How to write engaging charity emails in 5 easy steps


We all know that social media is great for brand awareness and reach, but did you know that engagement with email is much stronger? The M+R 2021 UK benchmarks report found that charities had an average engagement score of 0.35% for Facebook posts and 2.2% for Tweets, yet the average email open rate for charities was 29%. So isn’t it time to start investing in email marketing?

What makes a great email? 

If you’re looking for a good open rate and click through rate, then these are the five steps you need to take. 

Write a strong subject line

When someone signs up to receive emails from you, that means they actively want to hear from you. However, it doesn’t always mean they’ll open your email. Just think about your own inbox and how many emails you receive daily. Which ones do you open and why? 

One way to ensure more people will open your email is to have a compelling subject line. A top tip is not to be mysterious or cryptic – it doesn’t work. Just tell the reader what to expect when they open the email. Think of it as a headline for a news article – what would make them want to read it? 

Make sure it’s concise and be specific. Research shows around 41 characters, or between six to ten words, is the optimal length for a subject line.

Personalise it

If you collect first names when people sign up to your emails, why not use their name in the subject line? It can make the reader feel like that email is addressed just to them, instead of an email list. 

British Heart Foundation
Email Subject Line
"Kirst, declutter and donate the New Year"

Rethink your sender address

Often charities send their email from an organisational address, which makes it very clear who sent the email. Such as this example from Cancer Research UK. It’s key that supporters know who the email is from and that it serves as a reminder of their relationship to you. Therefore, your sender address is important and needs to be instantly recognisable. 

Cancer Research UK
Sender Email Address

However, is it better to send your email from a named individual at your organisation? Such as these examples from Amnesty International? The named individuals work in specific areas such as campaigning or fundraising. 

Amnesty International 
Email Senders 
Personalised sender names

Why not test sending an email from a named individual next time you’re sending out an email?

Write short, concise copy

Most people are time poor and don’t want to read a really long email so ensure your copy is concise and punchy. Think about what the goal of your email is? What is the ONE message you want to get across? Don’t confuse (or worse, bore) your reader by going off in tangents. 

Having said that, you still have to make the copy compelling. You need to grab attention in the first sentence and then keep it. 

Save the Children Email Screenshot. 

Hi Kirsty

Every day we see terrible images of children caught up in the global refugee crisis. It's easy to feel there's nothing we can do.

But what can I do as one individual? How can I make a difference? Oh wait… they tell me.  

Save the children

Call out of what can be done. 

"But that's not true. We're not powerless. As a global community we can do better by these children.

And then they hit home with a call to action – in the third sentence of the email body copy. They got to the point, fast. 

Ensure there’s only one call to action

Don’t confuse your readers with lots of different calls to action, such as ‘sign this, donate here, share on social media’. Research shows that they’re unlikely to take any action if they’re presented with too many options. 

Here’s the call to action in that Save the Children example above. 

Campaign image of a young child and a link in the email stating "Join me in calling for a new deal for children forced from their homes".

Note that the call to action is not a question – it’s almost a command. The assumption is that the reader wants to help and will. 

They then ask again and make the call to action more visual. This time the reader can see a child who needs help. And they’ve added two big red buttons –  with red being the colour of urgency and emergency. Whilst it may look like there are two calls to action, there isn’t. The ‘Yes’ button is the call to action and the ‘tell me more’ button simply offers the reader the option to go to their website and learn more about the issue. 

Campaign image of a young child within the email with the question "Will you call on world leaders to unite for child refugees?".

Buttons showing the options "yes" or "tell me more".

If the reader doesn’t want to head to a website but still needs convincing, there is concise copy below. Note the sentences in bold. This is really clever as if you only read those two sentences, you still understand what the issue is. 

Email content.

The last sentence is a  third reminder of the call to action. 

So those are the five steps to creating an engaging email that your supporters will want to open. Don’t forget of course to test which is the best time and day to send your emails as that can impact open rates too. 

If you’re writing emails with fundraising asks, check out our 10 Top tips for writing awesome fundraising emails.

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