7 Steps to Create Effective Fundraising Emails

Donor Communication, , Fundraising

By Jeremy Reis

As a fundraiser, you know how important it is to have an effective email strategy. Your email list is full of people who have already shown an interest in your cause, and who are therefore more likely to be receptive to your appeals for support. However, simply having a list of email addresses is not enough. You need to know how to craft emails that will motivate your supporters to take action. After all, email is a fast, effective way to reach a large number of people at once. But what’s the secret to crafting an email that will actually get results? Read on to find out.

Step 1: Test Stronger Subject Lines

In the world of fundraising, email subject lines are everything. A strong subject line can mean the difference between an email that gets opened and read, and one that languishes unopened in a donor’s inbox. So, how can you make sure your subject lines are strong enough to get the job done?

Your subject line is like the headline of an article; it needs to be attention-grabbing and specific. Avoid vague subject lines like “Update” or “Newsletter.” Instead, try something that tells the reader what’s inside the email and entices them to open it. For example, “She never knew her mom”.

The ideal length for an email subject line is between 6 and 10 words. Anecdotally, we’ve often found that the best performing subject lines are even shorter—between 4 and 6 words.

While it can be tempting to try to pack a lot into your subject line, resist the urge! Not only will a long subject line get cut off in some email inboxes, but it will also turn potential donors off. People are busy, and they don’t have time to read a novel just to find out what you want from them. Make it easy for them by keeping your message clear and concise.

Don’t be boring: Your subject line is your opportunity to stand out in someone’s crowded inbox and grab their attention. So don’t waste it with something dull or generic like “Newsletter – June 2020.” Instead, get creative and come up with something that will make people curious about what you have to say. Be thoughtful about how you can best capture the essence of your email’s content in just a few words.

Your subject line is what entices people to open your email in the first place. It’s your one chance to make a good impression and convince people to keep reading. So, if you’re not taking the time to craft strong, attention-grabbing subject lines, you’re missing out on a vital opportunity to engage with your donors.

Step 2: Try fewer design elements, not more.

It’s no secret that a well-designed email can make a big impression. But when it comes to fundraising emails, sometimes less is more. In this post, we’ll explore why less design can actually lead to more donations.

One of the reasons why reducing design elements can make your emails more effective is that it allows the reader to focus on the message itself. When there are too many visuals competing for attention, it can be difficult for readers to really process what you’re trying to say. By keeping the design simple, you make it easier for readers to understand and engage with your content.

When people see a sleek, professionally-designed email, they might assume that it’s from a large organization with a lot of money to spend on marketing. On the other hand, an email that looks like it was put together quickly might come across as more authentic and sincere. And authenticity is key when you’re trying to build trust with potential donors.

Too many graphics in your emails to donors can toss your e-communications into spam folders or auto-file it in Google’s “Promotions” tab.

We’ve found in testing that text-only emails actually have higher deliverability and open rates compared to HTML emails.

Include a logo, or no? Adding a logo doesn’t reduce the effectiveness of this tactic. Test it both ways to find out which is better.

Another reason why simpler designs are better is that they’re more universally accessible. If someone is using a screen reader or has trouble seeing small text, a cluttered email with a lot of visuals is going to be much harder for them to understand than one with a cleaner design. By keeping your email design accessible, you ensure that everyone who wants to read your message will be able to do so.

Using less design in your fundraising emails can actually make them more eye-catching. In a world where the average person is bombarded with over 100 emails per day, anything that can help your email stand out is a good thing. And since emails with less design are often shorter and easier to scan, they’re generally more likely to grab attention than longer, more designed emails.

Finally, emails with simpler designs are often more mobile-friendly than those with more complex designs. Since more and more people are reading emails on their phones these days, it’s important to make sure that your message will look good no matter where people are reading it. A straightforward email design is more likely to translate well to a small screen than one with a lot of bells and whistles.

Simplify your design overall to increase the chance your message ends up in the donor’s inbox, not elsewhere.

