Email communications are cost and time efficient; and when done properly it gets results. However, there are several important issues that need to be addressed when constructing an email fundraising and communications program. Tackle them and be worry free.
More and more, deliverability depends on the reputation of the server sending out your emails. Your domain can get blacklisted as a result of server reputation problems, so make sure your server is found on white lists and has a good history. Check your assigned IP addresses as they may have been recycled and make sure to handle all spam complaints and unsubscribe requests immediately.
When it comes to deliverability the order of importance starts with server reputation, followed by domain reputation, complaint volume, email frequency, the number of emails sent through any ISP, the layout of your emails and finally the content of your emails.
Emails are most often deleted first thing on Monday morning, when people have their inbox filled from the weekend and are getting started with their work week. Avoid sending out emails on the weekend, especially when you largely have work addresses. Any weekday, besides too early on Monday morning and too late on Friday afternoon will generally work well.
Collecting email addresses is getting harder and harder. For the most part you should avoid "harvesting" where you grab up email addresses rather indiscriminately from other online sources. While some perceptions are changing, a purchased email list will still largely be viewed as spam by most people. As an alternative to the above two methods you can get another organization to "chaperone" you. They can send information regarding you to their legitimate list in hopes of driving more traffic to your site and your own list.
The single most effective email acquisition source is to get people to signup on your website through a double opt-in. When they submit their registration, they get a confirmation email and they then have to reply to that confirmation. The confirmed opt-in sends a confirmation email but does not require a reply. Least effective is the automatic opt-in where they buy or sign up for something and a box is checked as "Sign me up" or "Yes I want to know more" unless they change it. While that still collects you more email addresses, it will also result with getting many uninterested parties in your list.
You don't need a huge list, you need a quality list. 1,000 names and a 100% open rate will always be better than 10,000 names and a 1% rate. Collect email addresses wherever and however you can, but do it legitimately and with interested parties.
Source: Adapted by Jake Emen from Marc Lee's Nonprofit 911 Presentation "Email Fundraising on a Tight Budget"