Resources Hub » Blog » 5 Ways Nonprofits Can Impress and Retain Donors Using Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the best ways to communicate with your audience. When a nonprofit sends out an email campaign, the goal is to retain existing donors and convert new ones by including relevant, personalized, and valuable content.

It seems simple, but increasing your conversion rate through email and keeping your existing donors fully engaged requires an email marketing strategy.

While there are tons of blogs and resources out there for nonprofits to refine parts of their fundraising process, there are also a handful of best practices for email marketing that can go a long way to help you impress and retain your donors.

By following the guidelines for strong email marketing, your organization can boost donor retention and conversion. Plus (and more importantly), you’ll make your email campaigns more useful as a direct communication channel for your donors to engage with your work.

Today, we’re sharing 5 ways nonprofits can impress and retain donors using email marketing.

1. Provide unique donation tools

As an extremely reliable marketing tool, email is perfect for addressing the two core needs of nonprofit donor engagement, donor retention and conversion, because of its adaptability. It’s easier than ever to provide donation tools in your email messages to donors.

While it’s easy to simply link to your donation page at the end of an email, this strategy relies too heavily on the assumption that your email recipients will always have the time and interest to click through.

Instead, make your message immediately interesting and help your recipients to feel more engaged. The easiest way to encourage donations and boost email engagement is to provide unique donation tools that make the interaction feel like more than just a donation.

Digital donation tools can do this one of three ways:

  • By deepening direct engagement. Think of online fundraising campaigns like crowdfunding or peer-to-peer fundraising. By making one of these campaigns the call-to-action of your email, you invite supporters to get directly engaged with your fundraising process.
  • By encouraging new types of engagement. Your email can also explain new donation methods that you’re incorporating into your next campaign. Text-to-give and mobile bidding tools are extremely engaging for many donors and event attendees.
  • By increasing donor impact. Helping your donors feel even better about supporting your work is a great strategy for increasing retention and donation upgrades. Linking out to matching gift search tools on your website is the perfect way for supporters to double the impact of their gifts.

Remember, any of your new email marketing strategies or donation tools should address the need to both retain and convert donors. A great donation tool, too, will not only help your donors feel more engaged, it can become an effective subject of its own marketing campaign!

2. Optimize your subject lines

In addition to the ways to donate that you provide or focus on in your email, the subject line of your message is one of its most critical components. An email’s subject line completely determines how a recipient will engage with your message- including whether they even open it.

This is especially true in a time when your average consumer is inundated with advertising emails on a daily basis. When you’re relying on your email marketing to engage and convert new donors to support your nonprofit’s work, it’s crucial that you carefully consider even the tiny details of your subject line.

An effective email subject line will adhere to a number of key characteristics. It will be:

  • Concise. Use about 5 words for your subject line. Anything longer might get ignored by an email client.
  • Personalized. If possible, directly address your recipient to get their attention.
  • Active. Imply action of some sort, like through an invitation or announcement.
  • Focused. Explain the purpose of your message without relying on gimmicks.
  • Truthful. If you’re soliciting donations, don’t try to conceal the purpose of your email.

Additionally, there are several other important factors to keep in mind while improving your email subject lines.

For instance, consider your email’s “sent by” line. Recipients are more likely to read a message sent by your nonprofit’s name (and not an individual at your organization), since they’ve presumably already expressed interest in your work and are probably unfamiliar with your organization’s leadership.

Never neglect your email’s subject line. Some careful thought at this stage of your email marketing will go a long way to boost the open rate necessary to engage donors at all.

3. Personalize your message

If donors see their name in your email’s subject line or in the text of your donation appeal, you’re much more likely to catch their attention and engage them with your message. If your nonprofit uses a CRM or donor database system, use an app or other integrated solution to automatically personalize your broader email campaigns.

One powerful personalization strategy that can be used by any organization is donor communications segmentation. Donor segmentation is a necessity for smart marketing and fundraising, which is why they’re a core feature of most advocacy software solutions.

Whatever the scope of your fundraising goals, targeting your email campaigns to specific segments of your donor base is a surefire way to keep your messages completely relevant to the ways that donors have historically engaged with your work.

For instance, use your donor records to segment your mailing list into some key groups, like:

  • Recurring donors
  • Past donors
  • Members
  • Volunteers
  • Newsletter recipients

Each of these groups should receive a different email message targeted specifically to their relationship with your organization. For example, Asthma Foundation sends an email calling out past donations to those who have donated before.

Asthma Foundation – Personalized Email Marketing


Segmenting your email campaigns not only allows you to better target each group and increase engagement, it also simplifies the entire email marketing process for your organization.

4. Include digital multimedia

The best way to make your email marketing more interesting and engaging for donors is simply to provide some visually appealing or eye-catching digital multimedia.

The added benefit of carefully selected and including visual material in your email is that it reduces the need for long blocks of copy or other text. Keeping your email messages succinct, formatted, and interesting to look at is the best way to ensure that recipients who open your message won’t immediately lose interest.

Creatively using multimedia in your email campaigns is a great way to boost engagement and increase the chances of converting a supporter to a committed donor. For example, each of these types of digital media could be perfect for your next appeal message:

  • Photos. Show your current projects, volunteers, staff, or anything that tells your story.
  • Interactive elements. Countdown timers to a campaign kickoff or grand finale event are a classic example.
  • Data trackers. Charts are perfect for explaining your need for support or the context of your project.
  • Fundraising thermometers. Show donors the progress of your current campaign.
  • Short embedded videos. These are perfect for making social or emotional appeals for support.

Think about all the different types of digital media you could use in your email messages and how exactly they can support your donation appeal. For instance, a fundraising thermometer graphic is perfect for conveying a sense of urgency, while a gallery or video is a great way to introduce new donors to your organization.

Get creative and explore your options. If you segment your email communications by groups of donors, this is a great opportunity to experiment with what multimedia strategies work best for your goals.

5. Incentivize further engagement

While it’s essential to optimize your marketing so that recipients will be more likely to engage with your message, don’t let that engagement stop once they finish reading your email.

Always directly call for further engagement and provide a way to do it. In most cases, this will be making an online donation, and you can market it with the unique donation tools that we identified above in Tip #1.

If your organization features a membership program, it’s fairly easy to provide new ways to engage your email recipients.

Even if your organization doesn’t feature a membership program, there are plenty of ways to incentivize further engagement in your email campaigns. For instance, any of the following can be a great method for getting your recipients involved after reading your email:

  • Special invitations to fundraising events
  • Early access to tickets and events
  • Special offers on fundraising products or merchandise
  • Free raffle tickets or other rewards for volunteering
  • Limited-time donation rewards

Let the purpose of the message dictate the best way to engage your recipients. For instance, if your email campaign is promoting your upcoming fundraising events, think of some smart ways to incorporate your event in your email marketing.


Email marketing is one of the most effective means of retaining otherwise uninvolved subscribers; offering some real incentives to engage further is the key to making them remember why they subscribed in the first place.

Wrap up

As one of the most tried-and-true marketing outlets for nonprofits, your organization’s email marketing strategies must be optimized and adaptable. Look over your current strategy and identify some points that could use improvement. Follow these best practices to ensure that your email campaigns not only help you retain your existing donors and supporters but also convert new donors.

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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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