When it comes to fundraising emails, more is not always better. In fact, using too many design elements in your emails can actually hurt your chances of raising money. Keep your email designs simple and focused on the message you’re trying to communicate. Doing so will help you create more effective fundraising emails that actually help you raise more money.

Step 3: Use more personalization.

When it comes to fundraising, personalization is key. Your donors are more likely to give to a cause that feels specific to them, rather than a generic request for money. And what better way to make your donor feel special than by addressing them by name in your fundraising emails and presenting an offer to them they’d be most interested in?

Try personalizing the subject line by inserting the donor’s name or city. This can look like: “Jason, your immediate help is needed!” or “Donors in Cleveland are supporting Ukraine right now” or “Be one of the families from California to make a difference!”

Another way to personalize your emails is by segmenting your list according to factors like location, past giving history, or areas of interest. This allows you to send targeted appeals to different groups of people based on what you know about them. For example, you might send a different email to first-time donors than you would to long-time supporters.

Adding personalization into the body of the email as well increases your chances of the donor reading more of your message.

Identify your donor segments. The first step in personalizing your emails is to segment your donors into different groups. This could be based on factors like giving history, location, or even interests. By segmenting your donors, you can ensure that each email you send is relevant to the specific group of people you’re targeting.

Use merge tags. Merge tags are a great way to personalize your emails without having to write separate emails for each donor. Merge tags allow you to automatically insert a donor’s name, giving history, or other information into an email template. This makes it easy to create personalized emails without spending hours writing each one individually.

Send targeted content. Once you’ve segmented your donors and created merge tags, you can start sending targeted content that is relevant to each group of people. For example, if you have a group of first-time donors, you might want to send them information about how their donation will be used. Or, if you have a group of long-time supporters, you might want to update them on the impact their donations have made over time. Whatever content you send, make sure it is relevant to the people you are sending it to. Videos in emails can lift fundraising.

Personalization is key when it comes to fundraising emails. Donors want to know that their support is appreciated and that their donation is going towards a cause that they care about. By taking the time to segment your donor list and craft personalized emails, you’ll be able to create more effective fundraising campaigns that will result in more donations.

Step 4: Try a new sender name.

Your sender name is one of the first things recipients see when they open your email, so it’s important to choose something that will stop them in their scroll and entice them to open your email. The best sender names are personal, clear, and relevant to the recipient.

In the fundraising world, building relationships with donors is key to asking for support and maintaining those relationships long term. However, when it comes to emails, sometimes the From name is overlooked as an important component in relationship building.

People can become blind to your emails if the sender is always the same. Varying the “From” line from time to time is a good strategy to avoid this. This is because recipients will see that the email is from a new sender and be intrigued enough to open it. If you consistently use the same sender name, people will eventually learn to ignore your emails. But by changing the sender name on a regular basis, you can keep people’s attention and get them to open your emails more often.

Many nonprofits use a different person from the organization for different types of emails. For example, donor customer service emails come from the Donor Services Manager, appeals from the Development Director, emergency appeals from the head of the emergency team, newsletters from the President, etc. This spreads the sender name around across various types of emails and garners better openership.

Changing the sender name in your emails can also encourage more donations. This is because when people see that an email is from a new sender, they’ll be more likely to read it and click on any links or donation buttons inside. So if you’re looking for ways to encourage more donations, consider changing the sender name in your emails.

Step 5: Reduce your jargon to simplify your message.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of using insider language in any e-appeal. And while jargon can be helpful when we’re talking to people who are familiar with our work, it can be confusing and off-putting to people who are not.

For example, let’s say you’re planning a fundraiser for your museum. You might use the following jargon in an email to your colleague:
“We’re looking at doing a donor cultivation event followed by a capital campaign.”

Your colleague knows exactly what you’re talking about and can provide input accordingly. But if you sent that same email to a potential donor, they might not have any idea what you’re talking about. As a result, they may either ignore your email completely or reply with questions that could have been avoided if you’d tried a different approach.

The first step to reducing jargon in your fundraising emails is to stick to simple language. This means avoiding fancy words and phrases that only insiders would understand. Instead, opt for straightforward language that everyone can understand. Not only will this make your emails more readable, but it will also help you connect with a wider audience.

