13 Tips to Send 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.

Kat Jarvis
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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. Keep this in mind when trying to reach your busy members.

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 member communications strategy along the way.

We’ll cover two big areas:

7 Email Strategy Tips for Associations

Let’s dive into these strategy tips.

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

Members may want emails 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 into each of them separately.

Consider creating a customized email preference center for members to select the kinds of information they want to receive from your association. This is a great way to personalize your member’s interactions and learn more about what they are interested in.

Giving your members the opportunity to select the kinds of information they want to receive from your association and offering more personalized and dynamically generated content will mean more opens for your emails and ensure you’re getting the right content to the right audience at the right time.

Tip #2: Segment, Target, and Personalize Your Content

Not every member is going to take the time to select the topics they’re interested in. Work smarter with member data to deliver personalized experiences and targeted communication to members. What do members care about?

Leveraging and maximizing the existing data from your member database (association management system or CRM) 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.

For example, Professionals Australia has over 40 diverse member segments. They were finding it impossible to recruit, onboard, and engage with each segment in a personalized way, and ended up just sending one-off emails with the same content to every group.

To solve this, they set up automated and targeted email campaigns using Higher Logic’s marketing automation software for associations – integrated with their member database – to send personalized emails to segments and tailor the promotional experience for things like onboarding, renewal, and engagement.

Tip #3: 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 while 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.

(P.S: 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 #4: Deliver Value + Quality from Day One

In order to deliver value to your members and cut through the digital clutter, it sometimes takes getting creative in order to avoid email fatigue. If your members don’t see the value in the content you’re sending them they are more likely to unsubscribe.

Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, send content that’s relevant to the different segments of your audience. One way to do this is by utilizing dynamic content views to display content differently to members based on their specific interests, preferences, geographical location, group affiliation, etc.

For example, before sending out your next newsletter – ask yourself, is this content that needs to be seen by everyone? A better approach could be to set up dynamic content views, which allow them to see the content most relevant to them displayed first (at the top) based on their interests or which local chapter they’re part of.

If you concentrate on providing high-quality personalized content in your emails, you’ll likely earn a good reputation and high engagement rates as a result.

Tip #5: Ditch The “[email protected]” Email Address

Sending no-reply emails can have many adverse effects on your email marketing. One of the first things to keep in mind is the negative impact it can have on your email deliverability and sender reputation.  “Do not reply” emails aren’t compliant according to GDPR and CAN-SPAM laws and can often get caught in spam filters or attract spam complaints.

No-reply takes the personalization out of your outreach and a human element out of your association. Instead of no-reply, use addresses that provide your association’s department, such as events or [email protected] To increase engagement with your emails, try using a well-known leader or staff member’s name from your association as the “friendly from” address for a more recognizable and personalized approach.

Don’t miss the opportunity to foster relationships with your members. Shift your focus to strategic personalization and segmentation. Test different “friendly from” variations to see what resonates most with your members — and ultimately increase email open rates.

Tip #6: Don’t Send Everything in One Email

When you onboard new members or promote resources, do you send it all in one email? If so, try splitting things up. Members can only absorb so much at one time, so consider sending more snack-size content.

The more bite-sized and useful you can make your communication (paired with more effective segmentation so that members don’t receive too many emails), the more effective they’ll be.

For example, the Transportation Intermediaries Association used to promote all their educational courses in one email, using a subject line like “TIA Foundation Newsletter.” They decided to revisit engagement rates, segmenting their audience, and A/B testing subject lines for each course. This led to a new, more effective approach where members would receive information on just one course at a time (increasing open rates by 54%).

new automated email campaigns for associations

With Higher Logic’s email marketing automation software, you can build an email campaign using our prebuilt email campaign templates. Plus, they’re designed just for associations. The Advanced Starter Kits give you the recommended campaign flow (like how many emails to send and when) along with sample content you can adapt.

Tip #7: Review Your Metrics

The best stats in the world can only tell you so much – the most valuable data for you is your data. What does your audience respond to? How do they like what you’re writing? The metrics available to you in your email campaign platform are your key to improving every email you send and your strategy as a whole.

But it’s not only about the strategy – how can you deliver better content, as well?

Follow these tips for copywriting best practices in your email campaigns, including how to write better subject lines.

6 Copywriting Best Practices for Your Email Campaigns

When you send a marketing email with a weak subject line or copy that doesn’t resonate with your membership, the interaction with the recipient ends right there – with your message in the digital trash. Even if you convince someone to open your email, how compelling is your content and the call to action? It’s easier said than done in an era where we obsess over “Inbox Zero” and contend with complicated spam filters.

Copywriting often toes the line between formulaic and nuanced. But when it comes to email, there is clear methodology for constructing great copy to increase the likelihood of getting your messages opened.

