nonprofit email marketing

Six Steps to Build Your Nonprofit’s Email Fundraising Program

Fundraising Campaign Management  / By Mike Crum

Building a successful fundraising email program can be an effective way to boost your Nonprofit donations. It’s essential to stay in front of donors as well as your Nonprofit’s ‘orbit’, and email is a cost effective way to do so.

Unfortunately, email is so over-used these days, you’ve got to really hustle to make sure it will work for your Nonprofit. Here are 6 tips to help you have better success with your Nonprofit’s email program

To create a successful program, start by crafting compelling subject lines that will grab the attention of your donors. You've got to get the email opened! What will make the recipient ‘stop and think’?

Most email marketing programs allow you to do a/b testing so you can sample a small number of addresses to determine which subject lines are getting the most opens and click throughs. Then, you can select the 'winning' subject line for the balance of your emails.

Keep the email content concise and focused on a call to action. If you are asking for a donation, make the ask as early as possible. It’s amazing how many Nonprofits send out really pretty emails that don’t even include an ask! Don’t let this happen to you!

The goal is to get the reader to take action. This means opening the email, reading the email, reacting to the email, learning from the email – and yes, making a donation is sometimes the goal too.

Ensure your email can be understood by a grandmother or grandfather. You want your email to read like someone is talking to the reader in a plain conversation. Ensure you are writing in someone’s voice – this is not always the Executive Director or board chair – mix it up!

This is more art than science, and the better job you do making your emails ‘readable’, the greater likelihood you have of recipients actually reading your emails and not unsubscribing.

Include visuals to make your message stand out. Ideally, the visual is going to complement your clear and concise messaging. Ensure the visuals will work with mobile phones too – you don’t want to spend a ton of time on an infographic that’s only going to anger recipients because they can’t read it - even if they squint!

Segment your emails! You don’t want to send email fundraising asks to your sister Nonprofits, but you do want to ensure they’re aware of what you’re up to. When it comes to fundraising, if you’re asking for a specific amount in an email, then you’ll want to segment your donors by ask amount so you can be responsive asking your annual donors for a smaller amount than some of your major donors.

You’ll also want to segment your donors based on their motivational triggers. If someone is really interested in childhood reading, and you’ve got information on that topic, don’t send it out to your email universe, target those donors with this interest. This will help your donors feel like ‘insiders’ as you’re truly targeting communications based on their interests.

Be sure to track results and adjust your program as needed. Experiment. Learn. Repeat. Always be learning and adjusting.

With these 6 tips, you can create an effective fundraising email program that will help your Nonprofit reach its goals. These 6 steps are just a start. You should really take a deep dive into what works for direct mail as well as email. I highly, highly, highly recommend John Lepp’s book, Creative Deviations. I’ve been involved in fundraising for four decades and this book is transforming my thinking about communicating with donors. John is helping me kill old, lazy habits that seem conventional, but that actually backfire when you’re trying to motivate and activate donors. Best wishes with your email marketing program!


Mike Crum

Subject Matter Expert

Mike is a recognized expert, thought leader, advisor and speaker in the Nonprofit world. Over the past four decades, Mike served as an Executive Director, COO, see more

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