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Allyson Kapin 6 min read

20 Email Fundraising Best Practices

Is your nonprofit struggling to raise money online? You’re not alone. Even some of the largest organizations have a lot of low hanging fruit and aren’t leveraging the best email fundraising practices. If your nonprofit falls into that category or if you're looking for a fundraising refresher here’s 20 of our favorite email fundraising tips that we adapted for you from a recent online fundraising audit.

1. Message your email list 2X-4x times a month with one or two of them being a fundraising appeal. The others should focus on engagement. If there is an urgent deadline, you can do a 3-part email fundraising campaign for the month to build momentum. For big campaigns, you can continue the campaign through the next month. Follow up emails often outperform the initial email.

2. During year-end fundraising, your nonprofit can message email subscribers at least a couple of times a week. Your nonprofit has the potential to raise more than 50% of its online revenue in the month of December.

3. Incorporate emails monthly that are not focused on donations. Balance out emails with thank you content, a quarterly e-newsletter or roundup, success stories and offline engagement activities. Sometimes not asking is the best fundraising appeal you can send.

4. Set a manageable monetary goal to encourage supporters. If you haven’t done this with your email list before, try starting out with a small fundraising goal

5. Create a deadline to promote urgency.

6. Get to the point fast, as lots of people don’t read emails. They skim them for the most important points in about 5-8 seconds. Most will read the opening paragraph, skim, and possibly tune in again on the final paragraph. The first two sentences are critical. If you can stir up their emotions, shock them, make them feel sad or even appreciated, then they'll be more inclined to donate. Treat your first paragraph as if it's the only paragraph that will be read in your entire appeal.

7. The first three paragraphs should not be more than 1-3 sentences.

8. Focus on one call to action per email. Don’t ask people to do multiple things.

9. Imagery should be compelling and reinforce your message.

10. Tell a story that is connected to the topic of the appeal. Make the story timely. Emotional appeal performs better than heartbreaking statistics.

11. Leverage matching gifts whenever you can. Online donors like to know that they can double their impact.

12. Ensure that the text tells your story when images do not appear in the subscribers’ email program. Many users have their email images turned off.

13. Ensure that the text version of each email is always the right text, for any users who may not receive HTML emails.

14. The headlines and donation links should include compelling language that connects directly with users:

  • Will you help?
  • Can we count on your support today?
  • Will you chip in $50 today?
  • We can’t do this without you. Will you donate $50 to [add your program]?

15. Customize the ask amount your donors receive, so you never ask someone for less than they donated before.

16. Segment based on past history.

17. Make your appeals more mobile friendly. Over 50% of all emails are opened on a mobile device.

18. Be strategic in who sends your emails. Who tells your story best? Test emails coming from your executive director, a volunteer, a board member, influencer, etc.

19. Make your subject line a priority – it's your first impression.

20. TEST
, TEST, and TEST more. Every email and online campaign should be seen as an opportunity to test and learn what works best for your donors. You should be testing things like, what subject line wins the highest open rate, what ask level people respond to best, or what issues and actions your supporters are interested in.


Allyson Kapin

Allyson has been named one of "Top Tech Titans" by the Washingtonian, one of the Most Influential Women In Tech by Fast Company, and one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes for her leadership role in technology and social media. As Founding Partner of Rad Campaign, she leads the firm's client and online strategic services. For over a decade Allyson has helped non-profit organizations and political campaigns create dynamic and award-winning websites and online marketing and recruitment campaigns. She works side-by-side with her clients to meet their web needs and maximize their online effectiveness to create real world impact.