Email is at the core of DonorsChoose.org, a nonprofit fund-raising platform that connects public school teachers with funding for classroom materials and school projects.
DonorsChoose.org has funded over 880,000 projects to date, and email has generated over $15 million in donations over the 2016-2017 school year alone.
Due to the importance of these emails, DonorsChoose.org has partnered with Return Path to ensure that messages reach their intended destination. DonorsChoose.org is a member of Return Path’s Certification program, a whitelist that ensures better inbox placement rates across major mail providers.
Unfortunately, DonorsChoose.org had to learn the hard way about how poor email credibility can negatively affect email marketing. The nonprofit experienced an emergency email situation when DonorsChoose.org was suspended from its Microsoft server because too many people were marking their emails as spam.
“Imagine not being able to tell a teacher that their project was funded because we had sent out a bad email,” says Katie Bisbee, CMO of DonorsChoose.org. “When you have a problem like that and emails aren’t being sent, it’s hard to hunt and figure out what’s going on all on your own.”
Return Path helped the nonprofit regain its email credibility, and ramp up email messages again after being suspended. Since working with Return Path, nearly all of DonorsChoose.org emails are landing in the intended inbox with a 99% and 100% inbox placement rate on Yahoo and Microsoft, respectively.
Return Path not only helped DonorsChoose.org understand what happened, but also helped DonorsChoose.org clean their email lists so that the same situation would not happen again. DonorsChoose.org stopped messaging donors that had not donated in over three years, and began prioritizing emails to more engaged subscribers.
“A lot of our marketing efforts in our email strategy are very similar to a retail company,” says Bisbee. "We want someone to pick something they care about and pull out their wallet. The one really big difference is that we need to pull on people’s heartstrings, and tell a story that will do that. It’s hard to accomplish that in a social media post that people look at for half a second. “
Bisbee says that email “is a hard-wired connection to us and donors,” but that the channel also gives DonorsChoose.org an opportunity to tell better stories.
“A lot of our supporters use our site when they get fired up with what’s going on in the world,” says Bisbee.
For example, people are supporting classroom projects in Flint, Michigan, where teachers are requesting bottles of water. Bisbee says that DonorsChoose.org also saw a rise in donations during the social demonstrations in Baltimore and Ferguson, with donors funding public school projects in those cities.
The nonprofit also saw a 60% year-over-year increase in donations this past February after the confirmation of Betsy Devos as Education Secretary.