Are you missing out on the benefits of enewsletters because you’re still trying fighting Outlook Express to try and send broadcasts to your supporters? Too many charities are, and it's affecting their results.

Get serious and make 2011 the year you sign up for a professional enewsletter tool. Not only will it make your life easier on newsletter day every month, but you’ll get stats back to see how it’s working, avoid spam filters, have your lists automatically cleaned of old e-mails and even be able to schedule messages to send when you’re not in the office!

With all the options available, and limited charity budgets, it can be hard to know where to start, though.

Here’s what you need to know to select the right enewsletter tool for you, that won’t break the bank.

If you just want to skip to our pick of the best newsletter tools for not for profits then click here to jump to the conclusion.

What to look out for…

Cost

Naturally, the first concern when you’re looking for a better e-mail tool is the cost. We’ve scoured the websites, read the brochures and braved the sales lines of 10 of the most popular enewsletter tools to bring you this simple comparison of cost, all in one place.

It’s worth noting that companies charge for newsletter services in two key, different ways. Some charge by the number of individual e-mails sent, and some by the number of subscribers on your list. All charge monthly fees.

To make it easy to compare like-for-like, we’ve put together a typical usage example of sending 2 mail outs per month to 10,000 subscribers (20,000 mails) which you can see in the table below. Watch out for one off set-up costs.

Name Free plan Setup fee Cheapest plan Typical Plan*
PHPList/ListMan
(self hosted)
Unlimited £0 £0 £0
MailChimp 12,000 mails £0 £5.67
(500 subs)
£42.50
AWebber 0 £0 £12.67
(500 subs)
£46.00
Constant Contact 0 £0 £10
(500 subs)
£50
Campaign Monitor 0 £0 £10
(500 subs)
£66.67
Vertical Response 10,000 mails £0 £6.67
(500 subs)
£80
CTTMail 0 £100 / £175 £45
(5,000 mails)
£100
CharityeMail 0 £0 / £75 / £175 £10
(100 mails)
£100
dotMailer 500 emails £0 – £995 £29
(1,500 mails)**
£199**
CheetahMail
(high volume)
0 £3,000 £1,000
(250,000 mails)
£1,000

* Typical Plan: 10,000 subscribers, 2 emails a month (20,000 monthly emails). ** Subject to 12 month contract. NB: US prices have been converted at a realistic rate of 1.5 USD = 1 GBP. Not for profit discounts have been applied where available.

As you can see, Mailchimp comes out the cheapest with a 15% non profit discount, with AWebber and Constant Contact close seconds. Interestingly, the tools targeted especially for charities such as CTTMail, dotMailer and CharityeMail are the most expensive!

Does cheap mean fewer features? And how many of these advanced features do you really need? Read on to find out.

DIY vs Pay Monthly

Open source DIY tools like PHPList and Listman are available if you want to spend nothing at all, but these will need to be set up, hosted, and maintained.

They have fewer features than pay-monthly tools, and often aren’t as easy to use. If you have an in-house IT or web person, they’re a great way to get started with enewsletter tools, without any cost, and keep control of all your data.

In this article, we’re going to focus on the pay monthly tools you can use without any technical help.

Data protection! Safe Harbour

Many of the best, and cheapest enewsletter tools are from companies in the US.

If you’re thinking of using one of these tools, it’s important to know the law when it comes to storing your list of e-mails and personal data outside the country.

Generally speaking, it’s safe to privately and securely store your subscriber data anywhere in the EU, but when it comes to the US, you’ll need to make sure the company is signed up to the ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement, which is a US-EU self regulation framework. It ensures the practices of US companies comply with UK/EU data protection practices.

If you are using a US tool covered by Safe Harbour, make sure your privacy policy includes the fact you intend to store your subscribers’ personal details in this way.

Features

If you’re not that experienced with newsletter management tools, you could be forgiven for thinking they all pretty much do the same thing. The difference is all in the exact mix of features you’re getting for the price.

Almost all newsletter tools offer a free trial, or a free plan, so if you think that tool’s in your budget then make sure you sign up and give it a go first.

Here are the key features you’ll need to look out for when choosing a tool…

Ease of use and support

How easy to use does the interface look? Can you find all the features you need, does it feel fast and is it easy to find help?

A tool’s no good if it’s frustrating to use, and if you get stuck, how sure can you be that you’re going to get the help you need?

Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor have user friendly, slick user interfaces, but you can’t get phone support. Less friendly looking tools, with better support options like CTT Mail, often have set up fees, or higher monthly costs in return.

