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Emailing Volunteers Made Easier: An Interview with Kristi Scott

Kristi is centered in this photo, showing off her wide smile and short curly hair. She wears a navy top and a salmon-coloured cardigan. There is a maple tree and sunshine in the soft background.
Kristi is centered in this photo, showing off her wide smile and short curly hair. She wears a navy top and a salmon-coloured cardigan. There is a maple tree and sunshine in the soft background.

When I started working in volunteer engagement, I had no clue about email marketing. I had trained as an academic and struggled to write like I talk. I soon realized that this profession involves constantly sending mass emails that:

  • Update volunteers on organizational successes and events

  • Invite volunteers to events and professional development opportunities

  • Thank volunteers for their impact

  • Share information about logistics and expectations

  • Reflect the organization's brand voice and visuals


It’s a skill I built through partnering with awesome marketing and communications colleagues and self-directed learning. But, I continue to work on it every day. 


I recently sat down with Kristi Scott, a non-profit consultant focused on email marketing, to learn some more tips and tricks from her toolbox. She kindly agreed to let me share parts of our conversation with you- enjoy!


JPP: Thanks Kristi for taking the time today! Can you start by sharing how email marketing for nonprofits became your specialty?


KS: I started my career at small nonprofits where I had to wear multiple hats. This included time as a volunteer manager and program manager. I became increasingly interested in marketing (specifically automated outreach, donor activation, and direct mail), which led me to do my MBA and work for software companies with nonprofit clients. When I started consulting in 2023, I knew helping small nonprofits and social impact organizations with email fundraising would be my perfect niche. 


Email is the preferred method for updates and donation asks with 48% of donors, but many small nonprofits don’t know how to get back to basics.


JPP: What are those basics and how can leaders of volunteers apply them to emailing volunteer lists?


KS: I see it as a recipe with five ingredients: strategy, writing, assets, design, and adapt. A great way to remember this is SWADA, which rhymes with ta-da!


JPP: I love a good memory device! Can you walk me through what we should think about with respect to strategy?


KS: Of course! So just like the volunteer engagement cycle, you shouldn’t take any action without planning first. I encourage folks to start by defining their goals for the email. Think about:

  • Why you are sending the email 

  • What actions you want the recipients to take

  • When you want the recipients to take the actions

  • How often you are reaching out about these actions 

  • And how you will segment the groups you are emailing. Active volunteers should be sent a different message than lapsed volunteers or folks who have applied to volunteer but haven’t yet been onboarded. 


JPP: Cool! That’s totally doable! Oftentimes, we send out emails to volunteers because we want to keep them up-to-date through an exclusive newsletter. Do you have any tips for that?


KS: Newsletters are a great opportunity to tell compelling stories. The key to a good story is to go deep on a specific person or project where volunteers have made an impact. I know that you care a lot about ethical storytelling. Check out Diana Farias Heinrich’s resources on this topic for more inspiration!  


JPP: Bookmarked her website and followed her! Thanks! So, this takes us to your next SWADA step: writing. To be honest, my biggest challenge is usually the subject line! 


KS: My advice is to go simple and meaningful, and to use SubjectLine.com to help improve your first drafts!


JPP: What is SubjectLine.com? Is it an AI tool?


KS: Yep! It will evaluate the subject lines you input based on a number of factors, and use AI to suggest ways to make the subject line more fun, more suspenseful, etc. 


JPP: Another bookmark added! Okay- what are your other writing tips? 


KS: Every email should include a call to action. Choose one or two actions you want the audience to take. This could mean signing up to attend a training, or inviting a friend or family member to learn about volunteering with the agency. 


JPP: When I worked with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, we put out an ask at the end of every email newsletter for folks who wanted to share their volunteer experience stories as part of the #SundaySalute social media series. It was a call to action that engaged tons of people. We built a database of these stories to share every Sunday! 


KS: Well you are ahead of me now! Building a database of success stories for email or social is part of the first “A” in SWADA- assets! The other assets folks should start collecting are media like photos, video, and audio. I also recommend that leaders of volunteers have branded graphic templates. They can ask their marketing colleagues for them or use a small budget to hire a graphic designer. Very small organizations can even create them for free on Canva. 


JPP: Good tip! I’ve worked with some very talented freelance graphic designers to create infographics that report back on volunteer survey findings. It is much less stressful than trying to do it yourself. 


Speaking of design… “D” is for design. What do you mean by that?


KS: I’m not a designer either and refer people to Katelyn Baughan for email design work. At the same time, there are some quick improvements anyone can make.


First, keep it simple. Stop trying to do “the most” with email design. Simple doesn’t mean boring - visuals like photos are awesome but use them to add to your storytelling. My tip: don't make visuals the main focus.


Second, make it mobile friendly. 46% of all email opens are on smartphones. This is why simple design is so important! Take a look at the mobile preview your email platform provides before you hit send!


Finally, be consistent with your design. Use a similar or complementary design for your emails. Do some testing to see if you find a difference in how volunteers respond to your designs.


JPP: Testing and previewing emails is so helpful! It’s one of my biggest takeaways from reporting to a Communications Director once upon a time. 


So your final step in SWADA is adapt. What are your tips for keeping these emails adaptable?


KS: Keep testing and trying new things! A simple way to do this is by sending your emails at different times to see if there’s any changes in interaction. 


Speaking of that, make sure to track important interactions: open rates, click-through rates, and signups.


How we connect with supporters online is an ongoing process so be prepared to change. Continuous improvement is how to build lasting relationships with volunteers and other supporters.


JPP: And this is why we clicked right away- I am also all about continuous improvement. Thank you for reminding me that this ethos should be applied to everything we do with volunteers, including emails.


Where can people find you online? 


KS: I’m on LinkedIn and at kristipscott.com. I’m also offering a free Quick-Start Guide to Email Fundraising right now, check it out here: https://kristipscott.com/free-guide 


JPP: Thanks Kristi! I’m downloading that guide right now! Appreciate your time today and we’ll talk again soon!

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