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Nonprofits rely on the support and generosity of donors and volunteers to thrive in every community. Without their help, nonprofits would struggle to exist.

Most nonprofits are strapped for time, resources, and budget so how can an organization build a foundation of supporters while offering programs and assistance to those in need?

Many nonprofits turn to an innovative and affordable marketing solution: email marketing. In 2015, nonprofits sent 2.4 billion emails to 37 million subscribers. Using email marketing, nonprofits can inform supporters and generate donations without taking the focus away from its clients.

At Campaign Monitor, we understand the challenges that nonprofits face, which is why we’ve created this guide to help organizations communicate with supporters and generate the revenue needed to thrive.

In this guide we will cover six vital topics:

  • Why nonprofits need email marketing
  • How to pick the right email service provider for your nonprofit
  • How to grow your email list the right way
  • Four emails every nonprofit should send
  • Tips to design and write compelling emails
  • How to track your results

Why nonprofits need email marketing

Business-savvy nonprofits know that every decision must be justified. So, why should nonprofits rely on email marketing to reach donors and volunteers?

There are a lot of reasons, but here are five reasons that email marketing is a must-have for nonprofits:

1. Cost effective

Email marketing is one of the most affordable marketing tactics out there, which is especially helpful for nonprofits that must be mindful of their budget. For every $1 spent, email marketing generates an average of $38 of revenue.

2. Effective way to raise money

Online donations have quickly become a mainstay in the nonprofit arena. Some nonprofits garnered as much as 28-41% of their online revenue from email marketing. Nonprofits are quickly turning to email marketing to promote specific fundraising campaigns, or solicit monthly donations.

3. Easy to use

Email service providers have made email marketing tools so simple and intuitive that nearly anyone can use them without having to know a line of HTML code. Now anyone in an organization can create professional emails in a snap, thanks to professionally designed templates, easy-to-use editors, and drop and drag features that allow you to add images, calls to action and quickly target your messages in a snap.

4. Quick to deliver

Eighty percent of nonprofits that use email marketing do so to keep supporters informed. When something new comes up, donors can be notified immediately. The speed in which donors and volunteers can be reached far surpasses anything out there. Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter and you can apply the same principal to acquiring a donor or volunteer.

5. Ability to grow

An email list is an ever-growing asset. The more time you take to collect quality email addresses, the larger your reach. Nonprofit list growth is up 11% since 2014. That means more and more nonprofits understand the benefit of a quality email list.

How to pick the right email service provider for your nonprofit

Whether you’re selecting your first email service provider or are ready to make a switch from an existing provider, there are some important aspects to consider. By doing a bit of research, you’ll be able to find a provider that best fits the needs of your  organization.

Here are a few things to consider:



Every email service provider charges some sort of fee to use its platform. Most offer monthly subscription packages or a pay-as-you-go system that allows you to get familiar with the platform before committing to a monthly plan.

Most monthly plans are based on the number of emails you want to send and the size of your contact list. If you have a big list and plan to send a high volume of emails each month, expect to land in a higher monthly plan.

Look for providers that offer a discount to nonprofits. Campaign Monitor, for example, offers 15% off to nonprofits.



Don’t let cost be the only deciding factor. You might find cheap monthly rates, but what kind of features do you get for it? You need an email service provider that has the features and tools you need to get the job done correctly and efficiently. Look for these features:

nonprofit email templates


Look for a provider that offers email templates that are easy to customize. Look for tools like a “drag and drop email builder” that tells you the process is simple for anyone to do.


Personalized emails deliver transaction rates that are six times higher than emails without personalization. Adding a donor’s name to a subject line or the body of an email is beneficial, but you can even more (like adding in recent volunteer activity levels or donations), so make sure the email service provider you select has this capability.

Personalization for your nonprofit email campaign

A/B split testing for your nonprofit emails


Effective email service providers also offer testing abilities, usually referred to as A/B testing or split testing. This allows you to test changes to your email to increase your overall success. For example, you can test two different subject lines to see which one gets the best open rates.

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation will save you time. With automation, you can schedule emails to deliver automatically based on certain triggers, send an email on a subscriber’s birthday, after they’ve made a donation or volunteered, or create a series of emails for a fundraising campaign that arrive in supporters’ inboxes on a set schedule, and many other options.

