Could the local voluntary sector use email better?

Could the local voluntary sector use email better?

At VCSSCamp (the recent unconference I attended), I led a session on email. Attendees were from Voluntary Sector infrastructure organisations from around the UK. Email is a topic I'm very interested in, because I am one of the founders of, an email newsletter network tool for the voluntary sector. It turned out that others wanted to talk about email too. We shared our experiences of using email, and how we might support our local voluntary organisations to use email better.

I shared this diagram, which visualises the UK adult population's use of digital communications.

It's based on amalgamating sources of information from Ofcom, eMarketer and other good sources. Roughly 25% of the UK adult population are difficult to reach as they aren't online or don't use email much. Yet the other 75% of the UK adult population checks an email account at least weekly.

Only two thirds of these people (50% of UK adults) regularly check any social media, and for half of these, they're only using Facebook. Only about a quarter of the population uses a wide range of social media on a weekly basis.

Email is often overlooked when we talk about digital

My point in showing the diagram is how important email still is. If we want to reach the greatest number of people who are online, we need to be using email! Yet when we talk about digital, so often we are focusing on social media.

We discussed whether voluntary organisations realised the importance of email, and whether CVSs are doing enough to help them with email.

Email is not only widely used, it's also powerful. Businesses often report that it's their most effective marketing method, for the time and money spent.

How do CVSs use email today?

Several CVSs reported that they sent out a weekly email newsletter, and one reported sending one fortnightly.

Sandwell reported that they had over 2,000 subscribers, comprising organisations, residents and council officers, and that sign-ups were rising. They use Tribulant instead of Mailchimp, because it posts content straight to their Wordpress website as well as emailing it.

Other CVSs used their CRM system to email (segmenting their audience according to interests), or used Mailchimp. One such CVS using their CRM reported problems with email addresses becoming blocked, so they now only send 20 emails at a time (!).

Several CVSs reported that groups or organisations they support will often request their news and events is shared in the CVS email newsletter. This suggests they see inclusion in an email as a valuable way of promoting what they're doing.

I reported that CVSs in Surrey using for emailing, find it useful to streamline the process of sharing groups' news. Groups submit it to and the CVS then just picks the items it wants to include in its newsletter.

What's a good open rate?

We discussed open rates, although no-one had data on open rates to hand. Maybe this is something that CVSs could share (in the spirit of improving!) in future? We have seen open rates for community groups on our platform of over 50%, which some found high. But the open rate depends on the quality of your list and your content's relevance. Small organisations using tend to score well on these because they are small and local.

What makes people open an email?

We discussed what makes a good subject line.

I suggested that it's good to think about the combination of 'from' address and subject line. The recipient sees both before he or she opens the email.

Using an individual's name in the 'from' address can be good if they are known, but a mistake if the organisation is better known than the person.

Organisations which use their organisation's name in the 'from' address free up the subject line so it can be more interesting.

It's important to mix it up a bit with the subject line, rather than using 'E-newsletter June 2016' (which is awful!). For instance a subject line like 3 new ways for Sandwell groups to get funding' is likely to maximise the open rate.

Hubspot have written some good material on writing email subject lines.

How to write a great email

Becky from Salford CVS recommended the Hemingway Editor app to help with writing style. It points out when sentences are too long, too complicated, or when there are too many adverbs. I've used it to write this blog post and I think it has helped, so thanks Becky!

What are our favourite email newsletters?

We talked about email newsletters which we subscribed to, which we thought were good. The following got a mention:

  • "Content-ment"

  • "Five Links on a Friday"

  • Convince and Convert (if you hang about on the website for long enough, a popup will come up inviting you to join their email list) - all about digital marketing, content marketing etc.
Unfortunately, in the case of the first two, I can't find them anywhere online, so if anyone recommended them, can they send a link? (or tell me on twitter @helencammack).

How can voluntary organisations use email better?

But enough about us! How could we support our local voluntary sector to make the most of email and use it better?

No-one ever asks us how they can communicate better was one comment. They ask us about funding, and maybe how to get volunteers, but never how to communicate better. Yet others felt that perhaps this was a missed opportunity, and voluntary organisations could get a lot out of using email better. It's also more accessible to the less digitally confident groups than social media.

I told how I had previously run training sessions at Woking Association of Voluntary Service, and how the one about how to use email was fully subscribed. We have another one coming up. This suggests there's some appetite among local groups for learning about email. I offered to share the training material I used for Woking with any CVSs who wanted to run a training workshop. If you'd like it, or if you'd like me to run a webinar for you, get in touch at


For those not familiar with it's an email newsletter network tool designed for small voluntary groups. As an email newsletter tool, it's easy to use and doesn't have all the features of more complex products.

Because it's a network, it also makes email into more of a promotional tool that helps groups to get the word out beyond their own mailing list.

Groups can make any stories created for their email newsletter public, and share them with other local groups (including the CVS). Other local groups can use their stories in their own email newsletters. Stories can be published on a community webpage bringing groups news, events and activities together in one place.

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This story was shared by logo helps local communities build online networks that bring community groups and businesses together. We also provide a free email newsletter tool specially designed for community groups.

Sign up here to hear about our company's progress, or to get hints and tips for using for your local group.
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