11 Tips to See Your Email Fundraising Grow

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By Jeremy Reis

In today’s digital-forward world, email remains a powerful touchpoint for nonprofits, bridging the gap between organizations and donors. But with inundated inboxes and ever-shifting algorithms, how can we ensure our cause doesn’t just become another unread message?

We’ve curated a set of actionable tips that promise to elevate your email fundraising efforts. Whether you’re a seasoned fundraiser or just starting, these insights will offer you the tools to connect more deeply with your audience and witness tangible growth in your campaigns. Dive in and discover the art of impactful email fundraising!

Table of Contents

Tip #1: Know Your Audience

One foundational truth in fundraising (and frankly, in any form of communication) is this: understanding your audience makes all the difference. Let’s get straight to it. If you’re not conducting donor research, you’re essentially taking shots in the dark. Successful email campaigns are rooted in knowledge—knowing who’s on the other end of that electronic transmission. So, how well do you know your donors?

Donor research doesn’t have to be an arduous process of sifting through mountains of data. It can be as simple as understanding their previous donation patterns, their engagement with past campaigns, or even surveying them about their interests. With this information in hand, you can craft a message that resonates. Think of it as a tailor-made suit versus something off the rack. A personalized appeal, tailored to your donor’s interests and values, not only gets their attention but also evokes a deeper emotional connection.

Action Tip: Start with your most engaged donors. Look at their giving history, past communications, and any other interactions. Notice any patterns? Tailor your next email to reflect those insights. Remember, when your message resonates, it activates. Make every email count by knowing who’s reading it.

Tip #2: Speak Directly to the Individual

Imagine you’re in a crowded room and someone shouts, “Hey, you!” You might glance their way. But if someone calls out, “Hey, [Your Name]!” You’re guaranteed to look. That’s the sheer power of direct, individualized communication, and it’s no different in the world of email fundraising.

In an age of automation, personalization is the secret sauce that makes your message stand out. And I’m not just talking about slapping a first name at the start of an email (though that’s a good start). Dive deeper. The occasional reference to a donor’s specific history—like thanking them for their support during a previous campaign—can spark a sense of recognition and belonging. It subtly communicates, “We remember you. You’re not just another name in our database.”

Action Tip: For your next email, go beyond the usual “Dear [First Name]”. Delve into your donor data and find a way to make a unique reference: “Thanks to supporters like you, [First Name], our last summer campaign was a hit!” Watch as this personal touch transforms casual readers into engaged donors. Because everyone, no matter how digital our world becomes, yearns for that personal connection.

Tip #3: Craft a Compelling Subject Line

Let’s liken your email to a book for a moment. Now, no matter how gripping the content might be, would you even consider picking it up if the title left you uninspired? Probably not. In the email realm, your subject line is that pivotal title. It’s the gatekeeper, deciding whether your email gets the attention it deserves or sinks into the abyss of the unread.

Astonishingly, around 47% of email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based solely on the subject line. That’s almost half of your audience you could be losing or gaining right at the get-go!

Action Tip: Next time you’re about to hit send, take a moment. Re-evaluate your subject line. Does it spark curiosity? Convey urgency? Or promise value? If not, rework it. Try using a question, a compelling statistic, or a powerful single-word prompt. Test different approaches to see what resonates best with your audience. And remember, like any good title, your subject line should encapsulate the essence of your message, but with a twist of intrigue. Make them want to ‘read the next chapter’ by opening your email!

Tip #4: Storytelling is Key

Stories are more than mere words strung together; they’re the heartbeat of humanity, vessels that transport emotions, values, and motivations across the ages. In fundraising, where connection and compassion are paramount, stories are not just key—they’re your master key.

It’s scientifically proven: our brains are wired to respond to stories. They evoke empathy, create a bond, and stimulate action in a way that mere statistics and data cannot. A compelling narrative about a person or community you’ve aided can be far more persuasive than just telling donors that you’ve helped “thousands.”

