10 Email Newsletter Tips That Will Inspire People to Give

How can you get people to click to donate and get thousands of dollars just like the big nonprofits? Is it their marketing budgets? No. Don't worry if you have a tiny budget. Even giant billion-dollar nonprofits really mess up their email newsletters. Is it their reputations? No. Reputation helps, but it won't make people give through an online newsletter.

So what's the secret? All you need is to be able to write well and communicate consistently—and use these 10 tips.

Create a Snappy Subject Line

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Your subject line will either make people open your e-newsletter or delete it. Don't say, “Rosemary's Blog.” Say something like, “Learn How the Leopard Got his Spots!” or “48 hours to go: Could you give $9 today?” Subscribe to many of the newsletters your competitors send to see how they change up their subject lines.  

Create a Headline to Draw Them In

Newspaper with Scandal headline in letterbox
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Your readers will be more likely to donate if they're learning, if you're giving them new information, and if you take them on a journey. 

An example that inspired me recently came from the Smithsonian Magazine e-newsletter. The headline said things like “Scientists Make Progress Toward a Male Contraceptive Pill” and “These Rainbow-Colored Transparent Ants Are What They Eat.” Who can resist those?
There are a lot of different headlines and you don't need millions of dollars like the Smithsonian has to throw at your email newsletters. Keep track of news in your field, whether it's immigrant workers' rights or pesticide reduction, and provide new information to your donors in each newsletter. 

Explain the Consequences of Not Giving

Computer pointer hand pointing to written word DONATE
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The donor should believe that someone might be hurt if he doesn't give money. This may sound negative or desperate, but hear me out. People will give to stop something bad from happening more often than they will give to start something good. 

It's about what creates a story. Conflict grabs your donor's attention. It draws him in from the first sentence and keeps him reading your entire newsletter. Make your donor the protagonist of the story, the person who can change the unhappy ending into a happy one. 

Make Your Donor the Hero

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Ask yourself, "Is this likely to make the donor feel good or bad?" with every newsletter you write. Talk about “you” and “thanks to you.” Don't ignore your donor by talking about “we” and “us.” Each section of your newsletter should include the word "you." People's eyes stop scanning with that word, and it's less annoying than saying their names all the time.

Don't Make Readers Click Off to a PDF

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Are you guilty of this email newsletter sin? Don't say "Click here to download our e-newsletter as a PDF," because your reader may not take this extra step.

When people have to wait to learn about your cause by downloading something, you'll lose potential donors. People are in a hurry. They're skimming. They're impatient. Any delay is a major roadblock. Also, don't forget to archive your newsletters on your website so donors can go back and review them.

Don't Include a Letter From the Director

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A letter won't make people give. In fact, it's actually pretty boring in just about every newsletter (printed or emailed) or annual report I've ever read—unless it's a powerful tearjerker story.

But most letters from the head of an organization are not stories. Unless you can do that, just leave the letter out. People will not read it and it wastes the space you could give to a story or image.

Personalize the Email With the Recipient's Name

Dear Sir
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If you don't know how to do this, or if your email newsletter software can't accomplish it, learn how or get new software. ​

MailChimp and similar services are often free up to a certain number of subscribers, and they let you personalize.  You can also set up a format or template that you can use over and over. These services can even track how many newsletters were opened, valuable information for your organization.

Make Your Donate Button Irresistable

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Don't just use a text link. You can have links throughout your text, but also provide a big donate button at the bottom. Make that button impossible to overlook: 

  • Surround it by white space
  • Put an arrow on or next to it
  • Put a drop-shadow on it to subtly cue your readers that this is something to interact with
  • Put credit card logos below the donate button to help your subscribers gain trust that this transaction will be safe and easy
  • Make the donate button a different color from the rest of your text 

Break Up the Text

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Don't write big blocks of text longer than 500 characters.

You can use teasers that leave people with a cliffhanger and allow them to click through to your website to finish the story if necessary.

A newsletter with a list of teasers and links works very well. That also puts control in the hands of the reader. They can choose which enticing teaser to go for.

Re-read one of your favorite stories if you need help creating a cliffhanger. What made you keep reading after the first paragraph? How can you recreate that to hook people and get them to finish the story?

Segment Your Mailing List

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You'll be much more successful at getting people to click that donate button if you target your message to specific groups of people. Modern donor software makes this an easy task.

You can start with one email to people who have donated in the last 18 months versus others who have never donated before, or you can break it down more specifically. You can send different emails to: 

  • Former clients or people who know someone who was helped by your nonprofit 
  • People who just come to your events—talk about how much fun the events are, and how doing good and having fun is what you're all about
  • Monthly givers—show them what you've been doing with their money and tell them you couldn't have done it without them, making them the heroes 
  • Major donors 
  • People who have never given to your nonprofit before—introduce them to compelling reasons to give now
  • Volunteers. After all, they are your best donors.
  • Media contacts—don't send them an email asking them to donate, but perhaps a newsworthy story to potentially report on
    Emailed newsletters are vitally crucial to fundraising, so get yours right. Put as much time and attention into them as you would a significant email or direct mail fundraising campaign. Otherwise, you're just throwing away time and money.

Guest author Mazarine Treyz is the guru-in-chief of Wild Woman Fundraising.