The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

How to Write Awesome Emails Your Donors Want to Read

When you want to contact your donors, chances are, you email them. And so does everybody else.

Your donors, through no fault of their own, have inboxes that are constantly bogged down with messages from various organizations, businesses, stores, news outlets, and bloggers. And it’s a rare person who actually reads all of it.

So, how do you “cut through the clutter?” Here are five tips to ensure your email reaches (and resonates) with your donors:

Tip 1: Think Before You Write.

Before you start typing, think about why you’re writing. What is the purpose of the email? Is it to get the word out about your nonprofit’s recent activities? Is it to invite donors to an event? Is it an appeal for donations? The most effective emails focus on one thing. In other words, don’t combine the invitation to join the peer-to-peer campaign with a program announcement and sign off with a donation request to fund a new roof.

Sure, you have a lot of things to tell your donors, but unless this is your periodic newsletter (and formatted as such), keep each email to one topic. If the need is vital, it deserves its own email. Need help narrowing down your list? Write down what you want to say and prioritize the messages by need.

Once you’ve finalized your email’s topic, it’s time to start an outline. “Outline?” you say. “It’s just an email. What do I need an outline for?” True – emails should be short – but again, we’re going for effectiveness here, and there’s nothing like an outline to keep your writing focused.

Here’s what I’m suggesting: At the top of your outline, write the goal of this email (e.g. “get donations to the Spring campaign”). Then, jot down whatever supporting points or bits of information that you think will encourage your readers to take that action. Once you’ve got this bit figured out, you have my permission to start writing.

Tip 2: Craft a Killer Subject Line.

The hardest thing to write is always the first line. It’s no different when it comes to an email. And there’s a lot of pressure resting on this line, especially when 35% of people say that their decision to open an email comes from subject line alone. How do you write a subject line that convinces your donors to click?

In the words of author Ann Handley, ask yourself: “WWYO – What Would You Open?”

Many studies have investigated what makes a subject line effective, and they all seem to agree on a few key points:

  1. Keep it short, but on point. Too short and it’s not explicit enough, too long and you’ll lose your reader’s attention. Practically speaking, if the subject line is too long, it will probably get cut off in the recipient’s email reader. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 6-8 words.
  2. Personalization helps. People love reading their names. Use tokens to include your recipients’ name in the subject line, so it appears you’re addressing each person directly. And, in general, the subject line should relate to something that sets the sender apart or fits with a more narrow interest. For example, “How your dollars are making a difference?”
  3. Avoid sounding like spam. Certain words are spam triggers, and if you use them in a subject line, your donors’ email provider could move the message directly to the spam folder. Also, don’t use all caps in the subject line. Not only does it look like you’re shouting, but it also makes your message more likely to end up in the spam folder. Your subject line should relate to what it’s introducing.

Tip 3: Make Your Copy Count.

The writer’s classic, The Elements of Style, argues that every word of every sentence should serve a purpose, or be deleted. You don’t have to be quite so ruthless with your emails, but you should try to keep your messages short and succinct. Write no more (and no less!) than it takes to get your message across. Some studies show that the optimal email length is 50-100 words. Of course, some of your emails may need to be longer (like an appeal) but, the principle of brevity still applies.

The email marketing platform in Network for Good’s donor management system has pre-built templates for appeals, acknowledgements, and more. Curious to see it up close? Click here to request a demo.

And while we’re on the subject of your email copy, remember that you’re writing to humans. Humans have a sense of humor. You don’t have to be all business, all the time. If people find your emails warm, friendly, and even a little entertaining, they’re more likely to keep reading time after time.

What else can you do to make sure your email is effective? Stay away from large “spray and pray” blasts to your entire list. Breaking your list into smaller segments allows you to write more effective messages. For example, the thank you message you send to recurring donors should probably be different than the one you send send to first-time donors.

Tip 4: Have a Clear Call to Action.

The body of your email serves one purpose, to draw your recipients to your Call To Action (CTA).

Your CTA is what you want your recipient to do after reading the email. For example, if the goal is asking for donations, the CTA would be “Donate now.”

Your email should always have one goal and one CTA. Let me repeat: it is always a bad idea to have more than one CTA. Why? Distraction. If you put multiple CTAs in an email, your audience is going to get confused and distracted. Worst of all, they’re not going take the action you want.

Tip 5: Track and Tweak.

How do you know if your emails are working? Your email marketing platform should show you two basic statistics: open rates and click rates. The open rate (what percentage of recipients opened your email) will tell you how successful your subject line was. The click rate will show you what percentage of recipients clicked a link in your email. To judge the effectiveness of your email copy, look at the click-to-open rate, which is the percentage of clicks from the people who opened the email.

As a rule, always be testing. If that last subject line got a 20% open rate, see what you can do to bump it to 23%. If you had a high open rate and a really low click rate, review the copy and find ways to make it more compelling.

There are a lot of options for email marketing systems, but only Network for Good donor management combines built-in email marketing with a personal fundraising coach to help you craft the perfect appeal. Develop targeted lists of donors from standard and custom filters. Then, draft your email from scratch or use one of our pre-built templates. All of the data from your email (opens, clicks, etc.) lives in your donor management, and your donor profiles are updated to show who got the email and how they responded. And acknowledgement tracking? That’s automatic. Click here to see it up close in a personal demo.

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Share your thoughts!

Join the conversation to offer your insight and experience. Have a question? We’d love to hear it!

  • Shaik Saleem

    Good afternoon

    • Sure, you have a lot of things to tell your donors, but unless this is your periodic newsletter (and formatted as such), keep each email to one topic. If the need is vital, it deserves its own email. Need help narrowing down your list? Write down what you want to say and prioritize the messages by need.

    • Ashleigh Bell

      I set up a gofundme account tell me what you think gofundme.com/4b8tt-feed-the-hungry

  • Mark Zimmerman

    Great point about having one clear CTA. Lots of people get this wrong. http://www.movingandstillimages.com

  • Great tips !

  • TERRY PIOUS PEREIRA

    Most Respected Madam, I struggled much and always remaining in ZERO ZONE so therefore pass my message to any of your closest DONOR friends, Trillion thanks! Terry ( [email protected] ).

  • HAKIZIMANA MOISE

    Hey everyone!
    We are using fundly account struggling with our project. Can everyone have a look? http://fundly.com.seminor

  • Very interesting post! Thank you.

About This Blog

Connie Poulos
Senior Associate, Copywriter

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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