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[Email of the Week #5]: How Wikipedia Earns Millions From Small Donors With Email Marketing

By Chris Orzechowski

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 10.33.08 AM

Alright, it’s that magical time of the week again…

So grab a coffee, make yourself comfortable and get ready to enjoy the newest edition of Email of the Week!

This is the fifth installment of this series. Make sure you click here to check the archives of past episodes.

In case you’re new around here, here’s how it works…

The Rules for Email of The Week

Each week, I go out into the wild to find a super-effective e-commerce marketing email… and I break down what made it work. My goal is for you to tune in each week, so I can teach you strategies and best practices YOU can use to make your own emails better.

I find these emails in my inbox, but I also accept suggestions from readers who have a remarkable email they’d like to share.

If you recently received an email that was so awesome it made your jaw drop, I wanna see it.

Forward it to me (chris at theemailcopywriter dot com) with a brief message about what you liked about it. If I choose to do a breakdown of the email you sent, I’ll give you a shout out and link to your site.

The only rule is… you can’t pick yourself.

Now then, without further ado, let’s check out the Email of the Week!

Money… For Nothing?

This week’s Email of the Week was submitted to me by Justin Blackman. I’ll give him his due and proper in a moment.

But before I do that, let’s talk about fundraising.

There are a LOT of nonprofits out there who live and die by the number of donations they receive each year.

The nonprofits who really make a dent in this world, at some point, realize they have to be good at marketing in order to continue to serve the people they want to help.

The more money a nonprofit gets… the more people they can help.

The thing is…

Asking for money can be hard.

Even if you have a really great product, asking for money can be tough.

Now… what happens when you’re asking for money (selling), but you’re not actually “giving” people anything they didn’t already have?

That can be much more difficult.

Luckily, Wikipedia has some VERY smart people who are helping them with their annual donation drive. It’s no surprise that more than a decade after they’ve started… they just keep growing and are one of the most popular sites on the internet.

Let’s take a look at one of their incredible fundraising emails…

Wikipedia’s Email to Past Donors

 

 

The subject line is an interesting one.

There’s no clear or implied benefit.

However, there IS a ton of curiosity…, especially coming from Wikipedia.

Once you open this email, the first thing you see is a picture of Katherine Maher, the Executive Director of Wikimedia.

Let me stop here for a second:

Before we go any further into this email, I want you to pay attention to how “personal” this email was written.

One of the biggest mistakes most email marketers make is they write their emails in a “one-to-many” tone… rather than making it look and FEEL like a personal communication.

This email “comes from” Katherine. You open it and see her picture. And it starts off with “Dear {{ subscriber.first_name }},”

I’ll say it again – pay close attention to how the tone in this one.

Onward…

The first sentence of this email is simple, yet brilliant.

“About a year ago, you donated $3 to keep Wikipedia online for millions of readers.”

Now… this sentence does a great job of answering every human’s favorite question: why the hell are you sending me this email.

But what it ALSO does, is that it begins to invoke Cialdini’s principle of commitment and consistency. People are desperate to stay congruent with their self-image and identity.

This first sentence calls that out.

Hey, you are a donor… you donated last year… will you continue to be a good person? Or are you going to make a conscious decision to stop doing a really good thing for millions of people?

It doesn’t say that… but on a base level, that’s kind of the effect.

Personally, I love it.

It’s very hard for people to act against their identity.

I’m not sure if that was the writer’s intention… but I definitely see that effect showing through here.

After that sentence, Katherine thanks the donor. Which is a great second sentence in this context. Always thank people for the awesome things they’ve done in the past… it makes them feel appreciated.

She then says how Justin was one of the 1% of readers who donated last year. And now they need his (your) help again,

That’s a very simple, yet powerful four sentences.

It really sets the context for the rest of the email. You know why you’re getting it… you know the action you should take… and you start to understand WHY.

The entire rest of the email unpacks all of these big ideas that were packed into that first paragraph.

And… if you’re one of those “hyper-responsives” who already know they’re going to donate… there’s a link right below the first paragraph for you to renew your donation.

Now, before we move on, I want to point something else out:

One of the rules of persuasion is that you usually want social proof on your side. A lot of studies have shown that if people see others doing something… they’ll wanna do it too.