Action Tip: For your next fundraising email, shift from numbers to narratives. Share a real-life account, perhaps of a beneficiary whose life changed due to generous donations. Be vivid. Let readers feel the struggle, the hope, and the triumph. Add an authentic image if possible. And don’t just narrate—involve your reader. Make them the hero of the story, the catalyst for change. By placing them at the heart of a transformative journey, you’re not just asking for support; you’re offering them a role in a larger, heartwarming narrative. And trust me, that’s a role many would love to play.

Tip #5: Use Clear and Direct Calls-to-Action (CTAs)

Every fundraising email is a whispered plea, a rallying cry, a gentle nudge. But for that nudge to translate into action, you need a beacon, a clear signpost. Enter the Call-to-Action (CTA)—the heartbeat of your email’s purpose.

You’ve probably seen emails with multiple CTAs, urging readers to donate, share, read more, sign up—all in one breath. It’s overwhelming and dilutes the message. Instead, embrace clarity. A singular, compelling CTA amplifies the focus, ensuring your donor knows exactly what you want them to do.

Action Tip: In your next email, center around one primary action. Make your CTA button large enough to stand out but not so large it’s intimidating. Place it strategically, perhaps after a gripping story or compelling statistic. And don’t shy away from color—a contrasting button can catch the eye. Most importantly, be direct with your wording. “Donate Now” or “Change a Life Today” are precise and evocative. The clearer the path you pave for your donors, the more likely they are to walk it with you. Remember, in the world of email fundraising, clarity isn’t just a virtue—it’s the roadmap to success.

Tip #6: Keep It Simple and Scannable

Welcome to the age of skimming, where digital content is consumed at the speed of light, and attention spans? Well, they’re rivaling that of goldfish. As fundraisers, we’re faced with the Herculean task of grabbing (and keeping) our readers’ attention amidst this torrent of information.

Here’s the golden rule: Simplify. Because clarity trumps complexity every time.

Readers often scan emails. Dense blocks of text? They’re skipped. Long-winded narratives? Ignored. But crisp bullet points, enticing subheadings, and short, punchy paragraphs? Those get noticed.

Action Tip: Before sending your next email, give it the ‘scan test’. Skim through it yourself. Are there clear sections? Do key points pop? If not, break up long paragraphs. Use bullet points to list benefits or stats. Introduce subheadings that intrigue and invite further reading. The idea is to make your content as easy on the eyes as possible. By offering your donors a clear path through your message, you’re respecting their time and making it effortless for them to engage. In the race for attention, simplicity is your most powerful weapon. Use it wisely, and watch engagement soar.

Tip #7: Include Compelling Images

In the orchestra of email fundraising, if words are the rhythm, images are the melody. They have an unparalleled power to evoke emotion, to tell stories without uttering a single word. A well-chosen image can amplify your message’s impact tenfold, turning a lukewarm appeal into a heart-tugging call to action.

But here’s the catch: Not just any image will do. It needs to be relevant, authentic, and emotionally resonant. A picture of a child you’ve helped, a community you’ve uplifted, or even a team member in action can tell a story more powerfully than paragraphs of text.

Action Tip: Next time you’re curating content for your email, spend quality time selecting the right image. But remember, sourcing matters. Always ensure you have the rights to use a photo. Websites like Unsplash or Pexels offer high-quality, royalty-free images. However, if using personal or direct beneficiary photos, always get necessary permissions. The aim is to touch hearts without overstepping bounds. Because in fundraising, authenticity and ethics go hand in hand. Let your images not just showcase your cause, but also your commitment to integrity.

Tip #8: Test and Optimize

In the realm of email fundraising, assuming you’ve got it all figured out is the first step to missing the mark. But here’s the beautiful thing about the digital age: we don’t have to rely on assumptions. We have tools, data, and the powerful ability to adapt on the fly.

Enter A/B testing—a method where you send two variations of an email to see which one performs better. Perhaps you’re uncertain about a subject line, or maybe it’s the placement of that crucial CTA. A/B testing illuminates the path, showing you what resonates with your audience.

