12 Fundraising Email Best Practices
Email marketing is a complex practice. Fundraising email marketing is even more tricky. Fundraising emails provide a significant stream of income for many nonprofit and cause-based organizations. Where this process gets complicated is that the prospective donor must take action not once, but twice.
First, we must motivate subscribers to open the email. Next, we need to engage the reader and move them to act by performing our call to action (CTA). Perform the task properly, and we can expect a return on investment (ROI) by as much as 42% or $42 return for every $1 spent.
According to the 2023 M+R Benchmarks study, email revenue currently accounts for roughly 20% of all online revenue with a 5% increase between 2021 and 2022. If you are not currently fundraising through email, it is time to consider bringing email to your overall fundraising plan.
Below are 12 practices to consider when creating your fundraising email campaigns. These steps will help to guarantee that your email fundraising campaign achieves the best possible results.
If you are not reaching the correct audience with information that’s relevant to them, the response rates are guaranteed to suffer. Off course all contacts in your email list have opted-in to receive your emails, however, you can not afford make the mistake of thinking every subscriber will respond the same way to the message. Each subscriber has different needs and emotional triggers. For example, a 40+ year old married female with children will respond very differently to an email about feeding starving children than a 25 year old single male. For this reason our first practice for fundraising email marketing is to segment your audience.
Below are some sample segmentation suggestions:
- Demographics (age, gender, location)
- Giving status (donor, prospective donor, lapsed donor, etc.)
- Role in your organization (donor, volunteer, staff, supporter)
- Desired communication frequency
Higher response rates can be a direct result of segmentation. Statistics show that segmented email campaigns can increase revenue by as much as 760%!
2. Send Times
According to Campaign Monitor, the best day to send out any type of marketing emails is Monday when email open rates are at their highest (20%). It is recommended that you avoid communications on weekends when engagement tends to be lowest. When it comes to fundraising email marketing, most agree that as the week progresses open rates drop. With a little effort and work on your part, you will be able to determine what the best times to send emails are for your audience. Ultimately, the best send time for your organization should be tested by sampling the list. By this we mean that you should divide your list into 2 groups and send the same campaign to both lists at different times. Then compare the open rates for the two groups of recipients. Whichever time results in a higher conversion should be used going forward. This is called A/B testing.
3. Subject Line
According to a recent report, 47% of all email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on the subject line alone. This translates directly to your audience not donating to your cause. If the subscriber never opens the email, they will never donate. Creating a strong subject line requires not only creativity but a strategy as well.
Below are a few things to consider:
- Personalize the subject line – Add the recipients fist name first name.
- Ask a Question – Give the recipient a reason to pause and think about what you are asking them.
- Express Urgency – Let your audience know that time is of the essence using words such as “urgent”, “now” and “important”.
- Consider Length – Keep it short, ideally under 15 characters.
Additionally, your subject line should not be in ALL CAPS. Imagine receiving an email with a subject line like this in your inbox: GET 40% OFF YOUR NEXT PURCHASE RIGHT NOW!!!! Chances are you would take one of three actions: ignore it, delete it, or mark it as spam.
Try to keep in mind that USING EXCESSIVE CAPITALIZATION CAN SCARE AWAY SUBSCRIBERS AND KILL YOUR OPEN RATES. It can come across as though you are yelling, which can have a negative impact on your email performance. So you should use caps in subject lines very carefully. Using caps in an email can be effective if you use it on a single word in a subject line. But it also needs to be the right word. Try to call out words like “MORE”, “BIG” and “NOW” in the subject line.
Example: Score BIG with 50% Off our entire store.
The personalization of fundraising email campaigns has been shown to double the conversion rate of fundraising emails. Additionally, this practice has been shown to increase click through rates (CTR) by 14% and increase revenue by as much as 760%. Most email marketing platforms allow you to personalize your email’s greeting, so as long as you have the contact’s first name in your database, personalization should be very easy.
An added layer would be to use A/B testing (as mentioned above) to determine which type of greeting your subscribers prefer.
Below are sample greetings:
- First name only – Dear John
- First and last name – Dear John Doe
- Formal – Dear Mr. Doe
- Informal – Hi John
Experienced fundraisers rely heavily on telling a story to motivate a prospective donor to give. However, if the story is not the “right” story, you may be waisting your time and hurting your CTR. Your goal should be to create an emotional response in your subscribers. To do so you must get your audience to connect and empathize with your characters. All of this to motivate the reader to respond to your email, and give to your cause.