Follow these quick tips to produce stellar email copy:

Tip #1. Focus on Your Members

You don’t have to give an executive summary of your annual event in the upcoming promotional email. It’s more important to align your message with the content. Be clear and succinct.

If you’re asking your members to act, make sure to focus on the why – what’s in it for your members? Stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve and make sure you’re not just asking your members to do one more thing in their busy schedule – they need to see the clear benefits for them.

Flip the script and put your members at the center of your messaging. Adjust the language of your messages to make it about your members vs. your organization. For example: “I encourage you to login” is organization-centered – it conveys that you don’t know what they’ve done. “When you log in” is a better alternative because you’re coming alongside your members and guiding them through the member experience.

Tip #2. Write a Great Subject Line

Recipients see three key elements before even opening the mailing: who the email is from, what the subject of the email is, and the preheader text underneath the subject line. Optimizing these three together is the key to boosting open rates.

Catch your reader’s attention with the subject line and draw them in further with the preheader text. Shorter is better when it comes to subject lines: 4-7 words is really the sweet spot in terms of what is immediately viewable in most email clients. Consider using subject lines that are short, punchy, personalized, and actionable.

Jono Bacon held a session called “Building Communities That Don’t Suck With Email” during CMX 2020 Summit. His advice was to engage like a human being, not like a marketer using techniques that might be deceptively engaging (i.e. including a person’s name in the subject line). You wouldn’t normally receive an email from someone you know with your name in the subject line. What’s more important is making the message personal and authentic.

Preheader text should be supplemental to the subject line and can be longer than the subject line without getting cut off by character limitations. Using these to enhance the message in the subject line can help improve your open rate.

See what we mean:

  • Subject line: “It’s Here: That Course You’ve Been Waiting For”
  • Preheader text: “Even better? It’s completely free for our members.”

If you’re worried about cutting corners on valuable information, link out to a landing page on your website with a fuller version of the content. Readers won’t get overwhelmed, and still have the choice to see more. An added benefit: The landing page clicks tell you which readers were interested in the content and took action, and that helps with future content development and campaigns. If they clicked, you know it was an appealing piece of content.

Tip #3. A/B Test and Refine

Even though it can take extra time, it’s worth it to test your emails. A/B testing different elements within the mailing will help identify ways to improve engagement. This can give you valuable data and help improve conversion rates. The way you structure your content, and what you choose to include or exclude will have the greatest impact on whether someone clicks a link or chooses to unsubscribe. Run tests regularly to make sure messages resonate with your audience:

  1. Subject Line & Preheader Text. Experiment with different lengths, tone of voice, and style in your subject lines. The command, “Register today to get $100 off!” is different than the question, “Are you joining us for the XYZ event in May?”
  2. Content Placement. Some content may interest subscribers more than others, and the higher up in the message body that content is, the more likely it is it will be seen.
  3. Content Alternatives. Experiment with the copy and see if different text or a different tone of voice gets better engagement.
  4. Buttons vs. Text Links. Try testing links behind a button versus text links. Experiment with link/button placement and/or color.

Remember: Don’t test more than one thing at once. Otherwise, you won’t be able to tell which change is affecting your results.

Tip #4. Double-Check the Copy

It sounds obvious, but we’re only human – we all miss the occasional typo. But we should take our clean copy seriously. Take those extra few minutes to proof what you send out (or have a coworker proofread for you).

Tip #5. Tell Your Members What They Need to Know

When you’re writing emails designed to communicate important logistical or technical updates, use the subject line to tell your members exactly what the email contains. 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 member community platform where you need all of your members to be informed.

Consider a subject line 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 mystery.

“Persistent, consistent, and frequent stories, delivered to an aligned audience, will earn attention, trust, and action.”

― Seth Godin, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See

Tip #6. 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.

Include some of the content to pique member interest. This subject line example is a little long but tells members what they can expect, like “Info on new events, using Instagram + managing risk.”

Bonus: For our final tip, we’ll share The American Writers and Artists’ formula. They have 4 U’s for writing great headlines and copy: Usefulness, Urgency, Uniqueness, and Ultra-specificity.

Engage Your Members with a Great Communication Strategy & Great Emails

Your members want to receive relevant emails from you. These tips can help you strengthen your strategy and send more effective emails within that strategy. If you need a place to start, consider revisiting your membership renewal letters. How can you make them more effective? Learn how to streamline the entire renewal process in this guide.

Kat Jarvis

Consultant, Strategic Services

Passionate about creating authentic and impactful communications, Kat is an experienced communications and community consultant delivering creative solutions to both corporate and non-profit organizations. Prior to joining Higher Logic, she worked in the association space for a number of years in marketing. She is a CMX Academy Certified Community Professional & American Marketing Association Professional Certified Marketer (PCM). A lover of cultures, languages, and technology, she finds inspiration in art, music, and travel.

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