DoSomething.org is a nonprofit membership organization for people under 25, intent on making those people care. “Why?” their about page asks. “Because apathy sucks.” With 2.5 million members, all in the 13-25 year age range, DoSomething.org has the numbers to back up its values of believing, trusting, celebrating, respecting, and valuing young people. It’s these values that help them empower young people to “make an impact—without ever needing money, an adult, or a car.”
Founded in 1993 by actor Andrew Shue and his friend Michael Sanchez, the organization has spent more than 20 years building up its membership with people who share its vision that helping people out is a life best lived. They are 80% corporate funded, with companies like Toyota, Sprint, and Aéropostale pitching in. “We identify what causes young people care about, then partner with awesome sponsors to build campaigns [those young people] can take action on,” DoSomething Digital Engagement Manager, Marah Lidey, says.
Marah makes sure DoSomething.org’s process is streamlined, their product strategies follow best practices, and that they’ve got a sound user experience. Moving parts are many, and she coordinates with campaign leads (the people running individual causes), their content writer, Ben (who translates campaign ideas into a way people can get involved), and various other folks who consult from week to week. Marah says their team grew to this collaborative point, that it “totally evolved. It’s still evolving!” In earlier incarnations, everyone on her team had access to everything in their email campaigns. “We didn’t really have any form of permissions. Any email that needed to go out, people would just cut in. It definitely evolved to a place where it’s more structured and we can collaborate in a smart way.”
They’ve got multiple campaigns to juggle, too. A weekly one that goes out to their main list of more than a million subscribers, a handful of national causes—sometimes six at once—in various stages of completion, and a smaller scholarship newsletter. All of this necessitates a schedule, of course. Marah says the goal is to have every newsletter ready a week in advance, but more often than not, it’s ready a day in advance. Her team collaborates on these campaigns in a number of ways.
20 subject lines for every email
The team comes up with 20 subject lines to try for every email. “We’ve wanted to do that since I’ve been here for the last two years, but we finally got to the point where we have a really strong content writer, and I’m the product the manager, then we have an intern which is basically an entry-level content producer.
Now that we have the three of us who can dedicate some time, it’s really just five minutes of our day where we each write 5-10 subject lines. Before, we had one person on email. It was just me. I’d ping our data guy or our other colleagues. We didn’t have people invested in it. [It was about getting] enough and the right staff.
We noticed with our email subject lines that a lot of the tests didn’t have a lot of variance. The test would be marginally different by one or two percent, so it was almost not worth testing, because we were testing things that were so similar, like ‘Donate your jeans today’ and ‘Have you donated your jeans today?’ They were really similar. We do a lot of testing at DoSomething, so we thought we were being very specific and trying to control for all the variables. But we’ve learned that we should do totally the opposite. We should be testing with a lot of disparity, trying subject lines that are totally, totally different. Now [our open rates are] up 2-3% just from doing that.”
Test, test, test again
Sending specific test campaigns to specialists who are invested in the content helps the team make sure everything feels right. ”Every time we send an email, the content producer sends it to the content manager, the product manager, and, a lot of time, the campaign specialist, whose content we featured in the email,” says Marah. “If it’s an education campaign, it’ll go to one of my colleagues who’s focused on education. People will respond directly to that, then the content producer uses those comments to edit the email.” This adds another layer to the normal editorial and design review, without complicating the process too much.
An internal email style guide
In an effort to make their emails more consistent, the DoSomething team attempted to better define their readers with a UX visualization. ”That’s the reason the style guide came to be,” Marah says. “We brainstormed what was consistent, what was inconsistent, and where we want to be and improve in terms of content and design stuff. We decided we needed to have some rules around subject lines and banners and the placement of logos in emails. That came from the exercise where we visualized our users. We kinda knew that we would need something, but the visualization affirmed that, for sure.”
They implemented the guide at the turn of the year. “It’s a reference guide, so when we have a new intern start, nothing will change about our design,” Marah says. “With new staff members, things start to slip, design-wise. So it’s a point of reference. But the biggest thing that’s actually impacted the user experience for us was implementing those design decisions: making sure all the buttons are the same, that the banners were consistent. It’s a branding thing.”
As DoSomething continues to grow, Marah and her teams concerns will naturally grow with it.
“I think it’s really important to make sure there’s some sort of process,” she says. They use other apps, like Google Docs, to help with their organization as well. “We use Trello a lot to make sure we’re able to collaborate and see everything in a really clean project-management tool. By using that and having a solid process, and people who are the experts in their various skill sets, it makes it really nice to have MailChimp’s collaboration features and to be able to use them.”
You might say they’re really doing something with email. “We have over 1 million young people on our email list, and email is one of our largest touch points for our members,” Marah says. “More people see our emails than our homepage on any given day. We’ve had this list growing for some time now, but this year you will see us really put a stake in the ground with email.”