People donate in order to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something that makes the world a better place. This is why telling a great story is one of the essential fundraising email best practices.
Your story will vary depending on the audience and the emotions you’re trying to create. For example, you may want to share a story about how someone was impacted by your organization, why a donor gave a gift, or what caused a volunteer to choose your particular cause.
Below are 3 ways to get your subscribers invested in your story:
- Use a character who your reader can relate to (match demographics, hopes, and pains).
- Describe the problem from the perspective of that character in hopes of stirring empathy.
- Include your audience in the story by inserting the readers first name… “John, You can help change lives” or by using “you”… “You can make a difference”
Including strong imagery will help you initiate an emotional response from your audience. This isn’t just simply adding your logo to the header or footer, but rather adding images of volunteers, advocates, or places that put a face behind your message. Choose images that show the problem your organization works to solve exists in the first place.
Choose impactful images that have these qualities:
- Avoid generic photos and choose real images of the people, places, etc. your nonprofit helps
- Whenever possible, use a single person and not a group
7. Keep It Short
We have stressed the importance of powerful images and a well-written story to motivate your readers to support your cause, but writting a 5-page essay. With email, brevity is essential. Even short text can appear dense and lengthy on a smartphone screen. Make sure you don’t lose a donor to an overwhelming block of text.
- Keep your copy short, sweet, and to the point.
- Break paragraphs up into one to two sentences in order to create the illusion of less text.
- Aim to write between 2 to 4 medium-sized paragraphs.
- Aim for an email that flows nicely, yet is still concise. Adjust, reword, and perfect your final sentences to flow together and guide the reader into action.
8. Call To Action
Fundraising emails require a call to action (CTA). A clear CTA is how your audience knows what it is that they need to do to support your cause. It is very easy for a simple fundraising email to turn into a request for volunteers, social media connections, sharing your email, and any other number of additional CTA’s. Any one of these other CTA’s can derail your reader from giving to your organization.
This is why it is crucial to limit your fundraising email to one call to action and make it clear and obvious. Use bright colors and bold fonts so that your reader’s eyes focus on it.
Recipients want to receive emails from people, not organizations. Arecent survey found that 42% of email recipients look at the sender name first before they decide if they will open an email. If possible, use a staff member, another fundraiser, or board member as your email sender. To keep it legal, be sure that this person the email is sent from is actually the person who initiates sending the email.
Here are a few additional things to consider regarding the sender:
- It is a good practice to change up who the email is sent from periodically
- Your email should be signed by a person, not your organization or a logo
In a previous article we stressed the importance of optimizing your website for mobile. All email marketing should be mobile friendly as well. This is because over 40% of recipients will delete an email if it doesn’t work well with their mobile device. Your audience is much more likely to respond to your fundraising messages if they can open and access your email’s content on a mobile device.
Use these practices to optimize for mobile:
- Enlarge your links and any other buttons that you want them to click by at least 57×57 pixels
- Resize your images for mobile devices
- Use a single column layout
11. Email & Social Media
Most everyone today is taking advantage of social media and its ability to maximize fundraising. However, many do not know how to effectively link social media and email marketing efforts to work in tandem to convert more donors. It is recommend that you coordinate email and social media campaigns to reach new audiences. The 2023 M+R Benchmarks Report found that 29% of a social media post’s audience did not follow the nonprofit. Encouraging this uncaptured audience to engage with your campaigns is a great way to make them followers/subscribers and ultimately donors.
Use your social media connections to increase engagement with your email audience. Consider offering promotions on social media with incentives to join your email marketing list.
12. Contact Information
Legally, your organization must include contact information somewhere in the fundraising email. It is very important to do this because it contains all the information your recipient may need in order to get in touch with your organization. Your contact information legitimizes your organization and reinforces your brand. This practice also gives your recipients an additional way to reach out with questions. The best place for this information is in the email footer.
The footer should include:
- Your organization’s name and logo
- Phone number
- Physical address
- Email address
- Option to opt-out of emails
These fundraising email best practices will help ensure that you’re reaching your audience at the most effective time, with an emotional and powerful story and all the information they need to make an informed donation. There are numerous additional factors that can drive response rates so continue to test your audience to find what works for your supporters.