Few things are more important for engaging your stakeholders than strategic, timely emails. If you’re looking to retain members, hit ambitious fundraising goals or win over policy makers, it won’t happen if your team can’t make smart use of its email system to send the right messages to the right people at the right time.

Why, then, do we know so many people who are frustrated with the capabilities of their email marketing systems? 

The answer is simple: it’s not enough to have the capability to send effective emails. You need to have the time to do this well, over and over again. And it’s hard enough to create consistently engaging content without having to jump through byzantine technical hurdles or hire outside developers to execute basic functions! 

Nearly all of our clients seek a lightweight system that’s relatively easy to use and geared to the unique needs of groups working for the common good. They want to be able to seamlessly create new emails from basic templates, and to segment lists on the fly. And if they haven’t already developed one, they want to develop a compelling email series that automatically welcomes folks who sign up from the web. 

Good news—all of this is eminently possible with affordable email marketing software (EMS) that’s already on the market! However, not all systems are created equal. If you’re thinking about a new EMS, we encourage you to consider important (but sometimes overlooked) factors like ease of use and total cost of ownership when making this decision.


Why you might prefer a golf cart to a tank

We suggest thinking of email management as a little like professional golf: Your aim is to get the ball from the tee to the hole in as few strokes as possible. To do this, you need to move nimbly and skillfully around the course, from one fairway to another, without too much heavy equipment weighing you down. 

Especially when time matters, and the weather’s dicey, chances are you’ll benefit from a zippy golf cart to help get you around the course. 

A tank on a golf course, bad idea!
I think you just ran over my ball.

Of course, a heavily armored tank can transport you too. But a tank is built for entirely different terrain; just because it excels in conflict zones doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for navigating tight fairways. You will struggle mightily to learn how to drive the thing. And a tank requires complex support infrastructure – an army of consultants and development shops to continuously maintain and improve its machinery for you. 

A little competitiveness is good in golf, and it can be helpful for improving our performance in the office too. Yet it’s important to keep the eye on what matters most: scoring in as few swings as possible. Even if you see other golfers noisily rumbling around the course in a freshly painted tank – and even if you can afford a similar tank – it doesn’t mean that it will be the ideal support for your golf game.


Salesforce’s email systems are tanks: They’re perfect for some jobs, but inefficient (even lumbering) for the ones you may care about.

Many of our clients rely on one of two email systems owned by Salesforce: Pardot and Marketing Cloud. Both are big, powerful marketing tools. They promise power and easy integration with Salesforce’s customer relationship management software. 

These tanks work well for businesses that have the human and financial resources to master their complexity. Indeed, both of these systems were designed with large corporations in mind: Marketing Cloud is for the Coca-Colas of the world, executing complex, large-scale automations for very large customer bases. Meanwhile, Pardot was designed as a B2B platform for managing sales leads.

Unfortunately, in our experience, neither system has yet to be optimized for the unique needs of nonprofits and public service organizations. Yes, you can devote major time and money into retrofitting them to operate in the context of your unique mission and work. Still, we believe an agile, high-quality golf cart would better serve a majority of organizations. A vehicle you can easily drive on day one, and immediately put to action to advance your preferred vision of social change. 


It’s easy to underestimate the human cost of operating complex email systems

When shopping for email platforms, all vendors will run down a checklist of capabilities that’s designed to dazzle you with how comprehensive they are. They’ll also tell you the sticker price for accessing their amazing systems. It’s critical to look deeper, though. What’s not always evident at first glance is the total cost of ownership for each of these systems. In particular, we’re referring to: 1) the time that your staff will spend using and maintaining the system, and 2) the time required of consultants and developers to set it up and implement what you need.

While it’s hard to estimate these in advance, our experience suggests Pardot and Marketing Cloud tend to incur significantly higher costs to execute basic functions than other systems. A few examples:

Automating a welcome email series

Arguably the most important way to engage new audiences – and free up valuable staff time – is to create an automated series of welcome emails for new subscribers. Unfortunately, Marketing Cloud and Pardot don’t make this easy. They require many hours of custom development to implement features and functions that take minutes for a smart layperson to figure out with other systems.


Would you like a monthly dashboard that’s tailored to your needs, showing you how to adapt your marketing tactics to more effectively drive the actions you care about most (like donations, downloads and event registrations)? We thought so! Alas, these are cumbersome to develop in email systems owned by Salesforce.

A/B testing of subject lines

Particularly if you have a large email list, it’s likely you’ll benefit from testing the effectiveness of multiple subject lines before sending important messages. It’s much harder to do this with Salesforce’s systems than it is with less expensive competitors.

List grooming

Let’s say someone hasn’t opened a message from your organization in seven years. You probably don’t want to be bugging them anymore. If you have the time for a manual review of your email lists once a quarter, go for it! But it’s perfectly understandable that this isn’t a high priority for most mission-driven organizations. While Pardot and Marketing Cloud always wait for manual instructions before making adjustments to your lists, some systems automatically relieve you of the burden of list grooming.


All major systems can integrate with Salesforce with focused strategy and development

If your organization relies on Salesforce, of course you’ll want your email system to communicate with it seamlessly. One obvious strategy is to use software explicitly under the Salesforce umbrella. These days, however, even very simple email programs will communicate with this CRM in nearly all the ways you need it to. Effective integrations are eminently possible, and the upfront effort they require shouldn’t deter you from a choice that would otherwise serve you and your staff extremely well.


We want you to feel good about the tools you’re using to achieve your mission

Hopefully we’ve encouraged you to think expansively about how email software can work for you (instead of you working for your software). If you’re already in the process of considering a new email system – or are now feeling inspired to consider your options – stay tuned for a future post, in which we’ll walk you through how to assess the relative pros and cons of different software platforms.