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Updated April 2019

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

The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Nonprofits

While email marketing is often viewed as a tool for businesses looking to pad their bottom lines, it can also be useful for those organizations where profit isn’t the goal. Nonprofit email marketing can mean getting people involved and spreading the word about your important objectives, and it can mean the difference in accomplishing those objectives or missing your mark.

Chapter 1

Why email marketing is critical for nonprofits

Email can help you stay on top of your workload and connect with your benefactors. Read on to 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 compiled a list of five winning strategies to grow your donor base, spread your cause, and drive more donations.

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 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 US said personally relevant content from brands increases their purchase intent.

If you personalize your content to supporters, they’re far 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 who 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 will be looking for your email list signup form, so be sure to make it easy to find.

There are certain locations that are best for placing your signup form: your website’s footer, pages with the most traffic, an “About Us” page, Facebook, Twitter, and plenty more.

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 use tools like the Enlist app to create beautiful signup forms 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. (Make sure whatever list-building campaign you run is GDPR compliant. Find out more about that 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, list quality is what really matters.
  • Keep your signup forms short. When collecting email addresses through signup forms, make sure it’s a simple process. If a supporter has to fill out several 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 talking about your cause. You want to communicate the importance of your mission as well as how your donors and supporters are affected by the work you’re doing.

Personalize your messages.

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

Personal messaging should 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.

Here are some examples of campaigns your nonprofit could send.

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.


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 who have shown interest in this type of campaign before.

Thank you emails

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. Studies show that automated email series save hours every week, as well as boost reply and engagement rates 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 engagement.

Thank you emails are another great automation opportunity. Based on your database integration, setting up workflows to send personalized thank you emails, retention emails, or follow-up emails is easy. 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 identify some of the ways you want to communicate with specific segments of your donor base, it’s simple 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 design 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 email templates that take care of that for you.

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. The following are some big ones you should be tracking (and why).

Open rates

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 monitor, as it shows you how many constituents are committing their support to your organization because of your email. If this number is lower than your click-through numbers, 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. 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 into your emails.

Reporting your return on investment can be really tricky without the right tools. Tools like Campaign Monitor can actually send engagement data to Salesforce or Raiser’s Edge, syncing that subscriber data to your database. This makes it 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 that they can show how much they value your success is by employing people 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 tend to be 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. Making the most out of your email marketing tool will make the most out of your donors’ resources and take your donor engagement even further.

Chapter 9

Why email marketing is critical for nonprofits

Email marketing is an essential function for nonprofits. These organizations have a big incentive to spread the word. They announce events, ask for participation, and maintain relationships in order to succeed.

Email marketing tools give nonprofits the ability to speed up their email activities, including segmenting their list and sending out newsletters about their organization’s activities.

Using email marketing tools and the right strategies for crafting great email content, nonprofits can reach their clients more effectively and ensure they are making the most out of their email options.

Chapter 10

The best nonprofit email examples

Nonprofit email marketing is not just a supplementary tool, but a primary source of communication and promotion, so it should come as no surprise that many companies have utilized email for their nonprofit organization.

Consider the following examples to help give you an idea of exactly how email marketing can be used by nonprofits.

email marketing for nonprofits examples

Source: Charity Water

This email is a great example of how to tell a story, and, for nonprofits, this is one of the best ways to incentivize readers to follow your call to action. The end of this post is clear, and there’s an added chance it will be followed, since the impact of donations is spelled out in a step-by-step manner above.

This email is a great example of how to tell a story, and, for nonprofits, this is one of the best ways to incentivize readers to follow your call to action.

Source: Dare 2 Share

This email is a great example of how to follow up. This nonprofit provides a detailed schedule for their event in a downloadable format, making it easy for readers to save the information so they don’t forget it. They even include two important reminders at the bottom, along with contact information.

his nonprofit provides a detailed schedule for their event in a downloadable format, making it easy for readers to save the information so they don’t forget it.

Source: St. Jude

This newsletter, from one of the most popular nonprofits in the world, shows how to follow up with a repeat call to action. Rather than just asking for another donation, they display how far last year’s donations went, letting users know their participation is impactful.

Chapter 11

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. Remember:

  • Nonprofit email marketing should be creative but focused
  • If you’re unsure, follow the formats of popular nonprofits
  • Both initial contacts and follow-ups are critical for nonprofits

By implementing these steps and monitoring your email performance, you’ll ultimately drive more donations and make a bigger impact.

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