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This post is written by Mallory Wood, at Sizzler, iModules User Conference.

Some quick facts on McMaster University:

  • Located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  • Ranked among top 100 universities in the world
  • 30,000 current students
  • 185,000 active alumni in 140 countries

McMaster’s Advancement office comprises: Advancement Services, Alumni and Annual Fund, Communications and Public Affairs, Development, Major and Planned Giving, and Stewardship.

Why is McMaster obsessed with email?

  • 14 alumni and annual fund email authors and several decentralized email authors
  • 931 emails sent in 2015
  • 885 emails sent to date in 2016
  • Email is their best communication channel with alumni
    • Customizable lists and tokens
    • Measurable and trackable
  • Email can be beautiful and compelling … (or boring and alienating, when done wrong.)

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 2.53.47 PM



  • Individuals enter upcoming emails in shared calendar
  • Information entered includes: staff person, office, date, purpose, content, audiences description, and list size
  • Email managers review calendar regularly
  • Individual staff members know not to schedule an email on a day when a similar list is receiving a message
  • Conflicts managed by email managers

Content Creation and Design

  • Majority of emails written by individual staff using templates created by email managers
    • McMaster is going into their 6th year of using iModules. It’s an empowering tool for their office that allows individuals to play a bigger role in email communications.
  • Team members work together in a collaborative approach to writing copy
  • Email managers provide resources and support for individual team members
  • Senior managers approve each email going out and email managers release the emails

Recommended Tools for Managing Multiple Email Creators

  • Slack
    • This helps enable conversation between email content creators and the email managers.
    • Broadcast updates from iModules, best practices, and more.
  • Trello
    • Project management tool and work-order request system
  • Meetings
    • Bi-weekly “digital hour” with alumni and annual fund team
    • Bi-annual iModules user meeting for major updates and tutorials
    • Ad hoc personal tutorials
  • iModules Professional Services
    • Quarterly data load of email metrics
      • Comparing open rates and other sending stats for specific colleges to overall data is helping McMaster better manage the decentralized alumni offices that use iModules
    • Allows McMaster to see what constituents receive and if and how that impacts email metrics
    • Gives McMaster hard data to show category email authors

McMaster has an admin reference page in iModules with helpful links, a video library, and documentation.

Email Design

Design challenges include visual consistency, usability for all skill levels, technical, and the need for external tools.

Templates used to be created for many, many different events and programs. But they didn’t age well. And the templates weren’t as flexible and modular as they needed to be.

Here’s an example of a recent email from McMaster with editable content blocks:

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 3.56.08 PM

Don’t be afraid to use images! They’re shown automatically in many email clients including: Apple Mail, Gmail (web, Android, and iOS), Thunderbird, iOS Mail, and Yahoo! Mail. Look at your stats to better understand the email clients of your audiences. Just don’t forget to use alt text.

Modular Templates are great. They save time and you can make iterative changes and improvements. Dave created many different block styles that email content creators can drag and drop into their emails. This helps prevent people from using fonts or colors that are off-brand.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 3.28.35 PM

Five Key Takeaways

  1. Empower your people: this starts at the top
  2. Maintain a structure: protocols around who can send email and when are important
  3. Challenge the “email don’ts” list: experiment, be creative, email will never look perfect 100% of the time on 100% of devices
  4. Test and tinker: Litmus is a great tool to use for testing
  5. Don’t worry! You’re doing good work.

Presented by Dave Dawson and Erin O’Neil of McMaster University.


Article Author

Mallory Willsea

Mallory Willsea

Executive Producer
Director of Marketing and Business Developement, mStoner, Inc.

Mallory Willsea brings more than a decade of marketing, digital, and enrollment marketing experience to Higher Ed Live and mStoner. Mallory serves as the main point of contact for Higher Ed Live sponsors. As head of marketing and sales for mStoner, Mallory develops the firm's marketing strategy and works with potential clients to identify right-fit solutions.


Mallory Willsea

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