How to Effectively Use Nonprofit Emails

In the world of nonprofits where time and resources are slim, email marketing can sound like an answer to a prayer. All you need to do in order to reach volunteers, nurture donors and increase giving is to spend a few minutes crafting the perfect email!

Well, not exactly.

At this point, email inboxes are beyond crowded and messages are not being opened. It’s getting harder to get a donors attention, much less get a response. M+R recently reviewed a set of email engagement data, and found that open rates have fallen by seven percent to just 13 percent. That’s pretty low.

Emails can absolutely be a cost-effective marketing method for nonprofits, but they’re often approached incorrectly and filled with mistakes. In order to get your email noticed, opened and acted upon – you’ve got to get a few basics right. Consider the following.

  • What’s your single goal?

Do you have an answer to this question when you sit down to craft your latest email? If you have a fundraising event around the corner, your goal might be to get more people registered to attend. If you have an immediate cash need, your goal might be to get quick donations. If you simply want to share some news, your goal might be to nurture your relationships with volunteers and donors. All of these are worthy goals but you need to choose ONE. Nonprofits have the tendency to stuff 10 competing calls to action in an email which creates more confusion than action

Once you know what your objective is, you can write your email with purpose. If your goal was one of the first two examples I mentioned, you need to make sure you have a very clear call-to-action (CTA) button in your message (e.g. “Reserve your exclusive space at our museum event” or “Donate $100 to Provide a Child Schooling for a Year”). And the best calls to action clearly communicate impact. If a donor doesn’t immediately understand the tangible value you are offering them (or the world) then response will be low. Make sure that you tailor your email to make it easy for your recipients to do what you want them to do – or read what you want them to read – the specific value they receive. They get too many emails in a day – your outreach must be purposeful and valuable, or it will get lost in the slew of other people trying to get their attention.

  • From a human, to a human.

How many times have you looked at your email and seen a business name in the “from” field? Or glanced at a subject line that smelled like a mass email long before you ever could open it (which you never did, by the way)? If for-profit businesses need to increase the personalization in their marketing efforts – and they do – nonprofits need to amplify this to the max.

After all, people need to know you care about them when you’re asking them to believe in your cause and give their time and/or money to it. A generalized email with the greeting “To Sir / Madam” is going to alienate even the most caring among your recipients. Start by making sure every email that goes out (even those in an email blast) all start with a personalized first name, which is very easy to do in any automated system. Then if you can personalize one or two other tidbits throughout the message, you’re increasing the odds of the note being read by an order of magnitude. Something like, “It was great seeing you at our recent clean-up event” or signing off with something like, “I hope to see you and your kids at our next volunteer meeting” can go a long way in making someone feel acknowledged.

  • Is this relevant?

Because you care so passionately about your mission, every tactic you work on is going to feel relevant and important to you. But for an outsider to receive your message and take the next step, you’ve got to break through the to-do lists and chaos of their daily lives. Relevance is often the best way to do this.

When you ask for a donation, mention “the five-year-old girl who got to go to school with a backpack full of school supplies” thanks to the generosity of your donors, rather than talking generally about “helping kids get the resources they need.” A simple switch like this can make a story feel more relevant to a donor.

Also, think about how you can tie what you’re doing (or asking for) into a timely news story or season. If it’s tax time, for example, remind your base there’s still time for them to donate to your organization and get tax credit. Or if there was a big news story about the number of homeless people in your city skyrocketing, piggyback off of this trending topic and share how you’re making a difference in the lives of these people. If your recipients see something that is time-sensitive in nature, or already being talked about in the community, they’re far more likely to pause a moment to see what you have to say.

  • Consider the nuances (like design and timing).

If you want your key points to be read (and absorbed) in email, keep them short, use bullet points and break up the text with images. Also, make sure your emails are responsively designed (which means they will fit whichever device your recipient views them on). These small changes can make the difference in whether someone wants to dig into your message further, or chooses to delete it (or worse, unsubscribe from your list).

And don’t stop there – think through what time of day and what day you’re sending your emails. Network for Good found that most online giving for them occurs during the week during the workday, for example, so sending your emails within those parameters is a good rule of thumb.

  • Did it drive results?

Ah, yes, measurement. Once you send your email, look at the data. This doesn’t have to be sophisticated or difficult. Ask basic questions like: What was your open rate? How did it compare to previous emails? How many clicks did your CTA buttons get? How did those compare to prior data? It’s really important to take a look at the numbers because they can teach you so much. Constantly reviewing how your emails perform, and making data-informed changes, is one of the most sure ways you can improve the quality of your emails (and response rates).

Nonprofit emails have gotten a bad rap at times but, to be fair, so have all marketing emails. The trick to getting your message read and acted upon isn’t a trick at all. It comes down to writing your message with your goal in mind, personalizing wherever possible, making yourself and your content relevant, being intentional about your email’s design and timing – and then keeping track of the results you get. The more you get into the habit of checking these boxes on every email that goes out the door, the more effective your emails will be.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

Take a self-guided tour of Virtuous, where you can explore the platform at your own pace and see if Virtuous is right for you. 

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

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