Another great way to reduce jargon in your fundraising emails is to get feedback from non-insiders. Show your draft email to someone outside of your organization and ask them if they understand what you’re trying to say. If they don’t, chances are good that your potential donors won’t either. This is an easy way to catch any jargon that may have slipped through the cracks.

Simplify HOW you describe your work. If you’re detailing something complicated, give examples to communicate the ideas more simply. If there’s a term that you absolutely must use but are worried might be confusing, provide some context around it. This will help ensure that your recipient understands what you’re trying to say without being inundated with too much information at once.

Jargon often arises when we’re trying to describe complex concepts in a short amount of space. But using specific, concrete examples can help make those concepts more understandable for people who aren’t familiar with them. For example, instead of saying “our program seeks to empower young people,” you could say “our program provides young people with the skills and confidence they need to succeed in school and in life.”

In general, it’s best to avoid acronyms whenever possible. Not only are they often confusing, but they can also come across as arrogant or dismissive (especially if you don’t provide an explanation of what they mean). So unless you’re confident that your audience will know what an acronym stands for, play it safe and spell things out instead.

Jargon can be a helpful shorthand when you’re talking within your own organization or among people who are already familiar with your work. But if you want to appeal to potential donors or explain your work to people who don’t already know about it, using jargon can be a major barrier—one that’s easy enough to avoid if you follow these simple tips!

Step 6: Develop urgency.

Have you ever sent out a fundraising email and received little to no response? You’re not alone. A common issue among fundraisers is not developing a sense of urgency in their emails. Your supporters should feel like they need to take action immediately after reading your email, or else the cause that they care about will suffer.

One of the most important things to remember when writing a fundraising email is that you need to make it clear why the cause needs the supporters’ help right now. Often, people are more likely to take action if they feel like they’re part of a movement or if they’re needed in order to make a difference. As such, your email should be framed around why taking action now is important. For example, if you’re raising money for a new school building, you could talk about how every day that the students have to spend in overcrowded classrooms is another day that their education suffers.

It’s also important to remind your supporters of what’s at stake if they don’t take action. We all get caught up in our day-to-day lives and sometimes we forget about the causes that we care about until something jolts us back into awareness. frames everything in terms of what the supporter stands to lose if they don’t act now. This could be anything from missed opportunities for their children to experience an amazing education, to losing critical funding for healthcare research that could lead to lifesaving treatments being developed sooner rather than later.

Another way to create a sense of urgency is to use time-sensitive language. For example, you might mention that the need is “urgent” or that time is “running out.” This will prompt donors to take action more quickly.

You can also create a sense of urgency by highlighting the impact that their donation will have. For example, you might mention how many people will be helped by the donation or how the donation will make a difference in someone’s life. This type of language can be very effective in motivating donors to take action.

Step 7: Send to your most engaged subscribers first.

Have you ever wondered how some organizations seem to always have such high engagement with their email list, while others struggle to get even a handful of clicks? If you’re looking to increase engagement with your fundraising emails, one of the best things you can do is to send emails first specifically to your most engaged readers.

Email service providers — like Gmail or Yahoo mail — only let some of the emails through when you do a mass send and then measure how the subscribers react to the message: Do they open it? Do they read it? Do they click on it? Do they mark it as spam? If you fail at one or more of these benchmarks, your email may end up being rejected or thrown into junk for the rest of the send to the rest of the file.

Segment your list into engaged subscribers — those who have opened an email in the past 6 months — and then everyone else. Send your email to the engaged subscribers first and to everyone else an hour or two later.

More of the engaged subscribers will open the email, increasing the likelihood of higher deliverability when the rest of the file gets it later.

Sending targeted emails to your most engaged readers is a great way to increase click-through rates and engagement with your fundraising emails. While it takes some time and effort upfront to segment your email list and craft targeted content, the benefits are well worth it.


Following these 7 steps consistently in creating and scheduling your e-appeals to donors will boost open rates, minimize unsubscribes, get more eyes on your email messages, raise more funds for your mission, and more.


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