Fundraising Email Tips: 10 Easy Ways to Optimize Appeals


Updated 8/3/23

Nonprofits rely on fundraising emails for revenue. The goal of fundraising emails (also known as “appeals”) is to inspire prospective donors to click through and complete a donation. Well-crafted fundraising copy and well-designed email templates help put those donations into motion.

What sorts of things can you do to motivate potential and/or existing supporters to make donations toward your cause in just a single email? And how do you make your email stand apart from the many, many others that are flooding their inboxes?

For emails, impactful fundraising appeal 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 request

To get you started with constructing quality emails, we’ve put together ten quick and effective tips — some strategic, others focused on copy itself — that will help make your emails stand out in anyone’s inbox.

1. Segment your audience

Donor segmentation is a must to ensure your emails reach the right people and to ensure good email deliverability practices. What you shouldn’t do is send the same email to everyone on your list. This will have two consequences:

  1. You will miss opportunities to personalize copy and donation asks that can bring in more money
  2. You will set 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 trying to draft copy based on different interests? Are you looking to target your most highly engaged supporters or to reactivate those who lately haven’t been participating that much? Think it through and then craft your email copy with your target audience in mind.

2. Time your emails for impact

Emails gain the most traction at specific times and on specific days. A good place to start is by 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 with your email list. For example, consider split test email campaigns. It will inevitably be different for each nonprofit organization, and each segment. Audience sampling or segmentation can be essential in figuring out when to send out email blasts. 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 effective fundraising emails.

3. Craft a captivating subject line

You skim your inbox every day and you click on the emails that look most interesting, right? One reason those messages look interesting is because of the subject lines. If a 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 it also comes down to a few do’s and don’ts:

What you should do

  • Personalize when you can by mentioning the subscriber’s name and other 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, lean into that with your donation request

What you should not do

  • Don’t clickbait subscribers with a subject line that isn’t relevant to the email
  • Don’t appear spammy, such as sending donation requests without calls to action relevant to any campaigns or initiatives
  • Don’t use words that ESPs think are spammy

4. Personalize — wherever and whenever possible

Sending your donation email to the correct email address is only the beginning. Personalization has an exceptionally constructive effect on an email’s performance. Most eCRMs will allow at least some level of personalization. The basics of personalizing your email copy are simple:

  • 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

For deeper insight in terms of how to personalize content, check out this blog post.

5. Incorporate powerful visuals

Images speak louder than words. Powerful visuals are an essential part of fundraising appeal email copy because they express the message you’re trying to convey and pull 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 to put in your emails that make donation appeals:

  • Keep it real: Avoid stock photos if possible
  • Authenticity: Choose images that illustrate the work you do — such as pictures of staff members, recent meet-ups, protests, etc. — and 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, because this establishes connection
  • Quality: Use high-quality beautiful imagery — don’t settle for blurry or substandard photos

6. Start with a story

A fundraising email that lacks a clear narrative won’t persuade supporters to donate. Tell an exceptional, compelling 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 your nonprofit hero’s journey. A great way to do so is through an emotional story, which features:

  • Characters: Write about a person whom readers can relate to
  • Statement of problem: State the problem and relate it to the reader
  • Personalization: Get personal by using the email recipient’s name or “you”
  • Experience: Tell your story in a way that immerses the reader in the message, uses sensory details, and describes imagery

7. Be as concise as possible

A well-designed storyline with powerful images leads to higher response rates. However, this doesn’t mean that an email should be five pages long. Long stories make people lose interest. They fail to engage 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 help you stick to your point — short and sweet.

8. Choose the right sender

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

If you’re writing a fundraising email, indicate that a specific staff member from your organization, rather than the organization itself, sent the message to make it feel more personal to your reader. You can also send an email as a volunteer fundraiser. If possible, try to sign your email with your own name and position within the nonprofit.

Test your senders to see whose name gets a higher open rate. You may find common names get more clicks or that a well-known person at your nonprofit organization is especially popular.

9. 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 whether they decide to donate at all.

Therefore, your fundraising emails should be optimized for mobile. This will allow your audience to access your email’s content on their phones, and the chances increase around getting engagement.

10. Don’t forget the legal details

The footer of an email copy should include your nonprofit 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 this essential legal information can flag you with ESPs as spam and negatively affect email deliverability.

Ready to win more campaigns with your fundraising emails?

Fundraising emails are essential to your nonprofit marketing strategy. Quality email copy can help you gather strong financial support for your nonprofit and 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.

Want to learn more about how Engaging Networks help you improve the power of your fundraising email initiatives? Connect with a team member today, or request a demo to learn all about how we help organizations around the world engage with their email lists.

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