Resources Hub » Blog » How to Leverage Email Marketing in Your Fundraising Strategy

This is a guest post from OneCause.

Thanks to a growing number of millennial donors and a renewed cultural focus on philanthropic giving, fundraisers have continued to sustain their place as a focal point of today’s nonprofit strategy. Add to this the growth of social media and peer-to-peer fundraising as new forms of donor engagement, and nonprofit groups are in an unprecedented era of opportunity.

Making the most of this opportunity, however, is another thing altogether.

Whether you’re hosting a gala, 5K, or auction, email is truly the most tried-and-true option. Every nonprofit organization has a list in their CRM application of previous donors, supporters, and event attendees. This list is the perfect jumping-off point to kick-start outreach and drive donations, attendance, and social engagement.

Here are four ways your nonprofit can leverage email in your fundraising strategy:

1. Engage previous event attendees and donors.

If you’re getting ready to launch a new campaign or idea, email is the best way to introduce it to your supporters since you already have a wealth of contact information at your fingertips.

When it comes down to engaging your contacts, keep the following email best practices in mind. After all, even though you’re targeting nonprofit donors, the rules of email marketing still apply:

Segment out your lists: If you still think that all your supporters are the same, think again. The best way to increase engagement and ensure a response (or click, or registration) is with a highly targeted list. Start by sorting out your list out by if people have attended a previous event, if they purchased any auction items, if they are considered a “high ticket” donor, VIPs, or sponsors. All of these segments require a different message, so it’s important to separate them out early into separate lists.

Pay attention to subject lines: Prevent your emails from ending up in Spam folders or from being deleted outright by optimizing your subject lines. This is where your targeted lists can come in handy. Think about what each one of your different audiences wants to hear and create subject lines that are sure to result in maximum open rates.

Leverage the right CTAs: What is the main goal of your emails? Are you trying to get people to book a table? Maybe you’re trying to sell tickets. With an end goal in mind, you can format your clickable calls-to-action to gain the most attention. Make sure your CTA buttons stick out from the rest of your email content and are easy for the eye to find.

Set up an automated cadence: If you’re promoting a charity event far enough in advance (and hopefully you are!), you’ll probably need to send more than one promotional email. Instead of wasting time writing and rewriting every single send, set up an automated cadence that automatically sends out emails to the right audience at the right time. Another tip? Set up automatic follow-up emails to thank attendees as soon as they purchase a ticket or bid on an item.

See how Charity: Water shows exactly where donors’ money goes:

Image: Really Good Emails

2. Drive registrations and ticket sales.

You want your promotional emails to actually result in an action, which means you need to create engaging content. Your emails should tell supporters why they should sign up for your 5K, or highlight the benefits of attending your gala.

In order to efficiently drive attendees, ticket sales, or auction bids, you need to focus on the content of your emails. Try adding more engaging content elements such as:

Images: If you’re promoting auction items before your event, or if you’re hosting an online auction that supporters can start bidding on at once, pictures are a great way to convey the options available. Just make sure that your images and content is perfectly optimized for mobile, especially since more than 50% of email is now opened on mobile devices.

Video: If you’re trying to increase event attendance, try adding a highlight video to one of your promotional emails to showcase past events. Past attendees will love the chance of seeing their faces in the highlight reel, and prospective attendees will be able to see exactly what your event entails. During your event, remember to hire a videographer to capture the best moments for the video!

Dynamic content: As you’re building promotional emails, make your CRM work for you! Leveraging dynamic content can add an extra layer of personalization to your promo emails without your team having to put in the extra time and effort. You can mention the last event they attended, their company, or their spouses’ name—as long as there’s a field in your CRM, you’re good to go.

3. Encourage supporters to share with their networks.

It’s no surprise that social and peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising campaigns are taking the nonprofit world by storm. Social media has opened new doors for donors to go out and spread the word about nonprofit with their networks, casting an even wider net of opportunity than ever before.

To make this even easier, format your emails to encourage promotion and social sharing. Consider these reliable strategies:

  • Add any relevant hashtags that supporters should use in posts.
  • Include links to all of your social accounts with language encouraging your supporters to follow you.
  • If you want donors to set up personal microsites, add in a quick guide on setting those up.
  • Outline how your P2P campaign will impact the overall charity event.
  • Highlight ways you’ll recognize P2P fundraisers at your event.

See how Patagonia Action Works inspires subscribers to sign up for volunteer opportunities:

Image: Really Good Emails 

4. Send personal follow-up emails.

Optimize the long-term value of your donor network by sending personalized thank you and follow-up emails after your event or auction.

The key word here, of course, is personalized. Personalization is one of the most important parts of a successful email, and to truly forge a long-term relationship with a donor you need to add some sort of personalized element.

In some cases, it’s obviously impossible to write out personal emails to all of your attendees, but go back to those list segments and try to add a personal detail wherever possible. Here are a few examples to get your creative juices flowing:

Big-ticket auction winner: If an attendee bid on a high-ticket item, congratulate them on the win and thank them for attending. If you had a memorable discussion when they were announced the winner, mention it to add a special touch.

Table sponsors: If you have attendees that graciously sponsored an entire table at your event, have a board member or executive write a personal email to thank them for their commitment and support. If applicable, offer them a discounted rate for next year if they repeat their offer.

5K winners: If your organization hosted a 5K instead of a gala, give the winner (or winners) an extra sense of accomplishment by reaching out directly. Send them a personal email asking to feature them in a highlight video or piece of promotional content.

Wrap up

Sending emails to your contacts can increase donations, drive engagement, and create lasting supporter relationships.

Considering that 7 in 10 consumers prefer to receive email communications over nearly every other channel, the email marketing channel is here to stay. With personal, direct communication that highlights the mission and value of your charity, your emails can create more profitable and lasting donor relationships.


Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.

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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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