This is why some restaurant owners rent a bunch of cars and park them in their parking lot before a grand opening… they want people to see all the cars and think :

“Well honey, that place must be good… look at that parking lot! We should check it out…”

The interesting thing with this email is that Katherine explained how YOU, the donor, is one of 1% of the readers who made a decision to donate.

If social proof was a one-variable argument… I’d say this breaks some persuasion rules.

But…

On the other hand…

In this context, I actually think it has the opposite effect.

I think we’re seeing a bit of a ‘velvet rope’ effect.

Wikipedia donors are a special group of people.

Your brain might even go so far as to tell itself that you are in the “Top 1% of Wikipedia readers.”

Of course, it doesn’t say that anywhere in this email… but confirmation bias fills in gaps for us… especially when we have an opportunity to make ourselves feel special.

So normally, if only 1% of people are doing something… that usually wouldn’t convince others they should join along.

BUT, in this context I think it almost invites you to remain as part of this ‘privileged class’ of readers.

Pretty cool.

Let’s keep going…

 

 

In this paragraph, they start to address some big objections.

I mean, they’re literally reading your thoughts TO you:

“Wikipedia will be fine, they don’t need me. There’s a lot of other people who’ll donate.”

They address this objection right upfront.

And then, they circle back to that 1% figure.

I think this is effective because that 1% is such a small number. They could have said: we have 1 billion readers and only 1,000,000 donors. (IDK if these are the numbers, I’m making this up for easy math.)

But which one seems smaller?

1,000,000 or 1%?

Obviously, 1% seems smaller… and if we lose that tiny little 1% then there’ll be no more Wikipedia!

Again, they go back to the fact that YOU, the donor, are important… and that you have an opportunity to do something that’s going to help a lot of people.

Also… did you notice the takeaway here?

This sentence: “It ensures Wikipedia is here for you when you needs us.”

A ‘takeaway’ is a technique in sales where you essentially pull something off the table. People start craving the thing they might lose… because they start imagining what life would be like WITHOUT that thing they’re about to lose.

So… they take action to recover it.

It’s a powerful way to clinch a sale.

It’s kind of being used subtly here… but if Wikipedia’s donation dried up, at some point they’d cease to exists.

So if you like using their site/service… and want to make sure it doesn’t go away, then donate.

Onward…

 

 

This next part is really cool.

Katherine begins to tell a story.

As we know, storytelling is super-powerful. We’re drawn to stories. And this one is kind of a walk down memory lane.

Ahhhh…. the early wild, wild west days of the internet.

Remember that?

What’s cool here is how they position Wikipedia against all of the other sites you have used over the years.

First: they’re talking about how a lot of sites were “free-wheeling”… which could be interpreted as unregulated bullshit. At least, that’s kind of what I think when I read it. They’re definitely not wrong.

Katherine then starts talking about how the internet has changed a lot. We all use the same few sites (read: social media).

At this part of the email, your brain can’t help but start to compare and contrast Wikipedia and the Big Tech God sites: Facebook, Google, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, etc…

I think people have very different emotional responses when they think of these Big Tech God sites.

There are definitely some negative feelings toward those sites.

We’ve all seen Zuckerberg answering questions in front of congress. We know these guys are addicting people to their sites and making money hand over first.

On the other hand…

You have lil ol’ Wikipedia.

The good guys!

They’re a nonprofit.

They’re popular… but they rely on good people like YOU to keep going.

They are the David to the Big Tech Gods’ Goliath.

Wikipedia wants you to know that real, flesh and blood people like you and I are manning the switchboard at Wikimedia.

People like us are running that site.

They have a ‘can-do’ spirit…

This email kind of makes you feel like Wikipedia is the local Mom & Pop drugstore located downtown… the one where the owner knows your name. And you don’t want Walmart to come in and put them out of business… right?

The paragraph ends with another strong call to action.

One other thing: I really love how often this email is including calls to action.

Sometimes, we get lazy and only include these CTAs once in an email.

Katherine does a great job of rehashing the objective of this email: to get a donation.

That is THE priority here. And she reminds you multiple times… just in case your attention or comprehension lagged at any point.

Ok, this next part’s cool.

Here’s the clincher…

 

 

If everyone responded to this email, the fundraiser would be done!

