12 Best Practices to Write a Successful Fundraising Email

Ines Alvergne • Sep 30, 2020

A fundraising email is one of the best ways to reach past, current, and potential donors.

 But it’s not as simple as asking your contact list to donate right off the bat. In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about writing a compelling fundraising email and communicating with your donors clearly and effectively.

Why Send Fundraising Emails

For every 1,000 fundraising emails sent, nonprofits generate $45 in revenue

This makes email marketing one of the most cost-effective digital marketing channels. 

Think about it. When you share your fundraising appeal organically on Facebook or Twitter, what results do you get? As social media algorithms increasingly prioritize paid content, it’s almost impossible to reach your audience without breaking the bank. That’s why your message is 5 times more likely to be seen through email than Facebook. 

Email marketing is free. Of course, you still have to get the right platform to send mass emails. And invest some time in writing compelling content and testing subject lines. But it does pay for itself if you build a solid strategy. 

Let’s take a look at some fundraising email statistics

SectorOpen RateClick-through RateUnsubscribe Rate
All17%0.56%0.19%
Cultural18%0.50%0.25%
Environmental17%0.54%0.18%
Health14%0.85%0.20%
Hunger/Poverty20%0.62%0.23%
International15%0.49%0.20%
Public Media17%0.47%0.17%
Rights13%0.39%0.18%
Wildlife/Animal Welfare13%0.84%0.14%

On average, fundraising emails result in a 17% open rate and a 0.56% click-through rate. 

If your fundraising email open rates fall below these percentages, you may want to reconsider your current strategy. That’s why we’re here to help! 

If your results exceed the benchmarks, congratulations! You’re doing a great job. But hang tight, there’s always room for improvement. 

12 Fundraising Email Best Practices 

The following guidelines are designed to help you craft a powerful story, understand email security and privacy regulations, personalize your messages, and more. Everything to make your fundraising email the most effective it can be. 

Here’s what to consider as you write your next fundraising email or refine your strategy:

  1. Embrace storytelling
  2. Focus on your fundraising offer
  3. Include a call-to-action 
  4. Write a strong subject line
  5. Experiment with emojis
  6. Use simple formatting 
  7. Use an email marketing tool
  8. Segment your email list
  9. Send at optimal times 
  10. Improve deliverability and avoid spam
  11.  A/B test different components 
  12.  Track email metrics

  1. Embrace storytelling

Storytelling and email marketing should go hand-in-hand. The best emails deliver compelling narratives and build meaningful relationships.

What drives your organization? What makes your impact so valuable to you and your supporters? Keep these questions in mind to spark the interest of recurring and new donors. Don’t just ask for donations – forge a human connection with your contacts along the way.

How to do it right:

  • Tell the stories of people you are helping and use their names (if they give you permission)
  • Share firsthand accounts from your staff
  • List exciting facts about your organization – people are naturally curious and they want to know more about you!

Take a look at this example. The British Red Cross did an incredible job of telling the story of Mobina and her family. This is how you tug on  people’s heartstrings.

  2. Focus on your fundraising offer

Donors give when they know the value of their gifts. 

That’s why you need a fundraising offer, or a value proposition, to craft an effective email campaign. 

Put simply, a fundraising offer is a brief description of what a donation will accomplish.

For instance, the fundraising offer for an environmental organization could be: “A $20 donation helps us plant 50 trees in the Amazonian forest”. 

At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive to use a fundraising offer to convert donors. It’s a simplified statement, often incomplete, that only covers part of the work you do. But it’s emotionally powerful and easy enough to communicate via email.

Here are some examples of fundraising offer: 

  • “$500 help cover the costs for an entire busload of community members willing to leave their homes and families to mobilize against destructive projects” – Amazon Watch
  • “Your $80.00 monthly donation can give 24 people clean water every year. 100% funds water projects.” – Charity: water 
  • “$50 Per month can purchase chlorination equipment to provide 690 people with clean drinking water for one week in an emergency”. – Doctors without borders 
  • “This summer, we need your help to reach 2,000 hungry B.C. kids every week.” “All it takes is $15 to cover the cost of one bag of food for the summer” – Backpack Buddies 
  • “Your donation allows us to respond within hours of a disaster. This flexibility is essential for saving lives and minimizing the impact of disasters on vulnerable communities.”  “$75 is a food parcel to feed a family for six weeks” – The Canadian Red Cross 

  3. Include a Call to Action

A call to action is an essential element of a fundraising email. 

