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What does a great email design look like in the nonprofit space? Is it form or function? Style or substance?

A well-designed email can mean the difference between your readers clicking through your email and donating or not even bothering to open it. 

Today we’re going to talk about components that make up a great email in 2021, such as having a snappy headline, straightforward copywriting, and simple template design.

Grab your reader’s attention

Any non-profit looking to drive donations needs a watertight email strategy. It’s a great way to show readers the impact of their donations and how you’re putting their money to good use. 

The first step you need to take is getting them to notice you. 

A well-designed email with great copy jumps out at the reader from the inbox. It’s hard to resist and demands attention. So, how do you achieve this effect? Let’s start at the beginning.

Nail the subject line

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it’s an excellent tactic for writing subject lines. If you can leverage curiosity, you can intrigue your reader into opening your email. 

A great subject line:

  • Highlights the benefits of opening the email
  • Is concise enough to get the message across without giving too much away
  • Is personalized to the reader

Spend time writing various subject lines until you find the perfect fit. You only get one chance to interest your reader with the subject line, so make it count. 

Keep it simple

Too many people make the mistake of designing overly complicated emails. While they can look great, it’s not always the best format for email newsletters. 

Simple, mobile-friendly templates with one to three columns are effective because you can use them to direct your reader’s eye to the most critical components of your email.

nonprofit email design

Source: UNICEF

This email by UNICEF is a great example for several reasons:

  • It uses the inverted pyramid design to guide readers through the email
  • It uses powerful images to invoke readers’ emotions
  • It has a simple message and a clear call to action

Clear, engaging copy

When you study the structure of an email that converts well, you’ll notice there’s a certain something about it. What makes such emails capture readers’ attention? 

It’s simple: Punchy, concise copy.

Most people don’t read email copy in its entirety—they skim. This can be used to work in your favor. Just design your email to include blocks of text with eye-catching copy.

Once the first sentence hooks them, keep them reading until they get to the most important part—the call-to-action. In the non-profit space, this is typically an ask for a donation.

wwt nonprofit email design

Source: WWT

This email by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is doing several things right: They’re emphasizing their key message: Donate. The donate-specific links and buttons are highlighted in orange throughout to draw attention. 

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust also uses specific language like “now is a crucial moment” and “wetland wildlife needs your help like never before” to create a sense of urgency.

It’s worth taking a moment to talk about the effects COVID-19 has had on nonprofits and email marketing. COVID-19 has put a lot of charities under pressure. Vulnerable people are even worse off, and that’s something you can discuss honestly with your readers.

Open rates, click-through rates, and email signups have soared during the pandemic, so you need to think about how to make the most of your email list with design and content curation.

Well-arranged content

Finally, the way you arrange the elements in your email is essential. 

Use the inverted pyramid principle to direct your readers’ attention to those parts of your email that contain the most important information. 

That means starting with an eye-catching headline, then have a few sentences of supporting information, and top it off with a clear CTA at the bottom of the pyramid (i.e. click here).

Wrap up

Now you know how to design an email that stands out and drives donations. You’ve learned the importance of keeping eyeballs on screen, simple templates to focus reader attention, and the power of clear copy.

If you’re ready to take your email strategy to the next level, Campaign Monitor is here to help. 

But before you run off and launch your nonprofit email campaign, be sure to read our ultimate guide to email campaign design.


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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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