This is really nice future pacing. You almost get a sense of accomplishment by reading it. You almost feel like you can kick your feet up on your desk after donating… knowing you’ve saved the day.

Again, this is followed by another strong call to action. This time, with a more blatant “why.”

Please donate so that Wikipedia remains independent, ad-free and thriving.

Those are tangible benefits you’ll receive in return for donating. Sure, you don’t ‘receive’ anything directly from Wikipedia. No package will show up with a product.

But you still FEEL like you’re getting something as a result of your donation.

Also, notice how this is highlighted and bolded… to draw the skimmers eyes to it. It is, essentially, the big idea of the entire email. If nothing else, please read that and take action.

Let’s keep going…

 

 

Now… obviously keeping Wikipedia independent and ad-free and up and running is important. Those are kind of 30,000 ft ideas. Those are the obvious reasons for donating.

But what’s the story you’re going to tell at the dinner table? What’s the story you tell your friends?

We all tell ourselves stories about why we do things.

We rationalize and justify our actions.

As email marketers, you can make the decision EASIER for people if you actually provide them with “the story” people can use to tell others. You can essentially give them ‘verbal swipe copy’ they can use to spread your idea to friends and family.

This paragraph does a brilliant job of that.

By this point in the email, you’re already thinking about donating. It’s definitely crossed your mind. And if you’re still on the fence, your objection is probably along the lines of: “Well, I’d send money… but how do I know they’re going to put it to good use?”

THIS section of the email answers this objection while providing that ‘shareable story’ the donor can tell around the dinner table.

Obviously, Wikipedia needs money to stay up and running.

But it’s also going to use your money to help it expand.

Not only is it going to use your money to help it expand… it’s ALSO going to improve usability. That means they’re going to expand their reach and make changes that bring Wikipedia to new countries and new groups of people.

They’re also going to advocate for online privacy and freedom of information.

So if you thought your donation was just going to power a server for an hour or two… you’re dead wrong.

Your $3 is actually going to make the world a better place and even protect the first amendment… among a myriad of other benefits.

Remember:

They’re only asking for three fucking dollars here.

But MAN… does your $3 donation go far when you donate with Wikipedia.

We know our individual $3 donation can only be spread so far. But to us… we feel like we are accomplishing a lot by doing something so small.

You can’t help but feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment if you donate to Wikipedia.

Ok, let’s wrap this thing up…

 

 

This email ends with a strong call-to-action, rehashing some of the previously stated benefits.

And…

I’m very happy to see they end with an “If…, then…” CTA.

This is my go-to move in emails.

I love it because it hits again on Cialdini’s consistency and congruency effect.

If Wikipedia is useful to you and you recognize that fact… do you really want to NOT help them out?

Kind of hard not to.

Finally, the email ends with a big, clickable button.

Why?

Because people fucking love clicking buttons.

That’s why.

Special Shoutout to Justin Blackman!

Like I said before, Justin was the one who submitted this email to me for review.

In case you don’t know Justin, he’s a super-smart dude. And… we’ve actually met in person at Copy Chief Live.

Click here to check out out this site and get on his list. 

Justin is a very experienced copywriter and has literally written for hundreds of clients. He’s also an expert on the topic of voice… which is something so few writers understand effectively. He’s actually teamed up with Abbey Woodcock to deliver the Codex Persona Workshop. In his spare time, Justin likes to create Voice Guides for people like Amy Portferfield. He also wrote 100 Headlines in 100 Days… because he’s some sort of psychopath.

Anyway…

I like Justin a lot. He’s a great dude and a sharp writer.

Here’s some analysis he had to add about this email:

“What I thought it did particularly well was let you know how little they make and breaks the myth of them being a huge cash-eating-mega-monster that makes millions. The personal from address, the picture, using words like humbly, folks, and ordinary…”

I agree with Justin.

I think one of the biggest obstacles for most nonprofits is overcoming the idea that they have a lot of money and that they don’t need anymore.

Wikipedia actually DOES bring in tens of millions of dollars… but that money is spent and/or reinvested to making the site better.

This email did a great job of explaining that objection away.

I also like how Justin pointed out the ‘personal touches’ used in this email.

Remember: anytime you can make a personal, human-to-human connection… your emails will be much more effective.

So… thank you for sharing this email with us Justin Blackman! You are the man.

