10 Tips for Writing Awesome Fundraising Email

Nonprofits rely on fundraising email as a stream of revenue, often unrestricted revenue which is essential. The goal of fundraising email (also referred to herein as appeals) is to inspire prospective donors to click through and complete a donation. This is best done through well-crafted fundraising copy and well-designed email. Poorly designed email or badly written copy can spell disaster for your appeal of campaign.

Writing fundraising email copy requires a lot of thought. It’s no surprise that people find it difficult to write until they’ve done it for some time. So, how can you motivate a stranger to make donations for your cause in just an email? And how do you make your email stand apart from the many, many others they may receive?

Influential fundraising email copy has the following three characteristics:

  • It demonstrates the importance of your cause either as a standalone case or through specific events or stories
  • It proves that the donor’s money will be spent on the cause
  • It makes a strong and compelling call to action

To ease the struggle of constructing quality email, we’ve presented ten quick and effective tips that can help you. Some are strategic in nature and some focused on copy.

Segment Your Audience

Audience segmentation is a must to ensure your emails reach the right people and to ensure good email deliverability practices. Sending the same email to everyone on your list will ensure two things; 1) you’re missing opportunities to personalize copy and donation asks that can bring in more money, and 2) you’re setting yourself up for trouble with email deliverability.

Give thoughtful consideration to how to segment your audience. Are you trying to reach donors of different giving levels? Are you drafting copy based on different interests? You don’t want to email people about climate change who don’t believe it’s real (trust me, I’ve done that). Are you looking to target your most highly engaged supporters or to reactivate those who aren’t participating? Think it through and then craft your email copy with your target audience in mind.

Need help with segmentation concepts for a campaign? Try our Segmentation Generator to get you started with some ideas.

Timing is Important

Emails gain the most traction at specific times and on specific days. This informative article by Campaign Monitor offers a lot of information and backs up that odd hour of 3:00 PM that I always used. Tuesday – Thursday around 3:00 PM. If you Google ‘best time to send email’ or similar you’re likely to find several studies you can compare. Some will say email on Saturday, which never worked for me. Some will say 6:00 AM. So what do you do?

A good place to start is simply by looking at your own habits and those of your peers. Do you open your promotional email first thing in the morning – or when you’re in the doldrums of your afternoon?

Your best bet though, is to TEST it. It will inevitably be different for each organization, and each segment. Audience sampling or segmentation can be essential in figuring out when to send out emails. Send the same email at different times to the same group and see which gets the better open rate. The more you test, the more you’ll find the sweet spot for sending email.

Craft a Captivating Subject Line

You skim your inbox every day and you click on the email that looks most interesting, right? One reason it looks interesting because of the subject line. If the subject fails to catch the recipient’s attention, chances are your email won’t be opened.

Making an incredible subject line requires creativity and inventiveness. But there’s some methodology to it as well. Another article by Campaign Monitor overviews some excellent data and ideas on how to write a solid subject line.

Don’ts of subject line design

  • Don’t click-bait subscribers with a subject line that isn’t relevant to the email
  • Don’t appear spammy
  • Don’t use words that ESPs think are spammy

Do’s of subject line design

  • Personalize when you can using the subscriber’s name or relevant information from your database
  • Use numbers or metrics to make an impact and stand out in the inbox
  • Strive for relevancy – your subject should be an accurate cue to the actual email copy
  • Keep your subject line short and succinct
  • If the issue is urgent – use that

Personalize

Personalization has an exceptionally constructive effect on an email’s performance. Most eCRMs will allow at least some level of personalization. For some great tips on how to personalize content check out this blog post.

The basics of personalizing your email copy are simple though:

  • Use their name – in the salutation, in the subject line and in asks if appropriate
  • Segment correctly – don’t send irrelevant content to the wrong audience
  • Relevancy – you can convey relevant messages based on what you know about your supporters
Not sure where to start with personalization? Get tips from name use to storytelling and geographic messaging here.

Images are Important

Images speak louder than words. Powerful imagery is an essential part of fundraising email copy visually expressing the message you’re trying to convey and pulling at your audience’s heartstrings. You can add images of past clients, advocates, volunteers, or areas where your nonprofit has been working.

