The Nonprofit's All-In-One Guide to Email Fundraising Success

November 27, 2023
6 minutes

When we're all stretched see-through-thin, how can we as nonprofiteers interact with our supporters on a personal level while not draining them of resources? Katelyn Baughan, nonprofit email marketing expert, and consultant to Trevor Project, UNHCR, and Amnesty International, has more than a few tactics to share—and our Nonstop Nonprofit podcast listeners got all the good when she popped on the podcast. 

For anyone who hasn't listened in, we suggest you get on it. Or... you can scan this article for all the best nuggets! Treat yourself to this truncated transcript.

On the 3 reasons email is a hidden goldmine for nonprofit fundraisers

I love email and I think it's a big part of your marketing strategy that should not be neglected.
People are giving you their email address and saying, "I want to hear from you via email." And there's actually studies out there that prove that people prefer to be communicated with via email. So it doesn't feel very intrusive, like social media or digital advertising can.
On top of that, it has the highest ROI, so you can send out a message to a mass email, one to many, and reach a lot of people at one time. And especially with organizations who are addressing emergencies, you don't have to get a letter printed out and sent via snail mail. You can actually reach out to people right away for support and to update them. 
And then the third thing is you own your list, so your email list is very valuable. These are people that you can connect with, and the email list grows over time. And you always have those email addresses, whereas on social media, if Meta had some huge emergency and closed down tomorrow...

On why email is worth investing in

My dad owns a direct mail print shop and so we we argue we often argue about this, because I'm digital and he's direct mail. I'm not saying stop doing direct mail because direct mail works as well.
But with COVID, we know that everything has spread up technologically and advanced so quickly that we know what the future is: The future is email. And so let's move in that direction and invest some money and resources in an email. 

On email strategies that play well with technology

I think the number one missed opportunity just they're very focused on these fundraising campaigns year-round. But if you're not touching base with people based off of who they are, or what they're interested in, you are not going to retain them.
So really focusing on in between those fundraising campaigns, how are you elevating the experience? How are you making connections? 
And so when we talk about strategy, I want people to look at your calendar year, like, what are you doing in between those campaigns to keep the momentum going? So while the fundraising campaigns are very important, think about how are you warming people up and keeping the ball rolling in between those.
And automation is a really great tool to do that. And so there are ways that you can automate emails in between those pivotal tentpole campaigns that you have, that the goal is to really retention and warming people up for that next ask.
Segmenting your list and personalizing those emails based off of who the people are is a great practice. Have a welcome series in place to tell them about your organization, share some stories, share some impact.
And so automation and segmentation, I think are the two biggest ways that you can use technology and tools to really scale and and see that return on your investment.

On the value of consistent communication

As fundraisers, we want to see the dollars and there's not always dollars coming in between [campaigns]. Like biggest mistake I see is people running these big campaigns and then they're wondering why they're not hitting their goals. And the reason is because you're going dark and then you're asking and then you're going dark and then you're asking.

On using email to level up Giving Tuesday and year-end fundraising campaigns

So when it comes to giving Tuesday, you need to decide what your goal is. For some organizations, the goal is fundraising, but for other organizations, the goal is to kick off our fundraising season. So maybe it's not fundraising. Maybe it's warming people up for that next month when you are going to be asking a lot. So decide kind of what your goal is, and then you can build the content from there.
When it comes to Giving Tuesday, I suggest sending four emails, one prior to the week. This is a great time to thank your donors, express gratitude, and not even ask and even make an ask in this email. And then the next week on Giving Tuesday, I would send two emails on the day, one in the morning and then one in the evening that is more of a last chance. And then one the day after thanking people, showing them know how many dollars you raised. 
I want people to think of this like this is a campaign. So it's not just putting a bunch of emails and social media posts in schedule, you actually need to have a theme, a strategy, goals, and KPI. So sit down and think about what this is going to look like and how you're going to make it a cohesive campaign, and how you're going to launch it in that way.
Lots of stories of impact. People really, really resonate with stories. So if there's any way that even if you can go directly to the source of the people you're helping and have them write a little letter to the donors, I think that's a great way to really like switch the narrative and show what your work firsthand is doing 
Don't be afraid. If you're a small nonprofit, don't be afraid to like, go back through your metrics. I did this for one of my clients, went back through their their newsletters and their emails to see what people clicked on the most that year and what they were engaged with, and we just updated it. 

