This past Valentine’s Day, a dog was suffering from a hole in his heart.

Not a figurative hole, either.

At the time, Skywalker was training to be a service dog for an eight-year-old autistic boy. The boy was so eager to help out his four-legged friend, he offered his Tooth Fairy money to help pay for the surgery.

Skywalker’s family sought help from Fairy Dogparents, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that helps families get the money they need to care for – and keep – their pets.

Thanks to a single email, Skywalker’s story reached more than 2,000 inboxes. In 12 hours, Fairy DogParents raised $6,000 for the surgery.

This isn’t uncommon, either. Founder Marlo Manning says that the organization has raised tens of thousands of dollars through email marketing since she first started Fairy DogParents in 2009.

The secret to getting donations, she says, is to use email to tell a story.

Keeping donors happy

Marlo doesn’t just tell any story. She focuses on a very particular kind of tale.

“Early on, I said, ‘We will only tell happy stories,’” she says. “That way, people can see how they’re helping.”

Skywalker’s story is just one example. Each email directly connects the mission of Fairy DogParents with the animals and families that are being helped.

By letting her work speak for her, Marlo has found that word about her organization has quickly spread.

In 2009, Fairy DogParents sponsored 27 dogs. In 2011, that number jumped to 100. Four months into 2012, the organization has already helped 104.

“We just celebrated our 300th dog. More shelters are referring families to us, too, and our email list just keeps growing,” Marlo says.

The power of information

If we take a look at one of the most recent emails from Fairy DogParents, it’s like a wagging example of 7 best practices in a very clean and very engaging format:

By keeping subscribers informed about the dogs, the spending, and donations – and encouraging them to share the message – each email keeps the community closely knit. Wherever they are, Fairy DogParents donors can directly see the impact that they’re having.

Starting off small

Marlo’s inspiration to found Fairy DogParents came from her own dog, Ladybug, who passed away from a terminal disease.

She wanted to find an organization to donate the leftover medicine – worth hundreds of dollars – but couldn’t seem to locate anything like it. So, she decided to start one.

At first, she primarily relied on sending out emails to people through her personal email. “Half of it would end up in junk mail folders,” she says. After attending an expo and learning about Constant Contact, she decided to try it.

“It’s made a world of difference for two reasons: first, it’s easy to use. Second, it helped me present Fairy DogParents as if we had everything together.” That, she says, is the key. “No one is going to trust you with donations if your communications don’t have a professional appearance.”

And, of course, having the ability to show off adorable pictures of dogs in each email doesn’t hurt, either.