Here are some tips for choosing some impactful images for your fundraising emails:

  • Keep it real – avoid stock photos and if you must use them choose carefully
  • Authenticity – choose images of people your association works with or animals you’re telling the story about, match the image to the email copy
  • Eye contact – make sure the faces in the photos are facing the camera and ideally looking right at the supporter – this establishes connection
  • Quality – use high-quality beautiful imagery – don’t settle for blurry or substandard photos

Start With A Story

A fundraising email that lacks a clear point of view and a good story won’t persuade supporters to donate. Tell an exceptional story. The aim is to let your audience empathize with your cause. The characters in the story of the email must be interesting enough to evoke the emotions of the reader, increasing their chances of responding.
People donate to play their part in helping the world. When you’re writing an email, show potential donors the role they’ll be playing in helping. A great way to do so is through an emotional story.

  • Characters – use people readers can connect to, someone like them
  • Statement of problem – state the problem and relate it to the person you’re mentioning
  • Personalization – get personal by using their name or “you”
  • Experience – tell your story in a way that immerses the reader in the message, uses sensory details and describes imagery

Keep It Short And To The Point

A well-designed storyline and powerful images lead to higher response rates. However, this doesn’t mean that an email copy should be five pages long. Long stories make people lose interest. They fail to engage them and often divert the attention of the reader.

Concision is the beauty of any email. Try to write a few medium-sized paragraphs at maximum. This will make sure you keep it to the point, short and sweet.

The Sender Matters

Writing fundraising emails as an individual is more effective than addressing donors as an organization. Donors like to receive emails from individuals. A survey reports that 68% of the recipients decide whether to read an email-based who sent it.

If you’re writing a fundraising email, address your donor as a staff member or volunteer of a non-profit organization, not as the organization itself. You can also send an email as a volunteer fundraiser. If possible, try to sign your email with your own name and position.

Test your senders to see whose name gets more opens. You may find common names get more opens or that a well-known person at your organization is popular.

Optimize For Mobile

The majority of people are opening email on mobile devices. The ease with which this is possible may determine whether people engage with your email again, and decide to donate.

Therefore, your fundraising emails should be optimized for mobile. This will allow your audience to access your email’s content on the phone, and the chances of getting a response increase.

Don’t Forget the Essentials

For legal purposes, the footer of an email copy should include your non-profit organization’s contact information and an unsubscribe option. This will provide the recipient of the email with all the information required to get in touch with you if they wish to donate. Failing to include the essential information can flag you with ESPs as spam and negatively affect email deliverability.

Wrapping it up

Fundraising email is essential to your nonprofit marketing strategy. Quality email copy can help you gather strong financial support for your nonprofit. Or, mobilize supporters to passionately take action on an issue. All you have to do is to put some effort in and follow the tips described above. Happy copywriting!

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Chloe Green is a copywriter and digital campaigner with almost a decade of experience in the charity and political sectors. She’s delivered campaigns, copy and consultancy for a raft of good eggs including Anthony Nolan, the National Union of Students, St Mungo’s, and Hillary for America. She was Social Media Manager at the Labour Party between 2016–2019 and now she’s Head of Creative with the lovely team at Forward Action. She leads on fundraising emails, UX copy, and all creative facilitation. She’s an expert in email list growth, digital strategy, organic and paid-for social media, and digital mobilisation.

Rachel founded the specialist charity web agency, Rechord, in 1999. Between 1999 and 2012 they created hundreds of different web applications for organisations in the UK and internationally.
In 2013 she became the 'Donor Whisperer' and focused on helping small to medium-sized non-profits to reach new donors and activists and from there increase their income. She uses a unique process that combines the benefits of consultancy with capacity building.
Her clients include Traidcraft Exchange, the Overseas Development Institute, Jubilee Debt Coalition, the Leprosy Mission of England and Wales, Tax Justice UK, The Canary, Humanity and Inclusion, the Anti-Tribalism Movement, BRACE, New Family Social, Arseh Sevom - and that's just the last year.
She also feels weird writing about herself in the third person.

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Claire Warner is a former charity Fundraising Director & Senior Leader, turned Culture & Wellbeing consultant.

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She's currently Senior Strategist at The Sunrise Project leading the Global Banks Program and building grassroots activism on finance around the world. She’s on the board of Skiftet, Sweden’s biggest online campaign community and Left Foot Forward in the UK.

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