Resources Hub » Blog » 7 Ways To Engage Donors in an Email Newsletter

Keeping donors connected and engaged can feel daunting, especially during challenging times. The good news is that nonprofits continue to show that they have captive audiences, so you just need the right approach to foster ongoing engagement with new and returning donors.

We got your back. Here’s everything you need to know to create impactful email campaigns.

Why email marketing is the right channel for nonprofits

COVID-19 upended nearly every industry, yet it emphasized the importance of empathy and humanity. Due to canceled charity events, nonprofit email marketing was on the rise. There’s been a nearly 40% YoY growth in send volume for this sector in March 2020. 

Nonprofit is traditionally one of the best-performing industries in email marketing. The same was true even during the pandemic. In March 2020, nonprofits saw an open rate of 29.3% — up 4.4% from March 2019. What’s more, click-through rates rose to 3.50% in March and 3.94% in April.

Read these actionable tips on how to engage donors and start capitalizing on increased interest for donations.

7 ways to engage donors in an email newsletter

One of the biggest challenges with nonprofit email newsletters is how to attract donors’ attention and keep them engaged without creating an email that’s too long to read. Let’s look at a few tips on how to create compelling email newsletters to boost donor engagement

1. Use segmentation to reach the right people

When it comes to email segments, the list is almost endless. Understanding different segments will help you attract different audiences. Ultimately, you should determine your segments based on the goals you want to reach, especially since each segment can accomplish different goals. Read on to learn about your nonprofit email segmentation options and find out which ones are right for you.


Of all the different attributes that divide people, location is perhaps one of the most prominent. Language, weather, and a dozen other aspects of location play a role in our daily lives.

Because of this, sending localized messages to your subscribers can be a highly personal way to appeal to donors. Start by creating segments that group your subscribers by various geographic locales, and keep each place in mind any time you send an email to this particular group. 


Another great way to create segments is using demographics to target people of different ages and genders. This is especially helpful for nonprofits that attract donors of a certain age or if one gender is more charitable for certain causes. 

Women donors give substantially more support for female-focused causes. According to a study funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, between 60% and 70% of women’s donations online benefited women’s and girls’ organizations. 

Adding more non-required fields on your email signup form or including a survey to find out more details about your donors can help you create more targeted campaigns. 

Email and website activity

Consider separating subscribers based on past email behavior. The behavior-based segmentation method can make your subscribers’ experience better and more intuitive. 

For instance, if you notice subscribers only open emails from you once a month, consider placing them into a segment where they only receive a monthly newsletter and the occasional donation request.

On the other hand, if you notice high engagement with every email you send, you might increase send frequency.

In one of its newsletters, charity:water used segmentation based on demographics to raise awareness of the problem women are facing and how access to clean water can change a woman’s life. 

nonprofit email segmentation example

Source: Mailcharts

2. Leverage personalization to tailor relevant messages

Subscribers of nonprofits and for-profit companies alike want relevant emails—ones that appeal to their interests and values (not to mention a genuine connection to the organization itself). Because of this, it’s crucial that your nonprofit creates relevant material for subscribers each and every time you email them.

According to a study from Campaign Monitor and Qgiv, donors prefer email over any other form of nonprofit communication. But meeting donors where they are is only half the battle. You know donors want to communicate with your nonprofit through email, but the emails have to be high-quality, thoughtfully-cadenced, and relevant.

In other words, personalization is the missing ingredient to an email strategy that works. Not only does personalized email marketing increase click-throughs, but personalized subject lines are also 26% more likely to be opened.

The question is: where to start? 

Donor personas

Similar to the demographic-based messaging we discussed above, you can create a custom segment based on donor personas. In short, you’ll need to create personas that represent different donors on your list.

For example, if you’re targeting males 25-30 who make $60k per year, you could create and use a custom segment for them. This would allow for personalized email campaigns every time.

This approach can take various forms. Perhaps you use existing segments (e.g., demographics) to create the persona, or maybe you approach it from a goals and pain points perspective.

Whatever elements you choose to build your persona, consider implementing a donor persona checklist like Qgiv:

A donor persona checklist

Source: Qgiv

3. Create a pleasant cross-device experience

We live in an omnichannel world. Smartphones have become an inevitable part of our everyday life. 

According to M+R Benchmarks, half of all nonprofit website traffic last year came from mobile and tablet users. Data shows that mobile users grew as a share of traffic by 11%, as a share of donation transactions by 17%, and as a share of revenue by 21%.

Nonprofits should ensure their donation pages are optimized for mobile to make the most out of this trend. Creating a pleasant cross-device experience should be at the top of every nonprofit’s priority list. 

4. Write captivating copy that tells a story

Every nonprofit has an important message to share. However, in today’s world, when people are bombarded with thousands of messages each day, standing out can be hard. 

The best way to captivate donors’ attention is by telling a story. Emotions trigger actions. They motivate us. Using the right words to paint a picture is the closest you can get in letting other people feel another person’s pain.  

Storytelling gives us the power to evoke strong emotions.

Without empathy, email newsletters are just another email in the donor’s inbox. 

Australian Red Cross crafted emotional copy, supported with pictures and a quote to motivate people to help affected communities from the volcano eruption in Vanuatu. 

nonprofit compelling email copy example

Source: Campaign Monitor

5. Include social proof to boost engagement

People are more likely to engage in action if other people are doing it. It’s basic social psychology. If you want to encourage people to take part, show them evidence that they’ll be a part of a larger group that’s already participating. 

Displaying the number of books sold forces people to buy a book, showing the number of people subscribed to a newsletter, makes others click the subscribe button. It’s the same for nonprofits. 

Sharing numbers about other donors can build trust and encourage people to follow the actions of others and donate. 

Care Australia uses social proof to tap into the basic human instinct to be part of something bigger. They share results to build trust and credibility and create a loyal base of online donors.

Care Autralia uses social proof in their emails

Source: Really Good Emails

6. Decide on the frequency and be consistent

Consistency is key in every email marketing effort. Show up regularly in people’s inbox. Tell a story, share results, ask for action — communicating regularly with donors it’s the key to success. 

Your goals should be staying top of mind. So instead of reaching out only when there’s a need for donation, decide on the frequency of your email newsletter and be consistent with email cadences. 

7. Add a clear call to action

Focus on a single call to action. Instead of overwhelming readers with different links and buttons, focus on the most important goal for each email newsletter. 

Sometimes it will be taking action, another time reading a story or sharing results — but always make sure that you are giving donors clear instruction on what they should do next. 

The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation is on a mission to improve the health and wellbeing of Victoria’s children by providing superior healthcare services for adolescents and their families. Email marketing is an essential part of their fundraising communications. With a strong message and a clear call to action, they build a highly engaged supporter base that includes some of their most generous donors.

engaging with the subscriber example

Source: Campaign Monitor

Wrap up

With all these tips under your belt, you are ready to create a successful email marketing campaign and bring the right people. 

Attract supporters, send beautiful emails, and see stunning results with easy-to-use email drip campaigns. 

Ready to start your donor campaign? Campaign Monitor can help you spread your mission and reach your goals easier than ever. Here’s how

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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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