Helping Nonprofits Raise More Money & Do More Good

Email for the Win! Six Tips for Getting Email Communication Right With Your Donors

Posted: September 26, 2016 |

What’s not to love about email communication! It reaches your intended recipient within seconds; you are able to personalize it and include images; you can make it as long or as short as you want and direct people to the next step you want them to take; and it costs almost nothing to send.

The issue usually occurs after all of your hard work crafting the perfect email because it gets dumped into a person’s inbox with hundreds of other unread messages, giving it a low shot of ever being looked at. Whomp… whomp.

The volume of email most people receive is a bummer, and spam is still a serious issue, which makes your organization’s messages hard to stand out. But let’s look at some of the things you can do to improve the success rate of your emails.

1. Be relevant

Relevance is the key to sending great emails. Strike a balance between what you want to say and what your constituents are interested in. And guess what—they are not interested in your organization; rather, they are interested in the impact your organization is making. Avoid organization-centric language or information about your new building or staff outing. Instead, focus on lives that are changed, stories of impact that donors made possible, and additional ways people can get involved with the cause.

If a person just signed up for your emails, acknowledge it. If a person is a long-time supporter of the organization, use language that reflects that relationship. Segment your email file based on key behaviors such as new sign-up, signed up but hasn’t made a gift, donor, monthly donor, volunteer, and so on. It is important to realize the relationship supporters have with your organization and to reflect that in what you send and the language you use.

This is one of my favorite examples of a relevant email. It is sent by Air New Zealand two days before a person boards a flight.

The gal pictured is the head flight services manager for the flight this traveler will be on. When you board the plane, Helen will be there to greet you in person. In this email, Air New Zealand provides a review of the flight itinerary, things to remember when packing, a 5-day forecast of the weather, and a destination tip. How much would you enjoy receiving this email if you were about to take this trip? The same could be true of your organization’s emails if you focus on relevance to the end user before you send out any communication.

2. Send at the right time

There is plenty of data on when to send an email, and most email service providers will even provide a feature suggesting when might be the optimal time to send an email to a particular person. Those are all great pieces of information, but if you are a fundraiser, a better thing to know is, “When are people likely to donate?”

Network for Good analyzed the volume of donations they received on their platform and found that the majority of online giving occurs during the week, during the workday. So if you are sending out an email appeal, target that window.

You can see more giving stats from Network for Good.

3. Design for mobile

More than 60% of all emails are read first on a mobile device, and according to a Dunham+Company study, 18% of donors said they have used a mobile device to give to a charity. So it’s critical to make sure that your emails are easily read on a person’s phone. Available for free are several responsive (adjusts the size based on the screen of the device) email templates that you can use without having to know any HTML code. I like to use Litmus templates because they are always on top of changes when it comes to sending and receiving emails.

In addition to using a responsive email template, make sure that your email is designed with a single column eye path, so the user just has to read straight down the screen. In addition, if you are asking them to take an action, give a donation, sign a petition, or watch a video, make sure they will be able to do it on their phone.

4. Get the details right

The little things in email all add up. So it is important that you consider the details as you create your communication.

Send from a person – If you are going to have the email be from a specific person, make sure the sender’s name is in the From line. People respond to people, not faceless organizations. If that person is not well-known by your audience, then add the organization after the name so the reader has some association with why they are getting this email.

Write the subject line to arrest attention – An email inbox is a crowded place; to stand out you need to be different. You can do that by using a personal salutation and addressing your donors by name, building upon a problem your donors know about, or creating interest by teasing a topic. The goal of the subject line is to create a desire in people to find out more. Use A/B testing to try out different approaches to see what works best for your audience.Think about your pre-header – The pre-header for your email is the first 104 characters of text that show up in an email client’s preview window. This text can act as a secondary subject line, giving your readers another reason to open the email and read on. Or it can say “Unsubscribe” or “To view in browser click here.” Not a great use of that critical space, so make sure that you account for what is going to show up in that spot and use it to your advantage.

I like this subject line from Habitat, but the pre-header fails to build upon that interest.

In comparison, in this email’s pre-header you get more context as to why they are asking the reader to send a note to their field staff.

5. Have a compelling call to action

The entire job of an email is to get a click. So make sure that your call to action states what you want a person to do, forecasting for them what happens next if they press the link. Avoid lazy language such as “Submit” or “Click here”; rather, tie the call to action to the desired outcome such as, “Provide a meal and a Bible” or “$50 will reach 5 kids.”

Here, Smile Train has used a compelling image call to action highlighting the impact a donor can have with a reminder of the deadline.

This call to action provides for two scenarios; for the person ready to book a spot in this event and for the person who still needs to learn more, clicking this link is the right next step.

6. Emphasize clarity over creativity in copy

If you have ever stared at a blank screen trying to craft a message to your donors, you know how hard it can be. Instead of trying to be creative or cute with the copy, just answer these two questions for your readers: “Why did I get this email?” and “What do you want me to do about it?” Your copy needs to answer those two questions right away. If it doesn’t, go back and rewrite it.

The elements of your email need to build upon each other. The subject line should connect to the headline; the headline connects to the first two inches of copy; the body copy builds on the topic and leads to the call to action; the call to action asks for the right amount of commitment based on what you have told them and points your reader to the right next step.

Wrap Up

There you have it: six ideas to help you improve email communications with your donors. Of course, the best way to know how much of a difference each of these steps will make for your organization is to test. If you’re not sure about getting started with testing, check out these other posts: Three Long-Term Tests to Refine Email Marketing Performance and Getting Started with A/B Testing. If you try any of these tests, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter; I’d love to hear about your experience.

Brad Davies is the CEO of Brushfire Interactive – a software consultancy based out of Phoenix, AZ. He has sat on both sides of the conference table as the Executive Director at a nonprofit and the VP of Digital Services at the fundraising firm Dunham+Company. He most recently served as a VP at NextAfter, a fundraising think tank, and consultancy.

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