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John Killoran 37 min read

Nonprofit Email Newsletters: 5 Optimization Strategies

Email newsletters can be a great method for soliciting donations and communicating with supporters. Here are a few tips for creating the best results.

Optimization tips for nonprofit email newsletters

There are more than 2.5 billion email users worldwide, making it one of the most widely used communication channels out there. Its sheer number of users alone demonstrates that email marketing is an important part of any nonprofit stewardship and fundraising strategy. 

Sending out frequent email newsletters is an excellent way to stay in touch with your donors. By sending news and updates, you can keep your organization fresh on their minds, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Plus, you can use email newsletters to request donations and other types of involvement with your organization. In this article, we’ll cover 5 key strategies that can help you optimize your email newsletters to maximize your virtual fundraising and donor engagement:

  1. Use an email service provider.
  2. Individualize your outreach.
  3. Ensure mobile-responsiveness.
  4. Take a donor-centric approach.
  5. Track your results.

Implementing these best practices is a great way to bring your email marketing up a few notches and create more value for your mission. Ready to get started? Let’s jump in.

1. Use an email service provider.

While it’s possible to use your own email client to send out email newsletters, it’s certainly isn’t advisable.

Email clients (Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL Mail, etc.) are meant to help manage the personal and professional email activities of individuals. Most individuals rarely, if ever, send out emails to large quantities of recipients.

That being the case, your organization can run into major problems when using email clients to send out nonprofit newsletters in bulk. In order to effectively manage your email marketing, you should instead enlist the help of an email service provider (ESP). 

Why is it important?

ESPs can make your email marketing more successful and efficient in a number of ways, including:

  • Better list management. By law, anyone who sends out email newsletters must build a permissions-based list. This means that recipients have to consciously opt-in to receive your correspondence. You also have to provide them with an obvious way to unsubscribe if they ever so choose. Email marketing platforms should facilitate opt-ins and opt-outs for you, so you have one less thing to worry about.
  • Protection against anti-spam laws. Using an ESP makes it much more likely that your emails are delivered without running the risk of violating anti-spam laws. This way, you can easily avoid some hefty fines and other penalties.
  • Higher deliverability. Because email clients are meant for individual use, sending bulk emails from them can look suspicious to internet service providers (ISPs). Your emails are far more likely to be marked as spam and, thus, never make it to your recipients’ inboxes. On the other hand, email services providers have been authenticated by ISPs to send out bulk emails, so your deliverability rates will be much higher.
  • HTML templates. ESPs come with plenty of customizable HTML templates. When using one, your organization can design more professional-looking email newsletters without having to mess with complicated coding.

Email service providers  boost your marketing efforts by ensuring more of your messages end up in the desired recipient’s inbox. Otherwise, supporters risk missing out on valuable and time-sensitive information relating to your organization!

How is it done?

Your organization will need to find an email service provider that’s the right fit for you. Make sure to do plenty of research so that you can find a platform with all of the features you need.

In summary: Email service providers were specifically built to facilitate email marketing. By using one, your organization can create more attractive, deliverable emails that are always compliant with anti-spam laws.

2. Individualize your outreach.

Chances are, your organization has many different types of supporters in your network. Not all of these individuals have the same relationship with your organization, and not all of them are going to want to interact with you in the same way. And on an individual level, each supporter has a unique background and set of preferences to take into account.

That being the case, it’s important for your organization to personalize your email newsletters, so you can better target your supporters’ individual backgrounds and preferences.

Why is it important?

To illustrate this point, imagine you are a loyal donor who has been giving to the same nonprofit for years. Your loyalty runs so deep, in fact, that you’ve just decided to join the organization’s membership program!

However, a few weeks later you receive an email with the subject line: “Make Your First Donation Today!” Obviously, this email is completely irrelevant to you. At the very least you’d be confused, if not annoyed or slightly offended that the organization isn’t paying attention and hasn’t taken your long-term support into account.

Point being, individualizing your outreach ensures that you’ll always be sending the most relevant information that’s most likely to engage each supporter. In fact, personalizing your emails can even result in a 14% higher click-through rate and a 10% higher conversion rate!

How is it done?

To personalize your emails, you’ll need to segment your list of supporters.

Segmenting your list will be much easier when you integrate your email service provider with your nonprofit CRM, or constituent relationship management system. That way, you can take any of the fields listed in your donor profiles and use that data to automatically isolate certain donor groups.

There are many different ways you can categorize your list. For example, you can segment donors by:

  • Subscription date.
  • Constituent type.
  • Giving levels.
  • Basic demographics.
  • Previous interactions with your organization.

Segmenting your list will make juggling multiple email newsletter campaigns much more manageable by allowing you to more easily target different groups.

In summary: Individualizing your outreach leads to higher engagement levels because you’re always sending your supporters the most relevant and valuable content. Take a look at some top segmentation strategies here.

3. Ensure mobile-responsiveness.

Nowadays, a majority of internet browsers (about 51%) surf the web from their smartphones. And if they’re browsing the internet from their phones, it’s more than likely that they’re checking their email there, too!

In order to ensure that all of your donors have the best experience when viewing your email newsletters, your emails should be mobile-responsive.

