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As an employee of a nonprofit, it’s usually assumed that you have a huge stack of to-dos, are doing many more things than you have time for, and are trying to do your best to fundraise and thank your donors. If that’s you, then email marketing might be the most valuable tool you can use to stay engaged and connected with your donors and supporters.

Chapter 1

Why email marketing is critical for nonprofits

Email is here to help you stay on top of your workload and connect with your constituents. In this guide, we’ll see how email marketing can help you:

  • develop a loyal donor base
  • expand your reach
  • drive more donations

With the lack of time (and sometimes even lack of team) that most nonprofit employees are faced with, email marketing is one of the best ways to connect with your supporters. Through email, you can show donors the impact they’re making and the gratitude your organization has for them.

We’ve collected five winning strategies to grow your donor base, spread your cause, and drive more donations. All to further your mission and do more good!

Chapter 2

5 nonprofit strategies to increase giving with email marketing

We’ll take a look at data, content, design, and reporting to uncover the breadth of nonprofit email strategy.

1. Make sure you’re gathering the right information.

The best way to make sure you have accurate and detailed data for your email list is to collect and combine data from all your tools. With nonprofits’ wide blend of tools to input donations, event registrations, membership details, in-person gifts, and way more, it’s extremely important to make sure these points of data make it into your emails.

One great way to incorporate all this data is to integrate your email provider with your database, donor management platform, or CRM. By syncing your email list with platforms like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, or Raiser’s Edge, you can keep all data on your supporters cohesive and up-to-date.

Why are these data hubs so important? The more you know about your donors, the better you can communicate with relevance and authority.

Keeping track of engagement data will help you deliver relevant content to your supporters. By sending specific messages to supporters that have engaged with you in unique ways, you can keep them engaged with content they want to see, and invite them to take next steps. 78% of internet users in the U.S. said personally relevant content from brands increases their purchase intent.

Translated for nonprofits: if you personalize your content to supporters, they’re way more likely to donate and support your organization.

This can even be as easy as providing a choice of subscription preferences. If your organization hosts events, has multiple campaigns, provides field work updates, or presents other types of content, this is a great way to make sure you’re not sending too many emails while also sending extremely personalized content to your audience.

The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation uses personalization to send this invitation to supporters that have gone to events in the past.

By sending extremely personalized and relevant data to your subscribers, you could give a tenfold boost to your donations and engagement.

2. Grow your donor base the right way.

It should never be difficult to sign up for your nonprofit’s email list. Supporters are looking for your email list signup form—especially as nonprofit email lists grow around 10% every year. So above all, make your signup form easy to find!

There are definitely hotspots in which to place your signup form: your website’s footer, pages with the most traffic, an “About Us” page, Facebook, Twitter, and plenty more you can see here. The bottom line: make it easy to find and sign up.

This pop-up form is a great example of making it easy for people to sign up while on your website.

Pop-up form – Email Newsletter Sign Up

Another great time to collect names and emails is at events. If you have a registration table, merchandise table, or any other sort of kiosk, this is a great opportunity to set up an iPad with a signup form. You can the Enlist app to create beautiful sign up forms really easily.

Partnership opportunities are also great list-building tools. Running campaigns with other nonprofits—or even for-profit companies—that are aligned with your mission can broaden your reach. (Note: Make sure whatever list-building campaign you run is GDPR compliant! Find out more here.)

A few more quick tips on growing your donor base and subscriber list the right way:

  • Get permission. A double opt-in is a great way to make sure you have a quality list that is interested in your content.
  • 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 signup 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.

3. Only deliver the most compelling message.

Compelling messages are extremely important when it comes to talking about your cause. Not only do you want to communicate the importance of your mission, but also how your donors and supporters are affected by the work you’re doing.

Personalize your messages.

Your donors have given out of an emotional response. It’s personal. So your messaging needs to be personal, too.

Personal messaging needs to be relevant and specific to your donors’ interests. Personalized emails can generate transaction rates (donations) up to six times more compared to a generalized email. Emailing based on donor preferences is a great way to accomplish this.

Here’s an example of a preferences center where the subscriber can adjust the content they’re interested in.

ABC Widgets – Personalized Email - Preference Center

Whether you offer a preferences center or segment based on previous areas of donations, you should be segmenting your donors to deliver targeted communication based on their passions.

Emails your nonprofit could send

Now that we’ve covered how to write your emails, here are some of the messages you should be sending:

Event invitations

If you’re organizing an event that requires table or team hosts, target your attendees from last year’s events and invite them to be hosts this year.


Back to sending personalized messages—you can send targeted newsletters based on events attended, campaigns donated to, or newsletter preferences.

Donation appeals.

Launching a new campaign, or pushing a seasonal cause? Make the biggest impact by sending specifically to supporters in your list that have shown interest in this type of campaign before.

Thank you emails

These messages are the bread and butter of every nonprofit. Using the data and info you have on your donors, make these emails very specific and personalized.

Retention emails

Set reminders to follow up and let your donors know how their gift has made an impact. Segment this list based on when they gave, how they gave, and how much, so you can be specific about their individual impact. This follow-up will make your donor feel like they made a difference and inspire them to stay involved.

Automating your email workflow.

As a nonprofit employee, time is precious. Automating your emails can keep your audience engaged while helping you juggle the rest of your tasks. Not only do studies show automated email series, saving hours every week, but they also show reply and engagement rates jumping 250%.

The easiest emails to automate are welcome, thank you, and retention emails.

