First, some good news: Average email open rates for nonprofits in 2020 are better than the rates for some of today’s most competitive industries like real estate, tourism, legal services, and nutrition. 

Now the bad news: The average open rate is just over 20%. While there are many reasons for this, it means that some of the emails you send on behalf of your charity go straight into the virtual trash bin. Even if you’re above average for open rates, you can still improve and get more people to notice.

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Email is an important element of any digital marketing strategy, especially for nonprofit executives. Since nearly everyone checks their email at least once a day, marketing emails provide direct communication with volunteers, donors, board members, and service recipients. The key is to be effective in your messaging.

Graphic of stats for fundraising email
Online donations have never been more important for nonprofits of all sizes, and email is one of the best ways to connect to current and future donors.

How can a development director at a nonprofit create an effective fundraising email? Integrate these best practices into your next email outreach campaign.

Survey your contacts

One reason that nonprofits have a higher than average email open rate than other businesses is that the people who sign up for your emails care about your cause and want to help. After all, they choose to sign up for your email list. But are you offering them real opportunities to make a difference? You won’t know unless you ask.

Start by reaching out to your current email contacts with a survey to find out what they’d like to see in your e-newsletter. You may be surprised at some of the ideas. Be open to new ideas regarding virtual events or ways of proving your impact that may be different than how you’ve previously communicated.

Emails don’t always have to be fundraising requests, and in fact, they shouldn’t. You can create stronger relationships — leading to bigger donations down the road — if you focus on developing friendships instead. Vary your messaging to keep your supporters interested enough to open what you’re sending.

Get mobile-responsive

If you’re using an outdated email marketing tool, it’s possible that people aren’t opening your emails simply because the design makes it impossible for them to read it on their mobile device. Some agencies try to save money by using old email templates, but hard-to-decipher layouts can cost you money in the long run.

Constant Contact’s email marketing tools not only provide a clean, mobile-responsive layout, but they also allow you to choose from a variety of industry-themed templates so you can look professional. A fundraising email template can help you complete the task quickly and effectively.

Refine subject lines

Let’s say you want to send an email to invite supporters to a fundraising event. You’ve picked out an invitation email template that projects the same style and theme of the event. Now, how do you start? Follow these tips for writing your subject line:

  • Don’t get too excited. Limit the use of exclamation points and avoid over-promising.
  • Stay concise. The goal is to see the entire subject line even when space is limited.
  • Use numbers. Numbers make people think you have a metric worth sharing.
  • Be clear. It’s tempting to be clever, but make sure the subject honestly explains the email.
  • Avoid spam triggers with words and phrases like “100%,” “as seen on,” “amazing,” and “free.”
  • Ask questions based on what your audience may want to know.
  • Be careful with humor. It’s easy for people to miss the joke — and unsubscribe.
  • Don’t use emojis. We know, frowny face — but perceived informality or cultural differences may offend some readers.

Segment your audience

A popular and effective trend in marketing is known as personalization, and this goes beyond starting your email with a “Dear [First Name Last Name].” Personalization can begin by breaking up who receives your email based on whether they’re a donor, a recipient of services, a volunteer, or simply someone who attended a recent event.

This is when the data you collect and store in your email marketing platform can come in handy. Do you know the birthdays of your volunteers? You can send out a special birthday greeting for those celebrating each month to let them know you care. Make this a question they can answer when signing up for the email list in the first place.

If someone is a top donor, they should be addressed in a different way than someone who’s never financially supported your organization. Breaking up your email lists in segments lets you tailor your message in a way that will naturally encourage people to open and read.

Test your subject lines using A/B testing

When you’re crafting email subject lines for fundraising, it can feel a lot like endless stabs in the dark. How do you know when your writing will get more donations to support your mission? The answer lies in A/B testing

A/B testing is simple, yet highly effective. Start by creating two separate email subject lines with a different focus, tone, or style. Then see which one performs better by analyzing the back-end metrics. Then you’ll know how to craft the follow-up subject line for better results.

Include compelling images

A/B testing can also be used for the images in your emails — and you use plenty of engaging images, right? Inserting photos that inject emotion into your email layouts (never attach images that need to be downloaded) can encourage people to keep reading and donate based on the emotions those photos trigger.

example of fundraising email that includes a compelling image
Keep your audience in mind when picking out images for your emails.

Be sure any images you include are high quality and big enough to see, but not so large as to load slowly. 

Have a strong call to action

Finally, the people who open your emails may not be donating simply because you never gave them the opportunity to do so. They may have loved what you’ve written and the images you’ve selected, but you shouldn’t assume that they’ll pick up the phone and call you to contribute — you have to make it easy for them.

The answer is a clear call-to-action button, which can be a one-click method for donating. The button can read “Donate Now,” or if you want them to purchase a ticket to an event, “I’ll Be There.” Always think about what you want your readers to do when crafting a fundraising email, and then present a clear path for them to take that action. 

Integrate email with a comprehensive marketing strategy

Of course, you can’t rely on email marketing as the only tool to connect with the people who care about your mission. It needs to be part of a comprehensive marketing strategy that includes a mobile-responsive website, social media outreach, and more. 

For ideas on an in-depth game plan to develop relationships with your supporters and earn more donations, check out Constant Contact’s The Download. This free guide is specifically created to help nonprofits cut through the noise to connect in a meaningful way with those who care.