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11 Fundraising Emails Best Practices to Drive High Response Rates

Fundraising emails provide a significant stream of income for many nonprofit and cause-based groups. However, this fundraising technique requires your recipients to take action not once, but twice.

First, you need to get your recipients to open the email and then you need to get them to respond to your message. Do it right, and you can expect a return on investment by as much as 3800%!

This image displays a woman writing an email at a nonprofit s and portrays relevance to marketing, and strategic communications for nonprofit fundraising

According to the 2016 M+R Benchmarks study, email revenue is up by 25% and email counts for about one-third of all online fundraising dollars.If you aren’t already fundraising through email, then it may be time to consider incorporating it into your overall fundraising plan.

Just remember that not all fundraising emails are created equal—you need to make yours stand out from the crowd.


Follow these 11 fundraising email best practices to ensure that your email fundraising campaign drives high response rates.


1. Segment Your Audience

If you’re not reaching the right audience with information that’s valuable to them, your response rates are bound to suffer.

Sure, your email list includes only those who have opted-in to receive your emails, but don’t make the mistake of taking a “one size fits all” approach to your ask. Each subscriber has different needs.

That’s why our first tip on our fundraising email best practices list is to segment your audience. Try segmenting them based on the following:

  • Desired communication frequency
  • Program interests
  • Demographics (age, gender, location)
  • Giving status (donor, prospective donor, lapsed donor, etc.)
  • Role in your organization (donor, volunteer, board member, staff)

Higher response rates are a direct result of segmentation. In fact, some marketers have found that segmented emails campaigns increase revenue by as much as 760%!


2. Send It At The Right Time

Choosing the right time to send out an email requires some work on your part. Constant Contact found that sending emails on Monday at 6:00am resulted in the highest open rates for nonprofits. On the other hand, some fundraising experts suggest sending your emails out midday.

What does this mean for your organization? It means that you just might have to figure out the best time for your audience by sampling them. Compare the open rates for two groups of recipients receiving emails at different times using A/B testing, and whichever time results in a higher conversion should be used going forward.


3. Ace That Subject Line

33% of email recipients decide whether they’re going to open an email based on the subject line. And, if they don’t like what they see, your audience won’t read about why they should donate.

Creating a powerful subject line requires strategy and creativity. Here are a few suggestions to help you write a subject line that hooks your audience:

  • Ask a Question- Give your audience a reason to pause and think about what you are asking them to increase the likelihood of an open.
  • Focus on Length- Keep it short, ideally under 15 characters.
  • Express Urgency- Let your audience know that time is of the essence using words such as “urgent”, “now” and “important”.


4. Personalize The Greeting

Personalization has a very positive impact on an email’s conversion rate, increasing it by as much as 10%. Most bulk email tools allow you to personalize your email’s greeting, so as long as you have the contact information uploaded, personalization should be a cinch.

Use A/B testing again to determine which type of greeting your email recipients prefer. Variations can be formal or personal and include:

  • First name only- Dear John…
  • First and last name- Dear John Smith…
  • Formal- Dear Mr. Smith…Dear Mr. John Smith…
  • Informal- Hi John… Hey John…


5. Tell A Story

Fundraisers rely on storytelling to encourage a prospective donor to give, but not just any story will do. Your goal is to get your audience to empathize and connect with your characters and respond to your email, and you can do this by evoking emotion.

Telling a great story is one of the essential fundraising email best practices because people donate so that they can be a part of something that makes the world a better place. When it’s head versus heart, heart wins- so, this is where your focus should be.

Your story’s content will vary depending on the audience and the emotions you’re trying to elicit. For example, you may want to share a story about how someone was impacted by the organization, why a donor gave a gift, or what caused a volunteer to choose your particular cause.

Here are 3 ways that you can get your readers invested in your fundraising email story:

  • Use a character who your reader can relate to by matching aspects like demographics, hopes, and pain points.
  • Describe the problem from the perspective of that character so that your reader feels empathy.
  • Add your audience into the story using “you”. “You can help change lives”


6. Use Images

Including powerful images is one of the fundraising email best practices that will also help you tug on your audience’s heartstrings. This isn’t just about adding your logo to the header or footer (which we’ll discuss later), but adding images of clients, volunteers, advocates, or places that put a face behind your organization.

The best pictures show that the problem you organization works to solve exists in the first place. Choose impactful images that have these qualities:

  • Avoid stock photos and choose real images of the people, animals, etc. your nonprofit helps
  • When using images of people, faces should be turned toward the camera so the audience can see their eyes.
  • Whenever possible, use a single person and not a group


7. Keep It Concise

So far, we’ve stressed that you need to use images and a well-crafted story to drive high response rates, but that doesn’t mean that you need to write a 5-page essay. With email, brevity is essential. Aim to write between 2 to 4 medium-sized paragraphs. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point.


8. Make Your Call To Action Stand Out

Fundraising emails require a call to action because that’s how your audience knows the action you want them to take.

However, it’s easy for a simple fundraising email to turn into a request for volunteers, social media connections, sharing your email, etc. You don’t want your prospective donor to get so overwhelmed with all your requests that they forget to give.

That’s why one of the most important fundraising email best practices is to limit your fundraising email to one call to action and make it pop. Use bright colors and bold fonts so that your reader’s eyes focus on it.


9. The Sender Matters

People like to receive emails from other people, not organizations, and 68% decide if they will open an email based on the sender. If possible, use a staff member, another fundraiser, or board member as your email sender. To keep it legal, be sure that this person is the one that actually initiates the email.

On the same note, your email should be signed by a person, not your organization or a logo.


10. Optimize For Mobile

We talk a ton about optimizing your website for mobile, but your fundraising emails must also be adjusted because 53% of emails are opened on a mobile device first. Your audience is much more likely to respond to your fundraising request if they can open and access your email’s content.

Use these email best practices to optimize for mobile:

  • Enlarge your links and any other buttons that you want them to click by at least 57×57 pixels
  • Resize your images for mobile devices
  • Use a single column layout


11. Include Contact Information In Your Footer

While your organization must include contact information somewhere in the fundraising email for legal reasons, it is also one of the top fundraising email best practices because it contains all the information your email recipient may need in order to get in touch with your nonprofit.

Your contact information legitimizes your organization, reinforces your branding, and gives your email recipients an additional way to reach out with questions.


  • Your organization’s name and logo (if applicable)
  • Person of contact (optional)
  • Phone number
  • Physical address
  • Email address
  • Option to opt-out of emails

These 11 fundraising email best practices ensure that you’re reaching a targeted audience at the right time with an emotional and impactful story, as well as all the additional information they’ll need to make an informed donation. There are many factors that drive high response rates, so continue testing your audience to find what works for them.


This is an extract of an article by Tina Jepson published in CauseVox. Read the original here.

Tina Jepson is a writer on the Learning and Education team at CauseVox. She’s a former fundraiser with a passion for sharing her perspective with her nonprofit peers.