8 Ways to Use Your Nonprofit's Email List to Raise More Money

In the Rush to Social Don't Neglect Your Email List

Email fundraising appeal from The Plummer Home for Boys.
••• Screenshot by J. Campbell

No, email is not dead. And it is not dying either.

Despite the number and popularity of mobile tools and social media channels, old-fashioned email remains widely used across demographics—even with those elusive, hard-to-reach Millennials.

Email appeals continually get nonprofits the highest return on investment of all online fundraising channels. According to online fundraising platform Salsa, nonprofits on average receive $40 for every $1 spent on email. That is a huge return.

But there are guidelines for getting the most from email. Here are eight ways that your nonprofit can raise more money with your email list.

Respect Your Subscribers

If a supporter gives you their email address and allows you to engage with them through their inbox, that is something special. Don’t take the privilege lightly. You and your donor have entered into a much more intimate relationship than a Facebook like or Instagram follow.

If you do not respect your email subscribers—if you sell your email list to third parties or send out spammy messages—they will leave in droves. And they will probably tune out your other communications, whatever the channel.

No one likes to feel taken advantage of, especially your current and prospective donors. Respect their time by sending only the information that they signed up for—nothing more, nothing less.

Provide Value

When communicating with donors and prospective supporters via email, look at each message through their eyes. They unconsciously ask “What in it for me?” as they delete, archive, or read each email.

What value proposition do you offer to your email subscribers? Many nonprofits cannot give monetary incentives, such as coupons or discounts, so they need to get creative. Proof of your results equals value to your donors. Make your email subscribers feel good about supporting your program. Entice them to give a gift and become part of your donor community. Figure out why your donors love you and choose to invest in your mission. Then tailor your email messages around these themes to keep donors coming back and to attract new donors.

For an excellent example of providing value to your email subscribers, check out this email from Trees for the Future.

Segment Your List

Your supporters want relevant, timely, and compelling email communications from your nonprofit. Ideally, you’ll segment your list by the types of content most desirable to individual subscribers.

If you have several different programs, segment your email list by the program that got the donor’s interest in the first place. That way you can send them targeted, relevant emails that get opened and acted upon.

Send Shorter Emails More Frequently

Do not try to cram every event, announcement, news story, and fundraising appeal into one long, cluttered email. Don't be the nonprofit that sends out this kind of lengthy quarterly email. Just think—if your email subscribers delete just two of your quarterly newsletters this year, that’s 50% of your email communication to them!

Many studies claim to know the exact time and frequency to send emails. But it really depends on your audience and what they expect from you. Test to get this right. There is no one-size-fits-all in email marketing or online fundraising. You should know what your donors expect and provide that.

Something to note: Salsa found 500 words to be the ideal length for a fundraising email. And the subject line should be 28-39 characters.

Share Visual Stories

Not every email can be a direct ask for donations. Sharing great stories will get your emails read between fundraising appeals.

Showcase people who benefit from your programs and services in an authentic way. Tell a story that makes your donors want to learn more. Make them want to help determine the ending.

Sharing compelling stories means using visuals. Remember that some email clients automatically strip photos from emails, and not all photos show up the same way on desktop and mobile devices. However, if you put the meat of the email in your body text, and use the photos as eye-catching “frosting” on the cake, you’ll have a winner. Your donors expect visuals in all communications—direct mail, email, and social media. Use compelling, unique visuals to make your story pop. You’ll get even more engagement and action.

Write For Your Donors

Have a particular, ideal donor persona in mind when writing an email. Make the email personal and passionate. Write in a friendly, colloquial tone. Share the ways that a gift right now would be meaningful. Then ask for a donation as if you were asking a good friend.

Include an Explicit Call to Action

Do not muddy the email with too many asks. If you have a monthly email newsletter that is chock full of announcements, do not expect it to raise the same amount of money as one only appealing for donations. The difference is your call to action (CTA).

An email fundraising appeal is short, sweet, to the point, and drives the reader directly to the online donation page of your website. An even better strategy would be to create a specific landing page for the email appeal, featuring the same story, photos, and visuals.

Make It Mobile

The majority of emails are now opened on mobile devices. While your donors may have to catch up to this trend, it is certain that many of them already use email on their phones and tablets.

Your email fails if it cannot be read on a smartphone, if it links to a mobile unfriendly website and if it’s impossible to finish a donation form right on the phone.

Don’t just use email to ask for money. Think about how you like to hear from the causes you care about. Then create personalized, compelling emails for your supporters.

Julia Campbell has become a rising star in the field of nonprofit social media. Check out her bio for info about her consulting services, blog, presentations, and ebooks.