It should direct donors directly to your donation page. Straightforward CTAs make it easy for your donors to give with just one click. Don’t create friction points by making people click through to multiple pages. With every extra step, you give your donors a chance to walk away.

How to do it right: 

  • Try getting creative with your CTAs to see which messaging better captivates your audience. For example, “Help Us Reach Our Goal” might be more effective than saying “Donate Now.” 
  • Make a clear ask. Don’t tiptoe around the fact that you’re asking for a donation. Make it simple for the recipient.
  • You don’t need to know how to code to create attractive email CTAs. A nonprofit email tool like Keela allows you to easily drop call-to-action buttons in all your emails.

The email below is an excellent example of how you can get creative with CTAs. Instead of using a simple “Donate Now”, WWF uses different donate buttons with engaging copy.

fundraising email

  4. Write a Compelling Fundraising Email Subject Line

One of the hardest things about fundraising is getting in front of potential donors. It’s one thing to put together a well-crafted message, but another to get people interested enough to open up an email in the first place.

The key to higher open rates is to write appealing subject lines in your fundraising emails. In fact, 35% of email recipients open emails based on the subject line alone.

Here are some best practices for writing effective subject line: 

  • Make it personal. If you’re using a nonprofit email marketing tool like Keela, use merge tags to add a contact’s name. Personalized subject lines are effective for increasing open rates.
  • Make it descriptive. Be clear about what you’re offering. Avoid using gimmicks or trends that don’t have a specific purpose or call-to-action. Something that sounds too spammy can turn some people off entirely.
  • Make it short. Shorter subject lines typically perform better. Try to aim for 60 characters or less. 
  • Make it urgent. Encourage your audience to act right away. Using urgent language gives your audience a chance to take part in something that’s only available for a limited time. For most, it’s worth a click to see what’s up.

Need some inspiration?

Take a look at these subject line examples: 

  • {First Name}, will you help us reach our goal?
  • This is your last chance to help transform lives
  • Last call for protecting the forest 
  • Today only: Your support doubled! 
  • Your gift helps others access clean water 
  • It’s so beautiful. And it’s worth protecting in 2020.

  5. Experiment with Emojis

More companies are using emojis to engage with their readers, and it’s working. In fact, 56% of brands using emojis in their subject lines saw a higher open rate. Emojis are no longer unprofessional – they’re part of our day-to-day conversation.

How to use emoji in fundraising email subject lines:

  • What works for your audience? 👀 Do some testing. Use emojis in the subject line to catch the eye of the recipients. If you see higher open rates, they’re probably more receptive to it.
  • Emojis are an extension of your voice 🎉 Emojis can spice up a plain message and make recipients feel like they’re getting a text from a friend. Make sure the emojis align with your nonprofit’s voice.
  • Understand time and place 👌 Make sure you’re using emojis that don’t distract from your message or potentially offend people. Take time to determine what types of messages and announcements are appropriate for emojis.

  6. Keep Formatting Simple

 It might surprise you that the most impactful fundraising emails are not necessarily the most beautiful ones! 

Let me explain.

In a series of tests, NextAfter showed that the removal of graphical elements on a fundraising email led to a 145.5% increase in donations. Why? Because a simple email looks more personal. 

This doesn’t mean you should eliminate all images and creatives from your emails. But it’s best to keep it as simple as possible. Keep your focus on building a relationship and conveying a story or feeling, human to human. 

How to do it right:

  • Testing! Test email using images vs no images, video vs no video, template vs no template. See what works better with your audience. 
  • If you do use graphics, avoid using stock images. Use real photos of the people you’re actually helping. 

  7. Use an Email Marketing Tool

We know you’re busy all year long, and the last thing you want to spend time on is figuring out complicated email tools. 

Make your job easier by using Keela’s email marketing platform, with easy-to-build emails guaranteed to delight your donors

Here’s how you can use Keela to build simple, impactful emails that will bring in more donations.

First, create your eblast and name it.

