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How to Make Your School’s Emails More Engaging
Kristen Doverspike

We live in a virtual, information-overload world. Each day, we’re bombarded with messages across social media, advertising, email, and more. So, while you may feel like your school or district’s recent newsletter is the best email you’ve ever sent out, it’s important to recognize that this email is getting added into the shuffle of hundreds of other communications.

Don’t let this discourage you. Email is still a vital tool for reaching school and district communities. It brings value when connecting with potential families, keeping current families in-the-know, reaching out to alumni about fundraising, and much more. So, if you're seeing low engagement, you might be wondering, “What gives?" 

To that, I would urge that it’s not you — It’s your emails.

Taking a few minutes to sit down and look at what is going wrong can help you move forward with stand-out email communications. Let’s strategize through these five steps:

Step 1: Identify Your Goals

Step 2: Segment Your Lists

Step 3: Personalize Your Content

Step 4: Rethink Your Design

Step 5: Automate and Analyze


Step 1: Identify Your Goals

Generally speaking, there are four types of emails:


These e-bulletin emails are sent on a regular basis, follow a standard format, and collect notable pieces of content from your school or district.

Promotional Emails

Promotional emails include prospecting emails, (virtual) open house invitations, event promotion, fundraising outreach, and so on. These emails are often used in automated workflows.

Informational Emails

If you have something that can’t wait for the newsletter, but isn’t exactly an “emergency,” it’s included in an informational email. Sending out information to a family about logging into the parent portal, for example, would fit this category.

Emergency Communications

Of course, you may sometimes run into a situation that calls for an immediate email to all of your contacts regarding a crisis. We won’t focus on these types of emails, as optimizing them for engagement (rather than getting important information out right away) is less important in these situations.

All of your email communications should fit into one of these categories, which leads us to the biggest rule of proper email strategy: Do not use email as your primary communication tool.

Think about it from an inbound perspective; You want to reach your families at the right place and at the right time. Will email always accomplish that? No. You may have the one eager parent that is always refreshing their email, but you can’t count on that happening.

Email engage and inform venn diagram


Whether you want to inform them, engage with them, or do a little of both, there are a wide array of channels to effectively reach your families. 

First, identify the goal of your email. Are you aiming to get a prospective family to attend your virtual open house? Great! Segment a list of prospective families and craft a compelling email that will bring them to a page of the website to register for the event.

If, on the other hand, you are looking to send an urgent message to current families about a crisis, a push notification through your mobile app would be more effective and immediate than an email. If the purpose of the communication could better fit a different outlet, either forgo the email or let it come as secondary.

When you filter your communications through this lens, your emails will decrease in quantity and increase in quality. 

Step 2: Segment Your Lists

You are likely already using email lists to separate obvious groups, like athletics, so that something like a basketball schedule does not go out to non-athletes. Baylor School, shown here, exemplifies this ideal through their monthly newsletters for current families vs. prospective families.

Baylor School Monthly Newsletters examples


Segmented campaigns earn, on average, 100.95% higher click-through rates and lead to less spam complaints (Mailchimp). So, they are a huge piece to the puzzle of creating engaging emails.

If you aren’t already doing this, it’s a great time to get started! And if you are segmenting lists by some small degree, now may be the time to take it a step further. Do you find that your weekly newsletter is getting low engagement? Maybe it’s time to create something specific by each grade level. Or, it may be time to allow uninterested families to opt out of getting these communications. 

Consider breaking your lists down and sending emails directly to relevant groups, like:

  • Parents

  • Students

  • Athletes

  • Club Members

  • School (for Districts)

  • Bus Routes

Step 3: Personalize Your Content

A major culprit in a decline in email engagement is what we call “email fatigue.” When similar emails repeatedly send to the same lists, they stand out less and less as time goes on. So, how do you avoid getting lost among the noise? 

Change the “From Label” From Time to Time

When you send every email from [School Name], it becomes repetitive and easy to miss. Instead, send some emails from a real person — such as your head of school, superintendent, or another well-known member of your school community.

Changing the Email From Label example


Changing the “From Label” will not only help your emails stand out with differentiated voices, but it will also give them a personal touch that will aid in building trust with your community.