Big Takeaways from Wikipedia’s Donor Renewal Campaign

  1. Embrace uncomfortable truths (we feel awkward asking for money but we have to do it anyway)
  2. Lean on Cialdini’s principle of consistency & congruency
  3. Always thank your donors and let them know they are important
  4. Elevate donors to a ‘special class’ of people
  5. Use strong, blatant calls to action (scared money don’t make no money)
  6. Call out the biggest objection right upfront
  7. Use subtle takeaways
  8. Tell stories
  9. Invoke nostalgia
  10. Paint a picture of a common enemy
  11. Describe big picture AND “boots on the ground” benefits
  12. Explicitly describe all the things your money will be used for
  13. Show how far you can stretch $3
  14. Make the donor the hero who saves the world
  15. Use high ground maneuvers (you’re not just funding Wikipedia… you’re protecting online privacy and free information)
  16. Add clickable buttons where appropriate
  17. Write your emails coming from a human, not from a faceless corporation
  18. Use multiple links and CTAs
  19. Pictures make faceless people real
  20. Treat highlights and bold text like cayenne pepper (just a pinch, for taste)

Sneak Peek for Next Week

Ever since we covered Derek Siver’s CD Baby email… I’ve had a number of reader submissions for other, really cool Shipping Notification emails.

So next week, we’re going to take a look at another one from a really popular company… who put a whole new spin on their eCommerce email automations.

This email was ALSO submitted by a reader. So that person will be getting a special shoutout. (If YOU would like a shoutout and link to your site… send me a really awesome copy-heavy eCommerce email. If I use it, I’ll be sure to link to your stuff.)

Stay tuned for next week’s episode…

What You Should Do Next

  1. Subscribe to my email list so you can get ALL of the Emails of the Week delivered straight to your inbox, automatically.
  2. Leave a comment for me below and let me know what you liked about this email.
  3. Send this breakdown to someone you know who has a physical product business. You might give them some inspiration to write an email that brightens their customers’ day.
  4. Donate to Wikipedia. For all the reasons mentioned above.

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1 Comment

  1. Alexander Kluge on November 22, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you for the great analysis, Chris 🙂 I enjoyed reading your dissection and your big takeaways.

    Wikipedia is awesome, it’s a dream come true for me. Access to knowledge all the time is simply fantastic, and I would have enjoyed reading the article even more if I didn’t know that there are things at Wikipedia that are not as positive as you would hope.

    In 2015, in a German documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHfiCX_YdgA) two researchers asked the question of whether you can use Wikipedia as a reliable source to quote from, and they’ve been researching and interviewing different people for months.

    The result: Regarding areas like science, biology, physics, chemistry, technology the articles are written objectively and very detailed. There are links to primary literary as well which is great too. In these areas, Wikipedia seems to be a solid encyclopedia.

    The objectivity and neutral expertise seem to change in areas that are related to societal issues, social science, politics, and politically highly sensitive topics like terrorism. For example, Swiss researcher and historian Daniele Ganser has researched 9/11 and he revealed discrepancies that fellow researchers (also from the US) confirm. And things like the Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth (https://www.ae911truth.org) show that there are things that have not been said in an honest way.

    Why is that related to Wikipedia? The Wikipedia article about Dr. Daniele Ganser contains information that is not 100 % accurate (here’s the link to the timestamp of where they talk about it in the documentary: https://youtu.be/wHfiCX_YdgA?t=825) and he’s shown as someone who’s spreading conspiracy theories although he’s an acknowledged and reputable historian.

    So, you could say: He could just edit and correct what’s wrong and then it would be all good. That’s not how it works at Wikipedia, unfortunately. Since Wikipedia (at least in Germany) works hierarchically, someone else who is „above” (these people are called editors, bureaucrats or administrators https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia#Governance) a regularly registered user needs to approve these changes, and that’s what didn’t happen with Dr. Daniele Ganser’s article. And this is something that is not ok.

    I’m sharing that since there’s a reason to be cautious in terms of trusting Wikipedia as a reliable source in the aforementioned areas. This can affect whether donating to their foundation is actually a 100 % good thing.

    And I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I believe it’s important to keep that in mind when considering to donate to Wikipedia.

    P.S. To watch the documentary in English you can use YouTube’s auto-translate feature.

    Cheers,
    – Alex

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