out completely from receiving your emails. While this may be disheartening, it is a much better option than pushing the SPAM button.

Shift your focus to strategic personalization and segmentation. Give members what they want, in the way they want to receive it, and your email open rates will skyrocket.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2015 by Katie Oakes. It has since been refreshed to make sure we’re bringing you the latest and greatest. 

Gabrielle Wathen

Content Marketing Manager, Flockjay

Gabrielle is the Content Marketing Manager at Flockjay. She has a background in journalism, film, and marketing. When she’s not writing, you can find her cuddling her cats Harvey and Wilbur, traveling the world, or storytelling in any way she can. Favorite food: All things cheese. Favorite place: Black Rock City, NV.

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