Competitive Recon for the Women's Bean Project

The Email Experience Council’s charity project this year is the Women’s Bean Project (WBP), a nonprofit that helps women break the cycle of poverty and unemployment by teaching workplace competencies for entry-level jobs through employment and by teaching job readiness skills in the gourmet food production business. More than a dozen eec members have been working on building the WBP an email marketing program basically from scratch since July. We’ve been really busy, as you can see from Stephanie Miller’s September update.

My major contribution to this initiative is competitive reconnaissance, so the WBP could learn from other organizations similar to their own. I’ve shared some thoughts at various points in our discussion, but wanted to put together a more comprehensive report and post it here so that more people could comment and get involved.

Competitive Set
The WBP is nonprofit that uses retail sales to support its activities, so we wanted to look at other nonprofits and particularly those with a clear retail angle. I looked at Aid to Artisans, Dress for Success, Habitat for Humanity, Newman’s Own, Ten Thousand Villages, The Enterprising Kitchen and World of Good.

Sign-Up Process
World of Good and Ten Thousand Villages used a double opt-in process, while the others used a single opt in. The subscription process at Dress for Success and Newman’s Own failed, as I never received any emails from them, so it’s possible that they use a double opt-in system as well.

After a spirited discussion, we decided that a double opt-in system would be best for the WBP, as it would increase list quality and reduce some of the list management needs for the nonprofit.

Welcome Emails
Only Aid to Artisans, Ten Thousand Villages and World of Good sent welcome emails—none of which were very good. They mostly missed the opportunity to use their welcome email to reinforce their brand positioning, communicate their mission statements and get the new subscriber involved.

Ten Thousand Villages and World of Good both had a strange sign up system. First, they sent a text-only subscription confirmation email (double opt in), then an HTML email confirming the successful subscription, and then a text-only welcome email that had less information than the previous HTML email. The only new information that it had was an unsubscribe link. Upon a successful opt-in confirmation, the WBP should definitely just send an HTML welcome email and forgo any kind of opt-in confirmation email.

None of the welcome emails included whitelisting instructions, which was a huge missed opportunity.

For those that didn’t send welcome emails, they were slow in sending their regular emails. Since many only send emails monthly, if you subscribed right after they send one out, you’d be waiting nearly a month to receive anything from them.

Aid to Artisans had the best welcome email of the bunch (see below), since it had HTML branding and links to its store, donation page and events listing. But it lacked whitelisting instructions, an unsubscribe link, and any kind of statement of mission. Also, the centered text was a bit hard to read, especially since there were no blank lines or special typography to break up the text into more easily scannable bites.

Regular Emails
There are several things worth noting with their regular emails. First, only Ten Thousand Villages make good use of navigation bars. Aid to Artisans’ nav bar is at the bottom of most its emails, just like it is in its welcome email, although sometimes it’s on the left-hand side in column form. And Habitat for Humanity (see below) has a listing of “More Ways to Get Involved” at the bottom of their emails, but no nav bar.

Second, World of Good and Habitat’s emails featured a modular design that made it easy for them to add items to the newsletter. As you can see in the World of Good email below, it’s a little unsophisticated, but when you don’t have many people to manage your email marketing this kind of design can simplify email construction.

That email is also a good example of my third point, which is that some of these marketers make a point of highlighting the people that their activities help. Obviously the people angle is a lot of why people purchase from or get involved with these organizations. I think that profiles of the WBP’s workers, messages from staff members and pictures from events should play prominent role in the WBP emails.

All in all, Ten Thousand Villages’ email design (see below) is the closest to what we’ve developed for the WBP so far. It includes a personal angle by featuring an artisan and combines it with product images and descriptions.

If anyone has any recommendations or thoughts on any of this, please comment below. If you’re an eec member and you’d like to get involved with this project, please contact Ali.

—Chad White

One thought on “Competitive Recon for the Women's Bean Project

  1. This is great work and a nice summary, Chad, thanks.

    All these charities know what is relevant: a human connection. It’s great to see them utilize the email channel for extending the reach of that message.

    Clearly, a nonprofit has some wiggle room that a commercial marketer or retailer may not have – their subscribers will forgive unpolished (even unprofessional) design and writing, as well as tolerate erratic sending patterns. We support the organization, we know it’s a small staff, we simply expect this.

    But I would posit that doing email well is just as much work as doing it poorly – and that is the lesson for the rest of us in the for-profit world. Brevity and clarity of message is vital to create urgency and establish relevancy (and encourage subscribers to read future emails!); and so is a very clear call to action – something these samples miss.

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