8 fundraising email best practices to boost opens and clicks

Written by
Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

8 fundraising email best practices to boost opens and clicks

When it comes to sending fundraising emails, nonprofit organizations and other fundraisers face a few unique challenges. They’ve got to move donors to give while not coming off as desperate or making their cause sound insurmountable. 

There’s limited space to both tell your story and make the donation ask, putting added pressure on your messaging. And you may be talking to a wide range of readers, from one-time volunteers to long-time donors. 

Email marketing is a complex beast at the best of times, but with a few strategic adjustments, you can greatly increase the chance that donors open, click and give to your fundraising campaign.

Ready to stack the odds in your favor? Dive into the components of an effective fundraising email and discover eight email best practices. At the end of this article, we'll also include an email template and other helpful resources. 

Anatomy of a successful fundraising email

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First, let’s walk through the content you absolutely need to include in your fundraising email. This is the key information that tells your potential donors that there’s a problem or opportunity, your team and supporters can solve it, and that you need donations to do so effectively:

  • Subject line: Hook your readers with a short and interesting subject line that reflects what’s in your email (an opportunity to donate, buy fundraising event tickets, become a sponsor, etc.). 
  • Greeting: If possible, go beyond the “Hello” or “Hi there” and personalize your email with your recipient's name. 
  • Fundraising appeal: Use the bulk of your email to ask for donations. Use active language, compelling statistics, personal testimonials, and more to establish personal connection and encourage donors to act. 
  • How to donate: This is your major call to action (CTA), usually a single large donate button that links to your donation page or fundraising page directing your followers to “Donate now,” “Give $30 now,” or “Save a life today.” 
  • Other important details: Are you hosting a livestream telethon? Are gifts tax-deductible? Is there a theme? Add relevant info like date and time, event theme, livestream links, and more. 
  • Contact information: Include your phone number, email address, and social media information so recipients can ask questions and stay updated.

Now, let’s talk about thow to elevate these basic email components and stand out in your supporters’ inboxes. 

8 fundraising email best practices

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According to a 2021 Campaign Monitor study, the average open rate for nonprofit emails is 25.50%, second only to government emails. The nonprofit email click-through rate is 4.70%, in third place behind government and education emails. 

Clearly, readers are willing to stop and pay attention when your nonprofit comes calling! But to meet this standard — or surpass it entirely — you’ll need to master a few best practices. Here are eight tactics to help you boost your email engagement and hit your fundraising goal. 

1. Write an irresistible subject line 

Your subject line gets you in the front door, so it’s worth coming up with a great one. In fact, one survey showed that 35% of people open emails because the subject line is appealing

Questions, statistics, numbered lists, and even emojis are all tried-and-true tools to write an attention-grabbing subject line. It’s also important to create a sense of urgency so that donors don’t put your email in the “maybe later” pile. Here are some example fundraising email subject lines: 

  • 1 day left to get these cats to a good home! 
  • Angela, how will you change the world today? 
  • $50,000 donation match for the next 48 hours
  • Here’s how we’re using your donations
  • 1 in 5 children go hungry, but you can change it

You can get creative, but make sure your subject line accurately reflects what’s in your email. If you write, “Open for a gift,” readers will expect something like free merchandise or an e-book download. If the “gift” is a donation opportunity, people will be annoyed and less likely to engage with further fundraising emails. No one likes being misled! 

2. Don’t forget the preview text 

The preview text (also called the preview line or preheader text) is the text people will see below your subject line before they open the email. It’s usually pulled from the first sentence in your email.

Preview text may be little — often only 35 to 90 characters — but it has a big impact on your email open rate. Send yourself a test email and tweak the language so that it sounds inviting and gives people a snapshot of what’s inside. Sometimes, email clients pull in the wrong info, like HTML terms or random links, so it pays to check.