On how much is too much email

It's funny, everyone wants to know how many emails is too many emails. You can never send enough emails, in my opinion.

On what to put in your emails

I think we get really caught up in like making these long, complicated emails that need to go through like several reviews. Just take whatever you wrote on social media and maybe draw it out a bit, add some more detail to it. It doesn't need to be a very long email.
I mean, people spend like 90 seconds looking at an email. They read want to read at a fourth-grade reading level. So just keep it simple, and don't get caught up in these like, complicated emails that you're sending out.

On marketing a nonprofit's impact

We’re saving the world and we’re afraid to tell people about it. My clients are doing amazing work. And people want to hear about it.

On how many emails you should REALLY send

Are people marking you as spam? Because you can tell that. And if they are, then yes, let's, let's talk about it more.
I don't think it's the quantity of emails, it's probably the quality or even the people that you're sending to.
What I'm suggesting is that people send 12 emails from Giving Tuesday, to year end. And that's the minimum. I would love to see double that, but minimum 12 emails. But I've worked with nonprofits that have sent up to 30 emails for each campaign.
And I also have to say that if that is something that's in your mind that you're worried about, you can actually add to your subscription preferences. Allow them to choose what they want and what they don't want. They can opt out of fundraising emails if they don't want that. That's okay. So, instead of just stopping communicating altogether, think of ways that you can gather more information or data to prove that point before you make that decision.

On leaving revenue on the table

I think it's unfair that you're not giving people the opportunity to give if they want to. Even if it's a major donor. I know a lot of people want to exclude their major donors from year-end giving, and I can understand that. Everyone is very particular about how they communicate with their donors.
But let's give them the opportunity to say, no, thank you. Like, what's the worst that could happen? You can personalize the email saying, thank you so much for your generosity this year, if you want to make a year-end gift to this campaign, here's the opportunity to do that. If not, thanks anyways. You know, give them an opportunity because you might be leaving some money on the table.

On marrying your giving experience with email

A good donation experience has to be easy and simple.
It has to be mobile-friendly. I mean, 50% of people are looking at email on their phones, so test it on your phone. See how easy it is to fill out things on your phone. Don't ask for repetitive information. Better yet, if they've already given once, is there a way to just have their credit card information already on file and it's like a one click donate? 
Make sure that the emails that you're sending and the campaign messaging and branding match where you're sending people to because they can get very confused if you're showing them one picture and then they get to the donation form and it's something else. Make a unique donation page that matches the campaign and any of the content that you're using. Email and social should should really match up as well.

On leveling up your email+giving experience

One of my favorite things to do is abandoned cart emails or abandoned donation emails where you can actually put a tracking link on anybody who clicked an email or donate button but didn't actually make a donation.
So you can follow up with an email series, like you forgot to make this donation, and then all of a sudden you get an email. 
So like, if I'm giving my kids a bath and I have a second, and I read an email and then I click donate and then someone screams for me, and I can't complete the donation, I would love to be reminded tomorrow when I'm at my computer, which is a better time for me to do that. 
Those are really great automation options to do. And then any sort of [automated reminder] pop ups on a donation form [that pop when] you forgot to hit donate, because some people will fill in the form and they'll forget to hit click the button. 

On leveling up your email program with Katelyn

Find me on LinkedIn or on KatelynBaughan.com. Sign up for my email list where I send out weekly tips about email, nonprofits, email marketing, and inspiration. 
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