Action Tip: Launch a mini-campaign. Send version A of your email to half your list and version B to the other half. Which has a better open rate? Which version garners more clicks or donations? Analyze, learn, and apply. Regularly monitoring results and making small tweaks can lead to significantly better performance over time. Remember, perfection in email fundraising isn’t stumbled upon; it’s crafted, refined, and honed. So, embrace the iterative process. Test, learn, optimize, and watch your email campaigns transform from good to groundbreaking.

Tip #9: Segment Your Audience

Let’s get one thing straight: Not all donors are created equal. I don’t mean in terms of generosity or intent, but in terms of their journey with your organization, their interests, and their behaviors. Broadcasting the same message to everyone is like using a megaphone in a library—it’s neither appropriate nor effective.

Segmentation is the art of grouping your audience based on shared characteristics, whether that’s their demographics, past giving behavior, or even engagement levels with previous emails. By doing so, you’re equipping yourself to send laser-focused messages that resonate on a deeply personal level.

Action Tip: Begin by segmenting donors based on their donation history: first-time donors, recurring donors, lapsed donors, and high-value donors. Tailor your message for each. For instance, thank first-time donors for taking that initial step, while reigniting the passion in lapsed donors by showing them the recent impact of donations. As you grow more comfortable, segment further based on demographics or specific interests. The more specific and personalized your emails, the more they’ll feel like a handwritten letter than a mass-produced flyer. And in the world of nonprofit fundraising, that personal touch can make all the difference.

Tip #10: Emphasize Recurring Donations

If one-time donations are like rain showers—welcome, refreshing, but unpredictable—then recurring donations are the steady streams that flow, ensuring sustainability and predictability in your nonprofit’s journey. They’re the unsung heroes, the stalwarts that empower you to plan ahead, allocate resources, and make lasting impacts.

Recurring donations, especially monthly gifts, offer stability. They build a community of committed supporters. But here’s the hitch: many potential donors aren’t even aware they can contribute this way, or they don’t understand its value.

Action Tip: In your next fundraising email, shine a spotlight on the option of monthly giving. Paint a vivid picture of its impact: “For the price of a coffee a week, you can ensure a child gets education for a whole month.” Make the sign-up process simple. Perhaps even offer small incentives or recognition for those who choose to be monthly givers. And don’t forget to emphasize the convenience for the donor—a set-it-and-forget-it approach that allows them to make continuous impact effortlessly. By pushing the recurring donation narrative to the forefront, you’re not just seeking funds; you’re building a tribe of committed change-makers.

Tip #11: Engage Beyond the Ask

Fundraising is a dance—a delicate balance between asking and giving, between seeking support and offering gratitude. If your every interaction with donors shouts, “Give us funds!” you’ll sound like a broken record. And here’s the rub: People tune out broken records.

The truth? Donors don’t just offer funds; they offer faith. Faith in your mission, your vision, your integrity. This relationship, like any other, thrives on mutual respect and communication.

Action Tip: Between fundraising campaigns, send out ‘no-ask’ emails. Share a success story birthed from their generosity. Offer updates on ongoing projects or spotlight a team member who’s making waves. Maybe even send a simple thank-you note, celebrating milestones achieved together. These gestures, seemingly small, deepen the bond, transforming a transactional relationship into a heartfelt partnership. Remember, people like being in the loop, especially when they’ve invested emotionally and financially into a cause. By engaging beyond the ask, you’re saying, “We value you, not just your wallet.” And that, dear fundraiser, is the foundation of lasting donor relationships.

Effective email fundraising extends beyond just techniques and strategies. It’s anchored in building genuine connections, narrating powerful stories, and mobilizing towards shared visions. Every donor represents an opportunity to deepen this bond; your emails are the bridge, and the shared successes are the milestones that drive mutual inspiration.

These 11 tips serve as your roadmap. Implement them with care, adjust based on feedback, and always prioritize heartfelt engagement. While tracking numbers and metrics is crucial, the value of real relationships and impactful stories can’t be overstated. In our tech-driven world, it’s essential to remember our human touch—especially in communications. Here’s to elevating your email fundraising initiatives.


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