Then, select a contact segment, add a subject line, and add a sender name. It’s really important that your fundraising email is sent from a real person. Not only does it gives you credibility but it can also increase your open rates. 

Now you’re ready to write the body of your email. In Keela, you can choose from a variety of pre-built templates and adapt them to your branding. Or, you can simply go with a blank template and see if it helps boost your donations. 

Lastly, don’t forget to include your CTA! If you want to use a button, you can use Keela’s drag-and-drop builder. 

   8. Segment Your Email List

This is crucial to make sure contacts are only getting messages that are appropriate or relevant to them. 

Separating your audience into subgroups is the best way to create targeted communications. 

How to segment your list: 

  • Break your contact list into smaller segments based on similarities or shared characteristics (demographics, age, level of engagement, etc) 
  • You can easily segment your list with Keela’s custom fields and tags. Take a look at how it works
  • For more tips about donor segmentation, check out this blog

  9. Send at Optimal Times

Send time and deliverability optimization are essential for a successful fundraising email campaign. If your emails don’t reach recipients in the first place, how will you get your message heard? 

Knowing when to send a fundraising email comes down to one thing: testing. Testing different time slots and different days. 

Most best practices blogs would advise sending emails early in the morning and avoiding Fridays and weekends. But if no one sends emails at that time, it might be worth trying as it gives a better chance of standing out. But again, there is no right answer, it’s all about testing what works for your unique audience! 

How to do it right: 

Run tests to see what time ranges are best for your list. Dive into email analytics to get a high-level overview of email performance. Keela’s email tracking tool is ideal for tracking fundraising email marketing metrics and helping you optimize your email campaign strategy.

10. Improve Deliverability and Avoid Spam

If you want to receive donations, you need to make sure your email is actually reaching people.

Email service providers use spam filters to ensure phished or unsolicited emails don’t enter your inbox.

To avoid landing in the spam filter, you need to build trust among your email recipients and inbox providers. 

To preserve a trustworthy digital reputation, there are some good practices to incorporate.

How to do it right:

  • Only email individuals who opt-in (agree) to receive emails from you
  • Always include a clear unsubscribe option in the footer
  • Send emails from a real person’s address associated with your domain (ex: john@yourdomain.org)
  • Keep the content relevant. If recipients start marking your emails as spam, your reputation will lower
  • Avoid spammy, trigger words in the subject line

  11. A/B Test Your Emails

Developing a successful marketing strategy is like perfecting a recipe. It takes time and trial-and-error efforts to get it right. 

We mentioned this before, but it’s worth discussing again. A/B testing is key to knowing your audience and improving your email campaigns over time. 

Here are a few A/B tests you can conduct: 

  • Images
  • Subject line
  • Call-to-action
  • Send day or time
  • Take a look at these general industry trends for send day and open rates: 
Industry TypeDay of Highest Open RateTime of Highest Open Rate
Art, Culture, Entertainment (galleries, museums, musicians, theatre, film, crafts)Wednesday4pm
Childcare ServicesMonday6pm
Civic / Social Membership (associations, chambers, clubs)Monday8pm
Government Agency or ServicesWednesday3pm
Health & Social Services (Hospiral, elder care, adoption services)Monday8pm
NonprofitTuesday8pm
Religious organizationWednesday9pm

Remember, every email list is unique. If your open rates or conversion rates don’t improve, keep trying! Every campaign is an opportunity to learn.

For more on A/B testing, check out the latest here

12. Track Email Metrics to Improve Future Campaigns

Looking at overall email marketing performance is the best way to improve your fundraising email campaigns over time. Make sure to track the following metrics in your email reports and look for patterns:

  • Email open rate: Percentage of recipients who opened the email
  • Click-through rate: Percentage of recipients who engaged with your content by clicking on a link
  • Conversion rate: Percentage of recipients who clicked on a link and completed a desired action, like a donation.
  • Bounce rate: Percentage of emails sent that were not successfully delivered. A high bounce rate might mean that email service providers are flagging your messages as spam, so it’s important to keep an eye on this metric. 

Now that you have the rundown on fundraising email best practices, this is your moment to shine! Let us know how it goes. 

Create compelling fundraising emails and improve your nonprofit email marketing strategy. Get started with Keela today! 

Improve your donor communications using Keela’s powerful, intuitive email marketing platform