It’s up to you to decide on the exact balance of support you need, in return for higher fees. One alternative may be to speak to a digital agency (like us!) if you need technical or strategic advice to get your started, leaving you free to take care of the month-to-month running of your campaigns.

Bounces and unsubscriptions

Will the tool automatically process bounces – which occur when you try to send e-mail to addresses that no longer exist – and unsubscriptions for you? This keeps your list size down, and your figures more accurate.

Automating the removal of dead email addresses helps you comply with Information Commissioner’s recommendations of checking that your data is up to date every two years.

Analytics and Reporting

Perhaps the biggest benefit of switching to a mailing list tool is actually being able to see the impact of your enewsletters.

Do people open them? And if they do, how many end up clicking on your links? Which links are the most popular? How many messages bounced? Did anyone complain your email was spam?

You can answer all these questions and more by ensuring the tool has analytics or reports.

If you use Google Analytics for your website reports you should also check to see if it integrates with your mailing list tool, so your Google Analytics account will be aware of traffic referred from your newsletter campaigns. Campaign Monitor and Mailchimp support integration with a simple click, as do others.

Segmentation and groups

By sending different emails, or different versions of emails, to different groups of subscribers you can improve your success rate by an average of 15%. This is called segmentation.

You should see how easy it is for you to set up groups, if your subscribers can update which group they’re in themselves through a profile screen, and if you can have multiple groups. That way you could segment by audience (volunteer, supporter, service user, etc), interests (womens rights, international development, education, etc) or even engagement (big donor, event attendee, social media superstar, etc).

Scheduling and auto-responders

There are few things more satisfying that knowing next month’s newsletter is sending itself whilst you’re at home having a cup of tea. Scheduling features make this possible. You can pre-prepare your next couple of mails, then pick the best time and date for them to be sent out, your newsletter tool will do the rest.

Some tools like Mailchimp check your subscribers’ timezones so everyone receives your message at the perfect time – that’s usually then time when your subscribers are checking e-mail, by the way.

Another great feature for charities is auto-responders, which allow you to set up automated messages to new subscribers. That means you can welcome them to your list, and get them up to speed with your campaigns right away, instead of having them hanging on for the next monthly newsletter.

Templates and themes

Usually you’d get a digital agency (like us!) to design you a beautiful set of newsletter templates that are on brand, visually interesting, spam filter friendly, and draw maximum attention to the all important action links in the e-mail.

If you can’t afford that, and still want your e-mails to look good, you can use the free templates supplied with some tools. These will never be as good as custom designed ones, but tools like Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, Mailchimp and others offer hundreds of free designs as a starting point. Check out Campaign Monitor’s gorgeous gallery here.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with sending a plain looking e-mail, sometimes these get better results as people are less likely to write them off as an impersonal newsletter, especially if you’re just asking for one key thing.

Forms, integration and APIs

Having a brilliant newsletter tool is no good if it ends up just another data silo, like your Outlook address book or a spreadsheet in the office.

You need to make sure your chosen tool has copy-and-pasteable forms, or provides links to form pages, so you can direct people to sign up for your newsletter and their e-mails automatically get put on your list.

For example, Constant Contact integrates with Salesforce, Mailchimp integrates with Paypal, Drupal, Joomla and WordPress.

Some tools now offer optional social media integration, but this is often of limited value. It can get annoying if every mail out you do is impersonally Facebooked and tweeted to all your social media supporters.

If you want some more advanced data connections with your website or internal databases, make sure the tool you choose provides an API. This will allow digital agencies (like us) to automatically move information between systems without you having to lift a finger.

Data portability

Lastly, it’s really important to make sure you can easily get your e-mail lists out of the system.

Look for CSV or spreadsheet export tools. It’s your data – you don’t want to get locked into a system you’re not happy with just because it costs a fortune to get a company to give you your data back in a usable form.

Our pick

After spending an unhealthy amount of time staring at e-mail lists, campaign reports and pricing tables, we’ve picked what we think is the best all round tool for not for profit e-mail campaigns.

Drumroll please…

Mailchimp

With the lowest price, the largest number of compatible tools, and a fun user interface that features a talking monkey, we felt that Mailchimp represented the best value and ease of use for those who want to start taking their newsletters more seriously.

The only things we felt were lacking were the e-mail composition interface being a bit sluggish compared to the competition, the fact that Mailchimp strips out shared e-mail addresses (like admin@ or info@ which some smaller charities use) and the fact that getting previews and spam scores of your e-mails for multiple email tools (Inbox Inspector) was an additional fee – the not insignificant £3 per e-mail campaign.

Read more about MailChimp

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