Resources Hub » Blog » The New Rules of Email Marketing for Nonprofits

Just about every business on the planet uses email marketing to some extent—and it’s not hard to guess why. Email consistently delivers double the ROI of any other digital channel. That’s why smart marketers have built an optimized strategy around email.

The same is becoming true for nonprofits, as well. Charitable organizations have learned just how big the ROI can be for email marketing and are using it to keep in contact with their donors and fund new initiatives.

However, email marketing for nonprofits requires some specific tactics in order to be successful. Here are four ideas to improve your nonprofit’s email marketing results.

4 tips that will improve email marketing for nonprofits

Before you launch a new campaign, take a few minutes to read through the following tips designed specifically for email marketing for nonprofits.

Whether you’re happy with the email results you’re already getting or just trying to get your email marketing program off the ground, there’s always an opportunity to optimize your strategy and reach more people for your cause.

1. Segment your audience to deliver more relevant content.

Too often, email marketing for nonprofits revolves around sending out one message aimed at their entire list of recipients. On paper, this seems to make sense. The entire list of recipients has the same goal, right? They want to help.

However, as we’re about to cover, the motives behind giving vary. That’s why you must segment your nonprofit’s list based on the reasons that matter most to your donors.

This example from the Australian Red Cross segments based on which causes their subscribers have donated to in the past, providing an update on their work and building long-term loyalty with their donors.

Red Cross Email Campaign

Of course, you can also segment them further after that based on their estimated income level, history of giving, etc. The point is that, if you try to use the same email to get everyone to give, no one will give.

2. Understand your subscriber’s motivations.

Everyone knows how important subject lines are. They’re the first thing your recipient sees when you send an email, so if it falls short of grabbing their interest, nothing else matters.

As we already covered, segmentation is important for understanding what matters to the different groups in your market.

However, if you need a little help identifying their biggest priorities, take a look at a study done by “The Development and Validation of the Motives to Donate Scale”, which identified five main reasons people give – also known by the acronym T.A.S.T.E.


No one wants to donate their time or money to a nonprofit they don’t trust. Whenever your organization is publicly recognized, be sure to send out an email where this is mentioned in the subject line. You need to continuously reinforce the idea that your nonprofit will make the best use of your donors’ resources.


Studies show that an altruistic concern for the wellbeing of others may be the most powerful reason people decide to volunteer or donate. In your email marketing, make sure to include photos of the actual work your organization is doing.

Visuals in email can be a powerful way to show your impact and spur subscribers to contribute. Charity:Water does an excellent job of this across all digital marketing channels with photography that clearly communicates the value they’re providing with the help of their donors.

Charity Water Photography


Donors often give to charities because a loved one cares about their cause.

For example, married couples often decide on donations together. Many fundraising initiatives succeed by recruiting children (e.g. The Girl Scouts) as this ensures potential donors know someone who is involved.

You can use testimonials or stories from those you’ve helped, volunteers, or staff at your nonprofit organization to drive home the social impact that their donation helps provide.


Charitable giving often qualifies for certain tax breaks—a great point to stress as you approach the end of the year. From an email marketing perspective, creating targeted campaigns around the holiday season is often an effective way of generating awareness and driving donations.

This example from Unicef New Zealand combines compelling images with a call for subscribers to donate to their efforts for the holidays.

Unicef - Email Marketing


This term might sound a little loaded, but it really just refers to their positive feelings that people feel when they exhibit charitable behavior.

This study also found that the main reason people don’t give is that of financial constraints. In your email campaign copy, consider addressing the financial commitment up front with language such as: “any amount helps” or speaking to specifically what their donation will be used for.

At the same time, email marketing for nonprofits doesn’t need to focus on money. If you have volunteer opportunities, this is a great way to leverage people’s altruistic motives without stumbling over the issue of money.

3. Optimize your email campaigns.

As we mentioned earlier, you’ll always have opportunities to improve your campaigns. This is simply part of email marketing. You double-down on what works and move past what doesn’t.

That said, one very important aspect of email marketing for nonprofits is that you must respond to feedback. No donor wants to feel as though they’re being ignored after they’ve donated their hard-earned money and/or precious time.

Keep in mind, too, the more personalized your emails are, the more likely donors are to respond. So, be very careful about how much personalization you utilize if you don’t have the means to respond to all the feedback you may receive.

Sometimes, donor feedback can be extremely helpful. Other times, it’s decadently not. Either way, email marketing will backfire if you’re not responding in a timely fashion to each email you receive from your recipients.

4. Don’t just ask for donations.

Given its effectiveness, email marketing for nonprofits tends to be largely aimed at soliciting donations. It makes sense to use such a powerful practice to address the biggest challenge most charities face.

That said, you’ll find your email list quickly becomes unresponsive if all you do is ask for people’s money and time. In fact, if you notice your open-rates falling, especially right after a major giving initiative comes to completion, there’s a good chance it’s because people are starting to associate your emails with an ask.

That’s why you need to vary things by sending different types of content. Create and send content that covers a variety of examples of the work that your nonprofit does to help. Case studies are also phenomenal for showing specific stories with lots of emotion—use these as much as possible.

This example from The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation does include a CTA, but it also features a case study about Akeira, the child pictured, and her experience with their organization.

Royal Childrens Hospital Foundation

This is a great example of using email to show your recipients where their money is going. This doesn’t just feel good to see—it substantiates the importance of giving in the first place.

Email marketing for nonprofits offers a number of ways to do this. The easiest is probably to cover this topic in your blog and then link to it from the email with a short introduction.

This way, your recipients see the good their money is doing but prospective donors can also view this information on your site.

Wrap up

Email marketing for nonprofits may not be exactly the same as it is for other companies, but that doesn’t make it any less effective.

Keep the above tips in mind when you launch your initiative and you’ll see greater engagement from your list and more donations, as well.

To learn more about the best ways for nonprofits to reach out via email marketing, check out The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Nonprofits to transform your organization’s email strategy.

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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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