Personalize Your Subject Line and Body Text

Your subject line is the one-second elevator pitch you have to convince someone to open your email. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your email looks if it doesn’t have a compelling subject line. And one significant way you can stand out is to personalize! 

Emails with personalized subject lines can increase open rates by 26% (Campaign Monitor). It can be as simple as adding the recipient’s first name to your typical email subject line. If you want to go the extra mile, mix it up with emojis and fun content, and you’ll start to see a higher open rate.

Personalized email subject line example


Step 4: Rethink Your Design

Once you get users to open your emails, the next hurdle is to engage with them. Whether it’s a weekly newsletter or an invitation to your upcoming virtual open house, the design of your email is key. Analyze your current emails for these elements, and adjust accordingly.

Stop Thinking Desktop-First

It’s easy to fall into the trap of designing your emails for the desktop user, because more likely than not, you’re creating the emails on a desktop.

When you think desktop-first, a few things can happen:

  • You load the email with content that becomes overwhelming on a smaller screen.

  • You use a font size that is too small.

  • You use too many panels and get very image/graphic-heavy.

While you will have recipients who view your emails on a computer, the reality is that 60% of email opens, on average, occur on mobile devices (HubSpot). So, when you design with a mobile-first mindset, your emails will not only look great on small devices but on larger devices as well. 

For every email, do the following spot-check:

  1. Ensure your email's design is only one or two columns across when reading left to right. Anything more than that can get cluttered and will stack to create more scrolling on mobile devices.

  2. Use at least size 16pt font for paragraph text.

  3. Limit your word count, and leave the full stories up to your website. Think of your emails as a teaser preview, and use call to actions to encourage click-through traffic to your website for more information.

  4. Preview and test your emails before sending them to avoid design errors on different devices.

Use Visuals

Much like on social media or your website, visuals are often what stops someone in their tracks to dive deeper and learn more. Breaking up the content in your emails with images will help elevate — and bring a community-centric feel — to your emails.

Email example with a large header image


Additionally, setting up a template for each of your emails can help ensure a consistently branded look for your design. Always include a header and a footer to link to relevant areas of your website, social media accounts, and so on. The Hun School of Princeton, for example, uses a range of highly-branded headers and footers in its emails that are both striking and effective in bringing in more website traffic.

Step 5: Automate and Analyze

If you’ve never tried it before, automated workflows allow you to craft a number of emails and set them to send at specific times and based on particular actions. When it comes to your promotional emails, making use of these automated email workflows can help drive your strategy and get more conversions, whether it be event registrations, inquiries, or even applications. It can be as straightforward as sending your main event invitation email, using a 3-day delay, and then sending a last-call reminder email.

Automation not only helps make your job easier from a set-it-and-let-it-run standpoint, but it will also help you gain more insight into your data that will help drive your email strategy moving forward. Using the example from above, if the open rate on your initial event email was low, but the open rate on the reminder email was high, you can infer that more of your recipients are likely to respond to an email that has a greater sense of urgency behind it.

Workflows also allow you to customize based on your engagement so that you don’t bombard users who consistently don’t open your emails with more emails. Test out adding a branch to your workflows that identifies users who open the first email in the workflow and send them the next email more quickly than to those who do not.

Example of an email workflow from Finalsite's Automated Workflows


Your data on individual emails can also help drive the decisions you make on your next email. For example, if you find that your open rates are high but your click-through rates are often low, it may be time to evaluate how you’re presenting your calls to actions and only include one clear button on the next email.

When any email goes out, analyze your data and walk through this decision tree!

Example of a workflows logic decision tree


Key Takeaway

It’s more important than ever before to cater your email communications to the needs of your community. Having a strategy in place will help improve your school or district’s overall engagement, and if you’re not sure where to begin, the expert Finalsite Advantage consulting team is on-hand to help!

Get Started with Messages XR | Finalsite

Kristen Dovespike headshot

In her position as director of demand generation, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website, and social media communications at Finalsite. With over six years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their inbound strategies. She regularly speaks at professional development events for schools and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite.

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