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Carl Diesing 15 min read

How to Build an Email Marketing Strategy for Your Nonprofit

Email marketing is a reliable staple of most nonprofits’ outreach strategies. Compared to other messaging channels like social media and direct mail, email allows nonprofits to communicate directly with supporters and send messages in a matter of seconds. 

Many organizations use email to market their goods and services, meaning nonprofits will need to compete for attention in their supporter’s inboxes. Due to the number of emails constituents receive daily, nonprofits should refine their email marketing strategies to stand out, encourage engagement, and cultivate long-term relationships. 

To help your organization reach more supporters through email, this article will walk through five steps for making email a dedicated and valuable part of your nonprofit’s digital strategies

Establish your goals.

Email helps you stay in touch with supporters, but your strategy should have a more specific purpose than simply reminding your supporters that your nonprofit exists. For example, you might focus your strategy by specifically aiming to drive more traffic to your website’s new blog, encourage supporters to forward messages to their friends and family, or entice them to join your advocacy campaign. 

Goals will vary depending on your nonprofit’s size, supporter base, and upcoming campaigns and initiatives. However, all nonprofits can more effectively achieve their email strategy’s goals by:

  • Choosing relevant KPIs. What statistics will you use to measure an email campaign’s success? Key performance indicators (KPIs) for email campaigns include metrics such as open rate, clickthrough rate, and conversion rate. A nonprofit interested in increasing its visibility and brand recognition may focus on its open rate, while a nonprofit with an upcoming fundraising goal would highly prioritize its conversion rate. 
  • Creating calls to action. Each email should direct supporters to help fulfill your goal with a call to action. Calls to action are straightforward messages, such as “donate now,” or “sign up to volunteer.” Link to your most relevant website page on this text or even create a colorful button supporters can click on. 
  • Only having one goal per email. Your email strategy can have multiple overarching objectives, but each email should target only a singular goal. For example, you might send supporters a monthly newsletter, routine donation requests, and promotional materials for upcoming events. Separate these goals into unique emails. Your donation requests should focus only on guiding supporters toward making a donation and refrain from promoting your event. Emails with a single focused goal prevent supporters from getting overwhelmed and increase the chances of conversion. 

If your goal is to increase your emailing lists, consider exploring public outreach channels like social media. You can encourage supporters who interact with your social media posts to sign up for your newsletter or use email appends to learn supporter email addresses from their social media account information. 

Segment your email lists.

Your supporters are more likely to interact with emails that contain information relevant to their interests. For instance, a supporter in their mid-20s who is new to your nonprofit will likely be interested in opening and clicking through an email providing introductory information about your various programs. In contrast, they would likely be less interested in an email about your planned giving program. 

Analyze your supporter email lists and divide them based on relevant characteristics, such as:

  • How long they’ve been a supporter

  • Their current lifetime value or average gift amount

  • Campaigns they’ve donated to 

  • Other engagement opportunities they’ve participated in, such as attending an event, joining your advocacy campaign, or volunteering

  • Demographic data, like age and location

Take note of these and other donor data in your CRM. Ensure your data is organized so it is useful and can easily be pulled by your email messaging tool. Nonprofits that are switching CRMs or simply need assistance managing their data should partner with a consultant or set time aside to review donor profiles and look for common data entry errors. These often include duplicate entries, missing information, or data that is no longer relevant to your donor engagement goals.

Use email content creation best practices.

To grab supporters’ attention, your emails need to first persuade recipients to open them. Then, the content they find inside should be compelling enough to cause them to take action. A few best practices for composing effective emails include: 

  • Keeping subject lines to the point. Subject lines should be short, intriguing, and representative of your nonprofit. Avoid using words or phrases that may trigger spam filters, such as “Click here” or “Act now!” Try using subject lines that invoke curiosity or invite engagement, such as asking a question or sharing a surprising fact or statistic. 

  • Adding images and brand elements. Make your messages feel professional and reassure supporters they are from your nonprofit by using graphics and brand elements. This might include your logo, color scheme, or photos of your beneficiaries, staff, volunteers, or other relevant subjects.  

  • Making the next steps clear.

    As mentioned, your emails should direct supporters toward taking a specific action after reading them. This may be to donate or volunteer, or something more passive that still helps build your relationship. For example, you might send an email sharing the impact that a supporter’s previous donation made. For this email, the next steps may simply be to explore your website or just understand the importance of their relationship with your nonprofit. 

Organizations launching a new email strategy may find it useful to partner with a nonprofit marketing consultant who can help analyze their audiences and write effective subject lines and copy. A consultant can also help you create email brand and image assets, design professional layouts, and conduct engagement tests, such as A/B testing.  

Establish your email cadence.

Determine how often you will email your supporters. Too frequent communication can annoy some supporters, while too few messages may result in your nonprofit missing opportunities to increase supporter engagement. 

Take note of your current email metrics and supporter feedback to choose your cadence. For example, you may see higher open rates on a specific day of the week and diminishing returns for subsequent emails during the rest of the week. 

While the exact messaging days and times will depend on your audience, most nonprofits use a weekly or monthly messaging cadence for recurring emails with extra emails for specific occasions, such as sending a thank you email after a donation. 

For instance, you may send out your newsletter on a monthly basis but send supporters donation requests based on each supporter’s donor journey. Personalizing your cadence for each supporter based on their engagement increases the likelihood that they will act on your emails. 

Measure performance.

After rolling out a new email strategy, establish what KPIs you will measure and how you will collect relevant data. Continuing to monitor your email campaign’s performance allows you to identify missteps and quickly redirect, take advantage of opportunities, and plan how to improve your strategy going forward. 

Try testing various aspects of your emails to discover which lead to the highest engagement rates. Sending different groups of supporters the same email but with one change is known as A/B testing, and it can be a useful tool for directly comparing specific elements. For example, you might try sending two emails with the same copy but different subject lines and compare their open rates, or use different photographs in thank you messages to see if there is an impact on new donor retention

Pay attention to which segments of your audience respond best to different aspects of your emails. Then, use this data to fine-tune your email campaigns and improve your engagement. 



Stay in touch with your supporters from the moment they first sign up for your email listing, building strong relationships that can last for years to come. Be conscious of your audience’s interests and create emails that appeal to them while also advancing your organization’s goals. Work with a marketing consultant, analyze your data, and reach out to your supporters to keep moving your strategy forward.


Carl Diesing

Carl Diesing is Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia. Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.