St. Jude’s Hospital tracks when their donors last made a contribution, and automatically sends a re-engagement email exactly three months after that date.

nonprofit email automation

nonprofit integrations


Look for an email service provider that’s integrated with a series of other apps. Anytime you can integrate email marketing with apps that you commonly use like WordPress or Salesforce, it makes life easier.

Access to assistance

You want an email service provider that offers award-winning support available 24/7. That support should come in the form of tech assistance, where you can get help from a live human being, and in the form of content.

Your email service provider should have a blog full of useful tips that you can refer to, and guides that explain how to be an effective marketer.

How to grow your list the right way

Every nonprofit wants to grow a high quality email list that results in a high level of engagement, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to grow your list. Here are some tips to make sure you’re taking the right path:

Get permission

You want to grow your list organically by collecting contacts that give you permission to email them. To do so, you’ll want to set up a single or double opt in process.

Single opt in means a contact is added to your list as soon as they sign up through a form. The double opt in process requires new contacts to confirm their subscription via email before being added to the list.

Add a sign up form and button to your site

To collect email addresses, add a sign up form and a subscribe button to the main page of your website. Both features, which Campaign Monitor users can easily set up, can help you grow your list.

Collect contacts at events with Enlist

Nonprofits using Campaign Monitor can download our Enlist app, which turns any iPad into a signup form. Set up the iPad at an event and ask people to join your list as they check in.

Aim for quality over quantity

It’s better to have a small list of genuine supporters than it is to have a large list of people that are vaguely aware of your cause. While it’s easy to focus on list size, it’s list quality that really matters.

Keep your sign up forms short

When collecting email addresses through sign up forms, make sure it’s a simple process. If a supporter has to fill out six boxes just to join your email list, your form may not be completed as often as you’d like.

Segment your list

Don’t make the mistake of sending every email to every supporter on your list. Segment your list into specific groups and send targeted messages to each. By doing so, you’ll not only see better results, but you’ll also avoid “list fatigue” where subscribers tune out from getting more emails than necessary.

The 4 emails every nonprofit should send

Research indicates that the main objectives for nonprofits using email marketing are: keeping supporters informed (80%), attracting and retaining donors (64%), and driving online donations (61%).

So, what kinds of emails accomplish these objectives? Here are four emails that nonprofits can send to meet these objectives, and things that make each one successful.

Amnesty International nonprofit event invite email

Event Invitation

Objective: Attracting and retaining donors

Events are often the bread and butter of a nonprofit. From charity auctions and 5K races to conferences and summits, every nonprofit has its own staple of yearly events. It’s not surprising to learn that eighty-one percent of nonprofits use email marketing to promote events.

Here’s an example of an event email from Amnesty International.

Things that make this email successful:

Big, bold hero imagery

The email captures your attention with the image of the bustling city and engages you with a headline to “walk for change and fight for justice.”

The 3 W’s

When where, and why give subscribers all the details they need to know about the event in a quick, scannable format.

A call to action that stands out

The yellow call to action in the email, “Register Now” tells subscribers exactly what they want you to do next.


Objective: Inform supporters

You don’t want supporters to feel as though the only time you email them is when you need something. You want to send a variety of emails, some of which are for the sole purpose of keeping supporters informed.

A newsletter is a great way to keep supporters and volunteers in the loop. Regularity is key here. You want supporters to look for your newsletters, so set a delivery schedule, maybe once or twice a month, and stick to it.

Here’s an example of a newsletter from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Things that make this email newsletter successful:

St. Jude Reserach Hospital nonprofit email newsletter


The big, bold hero imagery of this newsletter immediately helps engage subscribers and draw them in. Then it’s very easy to quickly scan the key message and identify that this is a newsletter for volunteers.


Instead of just asking for a donation, St.Jude connects their supporters to the cause with some information about how donations are used and the exact impact donations have, all the way down to the number of families that were helped.

The Red Cross email newsletter donation example

Donation Campaign

Objective: Drive online donations

Email is responsible for about one third of nonprofits’ online fundraising revenue. To make sure contributions roll in throughout the year, you’ll send several emails that ask for donations.

Here’s an example from The Red Cross.

Things that make this email successful:

Campaign explanation

The example tells supporters that a small donation can make a difference. This removes obstacles or barriers to supporters thinking they must make a sizable donation to help.

Clear way to donate

The call to action takes supporters to a page that easily accepts donations. Make sure the process is seamless. If it takes forever for the page to load, or there are a ton of boxes to fill out to provide a donation, you could lose support quickly.


