How to Write Nonprofit Emails That Actually Convert

December 16, 2016
7 minutes

While all digital channels are now being used by many nonprofits, email remains as the primary go to for many organizations who do not have the resources to dedicate to maintaining a regular, daily social media presence.

Making progress in email campaigns, notifications, newsletters etc. is complicated for nonprofits. Fundraising emails alone are hard to get right, not to mention what is considered ‘right’ varies greatly from one nonprofit to another and from one audience to another.

So why bother sending fundraising emails then?

Well, to be blunt, they are free and that’s affordable to any nonprofit. Many email marketing services will donate their services for smaller nonprofits or nonprofits with smaller email lists. This allows you to focus expenses on other aspects of an event where email marketing no longer is a financial constraint to the campaign.

They are also quick to deliver results after sending. Most popular email marketing services are simple to use and are quite intuitive. They provide professionally designed templates with drag and drop features for example to make editing the email easy to do.

Nonprofit emails are also quite versatile. Aside from fundraising they are great to inform, mobilize volunteers and overall help to increase your brand awareness.

While there is no easy email formula that will guarantee any kind of success, there are a few general tips that will help no matter the cause or organization:

Filter your database

By catering your email marketing campaign specifically to each particular segment in your database, you will have sent ‘bespoke’ emails with a personal touch or connection to the individual donor segment.

The segments can be anything, for instance, size, age, last donation date, donation frequency etc. The goal is to primarily focus on sending relevant content to a smaller segment of donors, preventing your donors from receiving emails where they feel your content is not relevant to them personally.

Segmentation helps to build trust with your donor pool and enables your nonprofit to use data to strategically grow new donations.

This is also a good spot to make sure each email subscriber is asked permission to join your list as verified opt-in in accordance with terms of use and your privacy policy documentation.

Creating a meaningful subject line

Great fundraising emails are only great when they get opened. This is the only reason why a subject line is critical to making your emails standout in inboxes.

Let’s look at a few tips here on nonprofit emails subject lines:

  • Keep it short – 4-15 characters is a good start
  • Use time sensitive words – Urgent, Important, Today
  • Make the subject line accurate to the email body – misleading or deceptive subject lines run the risk of your emails being downgraded automatically by email servers as well as being marked as SPAM.
  • Pose a question or make a note of intrigue
  • Try using the recipient’s name
  • Include the sender's name in the email
  • Lots of A/B testing helps as well as testing out different days or times of day.
  • Avoid using the word “we”. This does not give the recipient a personal connection. Use “I” instead as the person who wants to talk to the recipient.

Be mindful of formatting

Our attention spans keep getting shorter. Few of us now have the time to read long emails, even if they are great ones. Additionally, with more users turning to reading email on their mobile, it is important that the format is fully legible at best.

A few tips here specific to formatting will be needed:

  • Once again, short is good for paragraphs – two to three is ok
  • Limit these paragraphs to two to three sentences
  • Ensure it looks great on mobile as well
  • Make sure the email isn’t overcrowded
  • Stick to one typeface
  • Limit your email to three colors overall at most.
  • Use classic Big Bold Imagery to engage your recipient
  • Always include your logo in the header and your organizations information in the footer, preferably next to a subscribe button.

Tell your compelling story

In short, humans are hardwired to respond to stories and a good story is the foundation of successful nonprofit emails.

Stories are the best way to deliver the message. We remember stories more than facts simply because there is an emotional connection to move us into action. Storytelling gives the recipient a glimpse into your world and explains why your mission is so important.

Don’t add confusion: Stick to a single call to action only

When you send your email out, don’t confuse your readers by asking for donations, asking to sign up for regular newsletters or to read the latest blog.

If the goal of your email is to raise funds, focus on that as your main goal. Be sure to state and include your call to action within the first two paragraphs. It is too easy for a reader to lose interest in the email and miss the call to action request altogether if you wait until later on in the email.

Show the impact of the donation

While crafting your story, be sure to give one example of where or how the donation will impact your cause. Link the donation amount to specific results. For example, show them how their $50 donation will give a child school supplies for a whole school year.

Craft an effective closing

One of the greatest challenges in writing powerful nonprofit emails is the tone.

It is not easy to strike the balance between explaining the consequences of not acting (children will have no food or clean water) which can discourage readers from donating and creating a positive tone that is also uplifting.

Thank your donors always in advance. Tell them why their contribution matters.

Be confident as you ask for donations during the close portion of the email. This is the one opportunity to connect with the recipient and be in tune with them.

Make donating easy for them

Even with a well-crafted email, and an inspiring call to action, it will amount to nothing if the process to donate suddenly becomes a complicated mess of clicks and confusion. Users will give up for good if this happens.

Make use of an online donation software system that guides your donors toward a hassle-free experience.

Tracking emails

If you can afford it or have a service donate their email analytics to your organization, tracking emails that were sent will help when crafting future emails, based on what the data shows from past emails.

KPIs that can be checked:

  • Delivery rate – how many emails reached their destination
  • Unsubscribe rate – those who asked to be removed from regular emails
  • Open rate – those who opened the email to read it
  • Click-through rate - how many readers clicked the call to action button
  • Email conversion rate – if the reader actually makes a donation

Final thoughts

It is no easy time crafting the perfect email. Segmenting your audience, personalizing each segment, picking the right visuals, words, and tone is a lot to consider.

It is important to test each tip and update your fundraising strategy accordingly. This process is the one true way for you to know what works best for your nonprofit.

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