Why is it important?

Mobile-responsivity means that mobile users don’t have to scroll, pinch, zoom, or manipulate their screens excessively to read or otherwise interact with your emails. Instead, emails are just as attractive and user-friendly on a smartphone or tablet as they would be on a computer!

When your emails are intuitive and easy to interact with, supporters viewing them on mobile devices will engage with them for longer.

How is it done?

Most email service providers use a responsive technology framework that will automatically create a mobile friendly version of your email newsletters.

However, there are still a few things your organization can do to make your emails even more mobile friendly!

When designing, be sure to:

  • Create a vertical, one-column layout.
  • Use a large sans-serif font.
  • Enlarge your call-to-action (CTA) buttons.
  • Aim for minimalism (avoid cramming in too many design elements!).

And before you send out any emails, make sure to take out your phone or tablet and view them for yourself. But don’t stop at your emails—  be sure your donation pages are mobile-responsive as well by using the right fundraising tools

In summary: Because they frequently use their mobile devices to surf the web, donors will naturally view your emails on mobile devices. Designing mobile-responsive emails ensures a better user experience, keeping your donors interacting with your emails for longer.

4. Take a donor-centric approach.

Your email newsletters are the ideal place for your nonprofit to share news, updates, and other content from your organization. However, that doesn’t mean that your emails should revolve around you. Instead, they should be all about your donors!

Why is it important?

Your donors are interested in hearing about your organization (after all, they did subscribe to your emails and have financially supported your mission in the past), but they don’t want to hear you list off information on your campaigns or your many accomplishments. They want to be able to envision their own role within your organization and learn how their support can help make a difference.

As such, it’s best to take a donor-centric approach.

When taking a donor-centric approach, your emails should directly address your donors and make their role within your organization the focus. Implementing this strategy makes your emails more relevant and personal to your donors, resulting in increased levels of email engagement.

How is it done?

When crafting your emails, always keep the donor in mind! 

Here are a few ways that you can make your emails more donor-centric:

  • Use a conversational and personal tone. As you’re writing your emails, envision the donor and imagine you’re talking directly to them. The tone of your email should be relaxed and conversational, and the email should include more “you”s than “I”s or “we”s.
  • Turn to your donor data. You can use the information you have listed in your CRM to make your emails even more personal. At the very least, you should always include the donor’s name in the salutation. No “Dear Donor,” here! For more information, take a look at AccuData’s guide to data marketing!
  • Highlight donors’ work and accomplishments. When giving news or updates, you should always talk about how your donors got involved and helped you reach certain milestones. Even better, you can feature a donor that has gone above and beyond each week or month to show your appreciation.

Your donors have played a huge role in your organization’s success! Make sure that your emails make them feel important and acknowledged. For some great examples, check out Snowball’s compilation of powerful church letters

In summary: Crafting donor-centric emails will allow your donors to more clearly visualize the impact of their role and contributions. When they can see how valued they are, they’ll be empowered to keep supporting you. 

5. Track your results.

Your email newsletter strategy will take some honing to be as impactful as possible, and the only way to spot areas for improvement is by tracking your results.

Why is it important?

By running tests and reports on the performance of your email newsletters, you’ll get deeper insights into which tactics are most effective and which you can improve on.

That way, your email list will only keep growing, and your donor engagement and fundraising will become more and more effective!

How is it done?

Another of the many benefits of using an email service provider is that they include robust reporting and analytics features.

Your nonprofit can run a variety of tests and reports to see how your email newsletters are stacking up. Some common email analysis strategies include:

  • A/B Testing. With A/B testing, you can experiment with different components of your email to get a better idea of which email elements garner the most opens. Simply send multiple versions of the same email to different supporters, (while adjusting a single element, such as the subject line) and then track open rates to see which email performed best.
  • Open rates. Tracking total open rates will still give your organization a solid idea of what percentage of your list is opening your newsletters. This can give you a better look at how many of your supporters are actually intrigued by your email subject lines and choose to engage with it at all.
  • Click-through rates. Click through rates track how many times donors take a specific action with your email, such as clicking on a link. This metric takes open rates a little further to show exactly how donors are interacting with your emails rather than simply opening them, and can provide insights into which calls-to-action are most effective.

By keeping an eye on these metrics, your organization can be sure that you’re crafting compelling emails and continue to optimize your newsletters to see even more donor engagement and email donations.

In summary: Tracking the results of your email is the only way to keep improving your email marketing strategies. By evaluating key metrics, you can maximize your email engagement and fundraising.

Implementing these best practices into your nonprofit email newsletters is a great way to ensure they produce desired results, whether that’s increasing donations, driving web traffic, or simply raising awareness for your cause. Good luck!


John Killoran

John Killoran is an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations. Snowball was one of John’s first public innovations; it’s a fundraising platform that offers text-to-give, online giving, events, and peer-to-peer fundraising tools for nonprofits. By making giving simple, Snowball increases the donations that these organizations can raise online. The Snowball effect is real! John founded Snowball in 2011. Now, it serves over 7,000 nonprofits and is the #1 nonprofit fundraising platform.