After someone signs up for your email list or donates for the first time, it’s a perfect moment to put them through an automated welcome series. Introduce them to what your nonprofit does, and how supporters can get involved. Welcome series emails can receive double the average open rate of your other emails, so you can count on amplified—and automated—engagement.

Thank you emails are another great automation opportunity. Based on your database integration, setting up workflows to send thank you emails are very easy to personalize with dynamic content. The same goes for retention or follow-up emails. Once the donor has received a thank you email, set them on a path to receive another follow-up email that shows the results of their giving in a month.

Once you can identify some of the ways you want to communicate with specific segments of your donor base, it’s easy to outline a path and automate an email journey for them.

4. Use design to humanize the message and develop lasting connections.

Email design can say a lot about an organization’s brand. Design, imagery, and style can communicate specific feelings, thoughts, and values. Because donors give out of an emotional response, it’s extremely important to put thought into your design and the emotion it emits.

Use clear templates

An email with a sleek, uncluttered layout will present your nonprofit’s news in a reader-friendly way. Most email service providers offer a variety of professional templates that take care of that for you. Some only give you access to a handful of options, but Campaign Monitor customers have access to email templates that offer fresh designs fit for every nonprofit.

Create a compelling headline

Your headline should both describe the content of your email and grab your reader’s attention. Your first line should stand out in style, and keep your reader engaged with the rest of the email. With statistics out there stating that most people will only spend 15 seconds reading your email, and most online readers will only actually read 20% of content, the headline is your greatest asset to draw people in.

Organize with subheads or bulleted lists

If your email has multiple paragraphs of text, consider adding bullets or subheadings to make it easier to read. 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 scannability of your email.

Call to action with a button

Make sure every email has a call to action—ideally a button after a header or body text. Buttons not only make a call to action stand out, but they’ve become instantly recognizable to subscribers as places they should click.

For most of your nonprofit’s emails you’ll probably use the word “donate” or something similar as the primary call to action.

Unicef – Email Marketing – Call to Action Button

Include gripping imagery

Donors will connect the images they see to the support they’ve given and the work you’re doing. Not only does this make them want to continue supporting your nonprofit, but it builds deep and lasting relationships with your donors. And because giving is so relational, this will create relational dividends into the future of your fundraising.

5. Monitor your performance to constantly improve your engagement.

Most email service providers offer fairly robust metrics that you can use to track your email campaigns. But in a sea of metrics to digest, here are some big ones you should be tracking (and why).

Open rates

As you might suspect, an open rate measures the amount of supporters that opened your email.  The average open rate for nonprofits varies, but typically hovers around 16%. This metric will give you insights into the quality of your subject lines, if you’re sending too many emails, or if your content is appropriate for your subscribers.

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%. This metric informs you how well your content is engaging your audience, and if you’re delivering compelling content, imagery, and messaging.

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 that came from an email, or the amount of seats reserved for an event.

This is an important metric to watch, showing you how many constituents are committing their support to your organization because of email. If this number is lower than your click-through numbers, that means you might have a problem with the expectation you’re setting in your email, or the messaging you have on the following landing page.

Unsubscribe rate

The unsubscribe rate measures how many subscribers left your email list. Most nonprofits have a low unsubscribe rate. If your rate is below 2%, you’re in good shape. If not, you may want to reconsider how many emails you’re sending, or if your email content isn’t relevant and interesting to your audience.

Donation tracking

One of the best ways to see the value of email is to track its engagement through to donations. This is technically your return on investment. If you can track how many people from your list have converted into financial donors in your CRM or donor database, then you can discover whether your email campaigns are productive, and even if you should put more resources behind your emails.

Reporting your return on investment can be really tricky without the right tools. Campaign Monitor can actually send engagement data to Salesforce or Raiser’s Edge, syncing that subscriber data to your database. This makes it really easy to get a bigger picture of how your donor engagement is performing.

Chapter 8

How to pick the right email partner

Choosing the right email tool can be overwhelming. As a nonprofit, you’re always keeping your donors’ gifts in mind when choosing how to spend money. You certainly don’t want to invest a lot of money in an email tool that doesn’t work the way you’d hoped.

The following two guidelines will point in the direction of a tool worthy of your donors’ money.

Choose a company that supports you and your mission.

As with any software tool, it’s important to find a company that values your success. One way they can show how much they value success is by employing people—yes, humans—to support you and your team as you use their product.

Assess your potential email service provider through the lens of support. Are there people you can either email or call about your problems? Are there others providing ongoing training or guidance to ensure you’re on the right track? How a company treats you will make a huge impact on the email tool’s usability.

In addition to support, are there valuable services provided by this email service provider? Nonprofits are typically always short handed with a long list of things to do. Find out if an email service provider offers services that can pitch in when you need that extra person to help.

Choose a tool that makes it easy to do great work.

At the end of the day, you don’t have time to figure out a complicated email provider. And you definitely don’t have time to go through hundreds of hours of onboarding with your email service provider’s support team. You need a tool that’s accessible and easy to use.

It’s critical to choose an email provider that makes it easier to get your job done. If it’s not easy, you’re probably not going to use the tool as much as one that you love to use. And making the most out of your email marketing tool will not only make the most out of your donors’ resources, but take your donor engagement even further.

Chapter 9

Wrap up

Email can help your nonprofit drive more donations and reach your goals. Providing the right messages with compelling design will help you develop your donor base, and growing your list and gathering the right information will expand your reach. By implementing these steps and monitoring your email performance, you’ll ultimately drive more donations and make a bigger impact.

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