Nonprofit organizations all strive to be effective in how they communicate their messages, but getting people to register for events can still be a struggle. When it comes to e-mail campaigns, how often is often enough? At what point does a campaign shift from effective to annoying?

There are two common models for sending event-registration invitations:

  1. LONG CYCLE: This entails sending multiple invitations over a long period of time (two to six weeks).
  2. SHORT CYCLE: This involves sending one or two invitations within a brief period of time (two to seven days).

While both methods work, each is most effective for specific types of events. Here are some recommendations based on my experience in sending and receiving both of these types of invitations.

The Long Cycle

Multiple invitations sent over a long period of time are fitting for

  • educational sessions,
  • large/long sessions (more than 150 people/60 minutes),
  • sessions that are tied to live events (such as seminars at trade shows), and
  • a series of sessions that should be attended in total and in succession.

People generally need to plan further in advance for these types of sessions, so more notice is appropriate.

A typical long cycle e-mail-marketing cycle:

E-Mail 1:
4 to 6 Weeks in Advance

This can be a “save the date” notice with a teaser announcement in the subject line and a request to save the date and time. It may be appropriate to offer an early-bird rate now.

E-Mail 2:
3 to 4 Weeks in Advance

This should be a full-content invitation, including a description of what the participant should expect to learn, gain, find out, or experience. The key to success is listing the benefit to the reader first — in other words, “What's in it for me?” — and the tactical information last.

E-Mail 3:
2 to 3 Weeks in Advance

You may want to increase the recipient's sense of urgency to respond by including a push to action, such as “Limited seats remaining!” or “Only two weeks left to register!”

E-Mail 4:
One Week in Advance

Include a “Last chance to register” notice in this e-mail. Remember to stress the “what's in it for me?” factors.

E-Mail 5:
Day Before or Day of Event

This is simply a reminder to those who have already registered, not to the rest of the database. It reminds them of the event and contains their login instructions, along with links to any handout materials or other information they may need.

The Short Cycle

A few invitations contained within a two-to-seven-day period are appropriate when your organization provides informational/educational webinars such as

  • networking and informal sessions that don't offer formal educational credits or certifications,
  • single-topic sessions,
  • short group sessions of 60 minutes or less, and
  • lunch-and-learn sessions.

Here's what a typical short e-mail-marketing cycle looks like:

E-Mail 1:

2 TO 5 BUSINESS DAYS BEFORE EVENT: Include “Webinar: [name of event]” in your subject line or some similar content to alert the reader that this is a webinar that needs to be registered for in the near future. Include all pertinent information, leading with the benefits of attending and/or problems the session will solve or address.

E-Mail 2:

DAY OF THE EVENT. This is a reminder of the event name, date, time, and login instructions.

Many people respond well to the short-cycle style of invitation because the event is either in their window of time and need or it isn't. So short-cycle audiences tend to have a high level of interest, even though their attendance numbers may be smaller. Some short-cycle e-mails have been sent on the day of the webinar, but this is not recommended unless you intentionally want a very small response.

When Should You Mail?

One of the most common questions non-profit organizations ask us is, “When is the best time to send an e-mail invitation?”

The hard truth is, it depends. I know that is not the most satisfying answer, but the fact remains that there is no universal “best” time or day to send e-mail. What works best for a professional nonprofit organization may not work at all for a trade association. Your optimal send time depends on a lot of factors, such as your industry, audience demographics, and the nature of your message.

The way to determine your organization's optimal send time is to test — and retest — time of day and day of week.

However, research does provide some general guidelines:

  • First thing in the morning, people have their forefinger positioned on the delete button, ready to quickly get rid of all the junk in their inbox. Not a good choice.
  • Mondays, especially in the morning, are often busy with meetings and catching up with last week's issues. This is generally not a good choice either.
  • Friday afternoon is mostly spent figuring out the weekend's fun activities; avoid Friday afternoon.
  • Lunch time or early afternoon may be the best time as people tend to be more relaxed.
  • Weekends may be an option for your demographics — test to see if it works.

Measure the effectiveness of e-mails sent on different days and times with actual registration and click-through rates. You may be surprised by the results.

Antoine Dupont, is president and CEO of Admin eSolutions, a Web design and content-management software company that creates transaction-ready Web sites. Admin eSolutions specializes in solutions for nonprofits, associations, healthcare organizations, association chapters, small businesses, consumer companies, educational organizations, cities, and towns. He has worked in the event-marketing and technology sector since 1998. Write to him at adupont@adminesolutions.com.