3. Personalize your email campaign

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People are more likely to engage when they feel seen. Fundraising email personalization can be as simple as using a potential donor’s name in the subject line, greeting, or email body. It can also be as complex as connecting your donor management software to your email builder and including details like your donor’s last gift amount or the number of years they’ve supported your cause.

Try using their name, customizing the fundraising email content based on their interests, or changing up your donation CTAs based on their background. For instance, ask past corporate donors to “Show up for their community” and everyday donors to “Show their support.” 

4. Speak volumes with images

Not only are visual elements (like photos, GIFs, and videos) pleasing to the eye, but they can tug on your supporters’ heartstrings better than words ever can. 

Images also help your email recipients quickly digest information. Even the busiest reader can skim the content, get the “picture,” and make it down to your donate button. Charts, graphs, and infographics are a handy way to share complex but important data, like new statistics about your cause.

A word of caution: Many spam filters flag fundraising emails that use too many images.

Try to keep it under a ratio of 50% images to text

5. Segment your readers

Segmentation, or dividing your audience into different categories based on certain traits, is another simple way to boost donations and engagement. The better your segments, the more you can tailor your content, and the more it will resonate with each potential donor. Here are some ways to categorize your donors: 

  • Giving levels, like small donors, mid-level donors, and major donors
  • Type of supporter, like one-time donor, recurring donor, volunteer, business, nonprofit, board member, community member 
  • Purpose of gift, like dog lovers, cat lovers, bird lovers for an animal shelter
  • Generational groups, like millennials, Gen Zers, Boomers, etc. 
  • Geographic location, like East Coast or West Coast, or city or rural area 

You don’t have to create an entirely unique fundraising email for each demographic. Stick to small but meaningful changes, like different images, subject lines, or featured stories.

6. Focus on the reader’s impact 

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One of the best things you can do to boost donations is to communicate the impact of each gift in real-world terms. The “value” should be specific, tangible, and realistic. Take a look at these two example fundraising requests: 

  • Example 1: Contribute $15 now to forever change a young student’s life! 
  • Example 2: Contribute $15 now to provide a Garland student with books and school supplies for the whole year! 

Which one would you give to? Example 2 is the clear winner — it entices people with a goal that feels immediate, doable, and worthwhile. Often, donors may feel like they send $20 and it disappears into the void. Using specific language gives them the ability to see the difference donating makes.

7. A/B test, test, test 

What’s the most effective subject line for your audience? What’s the best time to send your fundraising emails? How big should your donate button be? How many links should you have? A/B testing holds the answer! 

All you need to do is: 

  • Choose an email element you want to test. 
  • Create two different emails, a version A and version B. 
  • Send each version to a similar number of recipients. 
  • Evaluate the results, like open rates, click rates, and conversions, to determine the winner. 
This simple step allows you to understand how your audience is reacting to your messaging, make fast improvements, and maximize your fundraising efforts. 

8. Keep your email list clean

Our last tip is to scrub your email list on an annual basis. As the years go by, it’s exciting to see your subscriber pool grow. But a contact list of 150,000 is only useful if all 150,000 are still actively engaging your fundraising emails and communications. 

Emailing people who have stopped responding, changed email addresses, or didn’t opt in could be the source of poor campaign results and even cause you to be blacklisted. See which readers have engaged in the past year and ask everyone to update their email address periodically. 

Finally, make sure your unsubscribe button is easy to find. We know it’s sad to say goodbye to subscribers, but it’s better in the long run. You’ll be able to focus on your core supporters and ultimately, do more for your cause. 

The next step 👈

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You’re now ready to create, test, and optimize your fundraising emails! Get a running start with this fundraising letter template and these email invitation templates, and then supercharge your content with the eight strategies we’ve covered. 

And here’s a bonus tip: Connect your favorite email builder with Givebutter, our feature-packed online fundraising platform, to set up beautiful fundraising pages and seamlessly collect donations. 

Create your free Givebutter account now.

Written By

Written by
Rachel Mills
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.