The 5 Essential Elements All Great Fundraising Emails Include (Updated January 2024)

February 1, 2019
3 minutes

How many emails landed in your inbox this morning? A lot, right? Just like you, your previous donors get dozens of emails every day. So how do you help first-time donors go from clicking that delete button on your nonprofit's emails to opening them up with glee and donating to your cause? It all comes down to how much you can entice them through compelling copy.

Your copy, AKA the words and the tone you use to tell your story, is the voice that donor segments hear and interact with when they read your emails. If it's not engaging, interesting, and clear, chances are they're gonna click the archive button faster than you can say, “Good golly, Miss Molly!” Ugh, the woes of email fundraising are real and we feel you.

Here are 5 ingredients to cook up great fundraising emails

Let's take your fundraising emails from Yawnville to Wowtown! Effective fundraising emails include these five key elements, so get ready for a play-by-play on how to rock every email campaign.

  1. Compelling Email Subject Line
  2. To-the-point Email Content 
  3. Direct Impact Messaging
  4. Persuasive CTA
  5. Obvious Donation Button (going to a direct donation form!)

1. Write a captivating subject line

The first step to successful fundraising emails is a captivating subject line. No, we're not talking clickbait. We're talking about genuinely compelling writing that stands out in someone's inbox.

Strong fundraising email subject lines are generally just vague enough to be interesting. It can be a tough balance to strike, but not impossible. Hubspot's got some great examples of email subject lines that spark action.

Side note: there are many other factors that influence deliverability and open rates, such as whether or not your nonprofit organization has a track record (according to email providers) of sending interesting or valuable emails to subscribers in the past, so improving your open rates can be a long game.

4x4 sheet of multiple teal letterheads with one yellow letterhead standing out in the middle.

2. Get to the point. Like, fast

Here's a fun way to test your last fundraising email. Put the following phrase in front of the first sentence: “Let me get straight to the point. . .”

#Truthtime

Ensuring your key message is front-and-center is essential in fundraising emails because you only have a few seconds to catch your potential donors' attention and dollars.

To help with this, you'll want to provide your email recipients with key information they need to know in the first 150 to 200 characters. That's the amount of word real estate you have before you make the first ask.

How much is 200 characters? Here's an example of 197 characters:

Theo is $50 away from a new life. Your donation will immediately be directed to getting him to safety, providing him with shelter, and giving him the opportunity to live freely. Donate to Theo now!

3. Explain how donating makes a difference

One of the cardinal mistakes of email fundraising campaigns is not explaining to your donor list how donating actually makes a difference. What usually happens is that the email will say something like, “Donate today to change lives.” Or, “Donate now to make an impact on our community.”

But here's the thing, fearless fundraiser, you need a compelling story to tell your donor base how lives are actually changed or how that impact happens with stats and stories. You don't need to bore your email list with technical or academic explanations (although hard data is powerful with the right delivery). You can elicit an emotional response with just a single sentence that neatly summarizes the “how.” Easy peasy. See the example above!

And you can start from the very first. Once a prospective donor gives the first time, you'll want to do everything you can do keep them... so try a welcome series! Katelyn Baughan, CEO and nonprofit email consultant, champions this tactic in an episode of the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast:

It's a great practice to have a welcome series in place to tell [new donors] about your organization, share some stories, share some stories of impact, and let them know that their dollars have actually been used or are going to be used to do X, Y, and Z. –Katelyn Baughan

4. Perfect the call to action (CTA)

How many fundraising emails do you see each year with the call to action “Donate Now"? A bunch. And sure, that is what we want individual donors to do, but it's not the best way to actually get more online donations.

The best calls-to-action follow this formula: specific, tangible, and deadline-driven.

Why these three things? Together, they tell your current donor list what they are actually donating to and create a sense of urgency.

5. Make your donate button highly visible

Most email is read on mobile these days, but those tiny screens? Not the best if you're trying to make your donate button stand out. Your awesome donation request needs to be highly visible, and you can make it so one of two ways.

And don't forget: make sure that fundraiser link goes directly to a donation form, not to your non-profit organization's homepage.

Using one or both of these methods will help increase click-through rates.

Beyond these five elements, A/B testing can help you continuously improve your results to achieve your fundraising goals. And in the ever-changing landscape of successful email fundraising campaigns, it's important to keep your ear to the ground for the latest tips and tricks of the email marketing trade. If you want even more inspo, check out sites like Milled.com and ReallyGoodEmails.com to see what other organizations are doing to stand out.

Time to whip your nonprofit fundraising email campaigns into shape and get that dough!

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