When you can, include an image of help in action. The imagery in this campaign shows happy volunteers making a difference.

Thank you email

Objective: Retaining donors

Considering how important your supporters are, it’s vital to show your appreciation. A simple ‘thank you’ email goes a long way.

Here’s a great example from UNICEF.

Things that make this email successful:

UNICEF nonprofit thank you email

Say thanks

First and foremost, show your gratitude. Craft a sincere message that shows how thankful you are for the support, just as the example does.

Ongoing communication

This welcome email arrives after a first donation is made and is part of a series of automated emails that continues to build the relationship and support.

Tips to design and write compelling nonprofit emails

When it comes to crafting an email, design and writing skills come into play. Not to worry, you don’t have to write a line of HTML code or be the next great novelist to create an effective email, just follow these tips:

Design Tips

Use templates

You want an email with a sleek, uncluttered layout. Fortunately, most email service providers offer a variety of professionally designed templates that take care of that for you. Some only give you access to a handful of options, but Campaign Monitor users have access to email templates that offer fresh designs fit for every nonprofit.

Use a call to action button

Make sure every email has a call to action. We suggest using a button that subscribers can click on. Buttons not only make a call to action standout, but they’ve become instantly recognizable to subscribers who know what to do when they see them.

Create a headline

You need an attention grabbing first line. It can look like a newspaper headline, where the text is larger than the rest of the copy, or it can be a different color. The point is to make that first line stand out.

Make it mobile friendly

Research shows 53% of emails are opened on mobile devices, so your design should accommodate that. Fortunately, email service providers like Campaign Monitor offer templates that have a responsive design, which means your email will adapt to look great on every device.

Use subheads or bulleted lists

If you’re sending an email that has a healthy amount of text, you should take steps make it look as organized as possible. Keep in mind that 79% of readers scan content rather than read it word for word, so organization is vital. Using subheadings and bulleted lists preserves the curb appeal of your email.

Writing tips

Create a captivating subject line

The best way to create a captivating subject line is to write a short, personalized message that describes what’s inside. Keep the length to about 40-50 words, and don’t be afraid to get creative.

Personalize it

Nonprofits should personalize emails. That means adding a supporter’s name to a subject line or adding information about their last donation or volunteer activity.  By making personal connections your organization can generate more support.

Use preheader text

The preheader is the snippet of text that follows the subject line. It gives subscribers more information about your email. Some nonprofits skip this part, but if you can give your supporters more information about your email before it’s opened – it’s a good thing.

Be clear

Make sure your emails get to the point–the average adult has about an 8-second attention span. Don’t use flowery language or draw out the purpose of the email. Be as clear as possible, especially when explaining fundraising efforts.

Use urgent language

Throughout your email, and in your subject line, use urgent language. You want to compel supporters to act.

Set deadlines, and send emails as they approach. Tell supporters when time is running out, or if the number of seats to an event is almost gone.

Use urgent words and phrases like, “Donate Now” and “Reserve Your Seat Today.”

Track your results

You can see how well your email efforts are working at any time by checking your email metrics. The good news is most nonprofits monitor their success, with 91% of organizations using metrics to set measurable goals.

But, in a time-strapped organization, which metrics should you pay attention to? Here are five metrics that every nonprofit should monitor to track success:

1. Open rates

As you might suspect, an open rate measures the amount of supporters that open your email. The average open rate for nonprofits varies, but typically hovers around 16%.

2. Click-through rates

Seventy-six percent of nonprofits use click-through rates as a benchmark for success. Click-through rates measure how many supporters click on a link or call to action within an email. Average click-through rates are 3.3%.

3. Email visits

Are you curious about the amount of website visitors that land on your site because of emails? The number of email visits tells you just that. Nonprofits can see how much referral traffic comes from specific email campaigns.

4. Email conversions

Email conversions measure how many supporters click on your call to action and follow through with your request. For example, it can measure the number of donations or the amount of seats reserved for an event.

This is an important metric to watch as it shows you how many supporters are committing dollars or support to your organization because of email.

5. Unsubscribe rate

The unsubscribe rate measures how many people left your email list. Most nonprofits have a low unsubscribe rate. If your rate is below 2%, you’re in good shape.

Wrap up

Email marketing is a proven tactic to help your nonprofit grow and thrive. The tips in this guide can help you hit the ground running and Campaign Monitor’s Nonprofit Edition offers you a generous 15% discount on every campaign you send, so get started today!

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