The Five Key Elements of an Effective Fundraising Email

As part of our Online Fundraising Fundamentals series we’ll be spending some time diving into the art of crafting effective online donation communications. On Wednesday of last week, we covered the importance of guiding your constituents to craft an effective story that will help them drive more donations across their network using a Peer to Peer fundraising program. Today, we’re going to cover five essential elements of an engaging online fundraising email.

Want to learn how to unlock the power of storytelling to drive donor growth? Sign up for our free educational webinar today.

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, email is far from dead. In fact a study by Dunham and Company showed that while only 6% of donors were willing to donate through email in 2012, that number rose to 28% in 2018. It’s important that online fundraising programs include an effective email program. If you make sure these five essential rules are followed in your online fundraising communication you’ll be on your way to building an effective online fundraising program.

Subject Line

Your subject line is one of the most important pieces of your donation email. Think of it like the outfit you’d wear to a job interview. The wrong outfit can disqualify you, while the right outfit can dress you up and make you look just a bit more interesting. In order to craft an effective one there are some important things to consider. Is your subject line engaging or is it simply informative? I know I’m a lot more likely to open an email with the subject line: “For me, this fight is personal” then I am to open an email with the subject line “Donate Now”, and frankly the same is true for most supporters. And keep it relatively short. According to Marketo, the best converting subject line is generally around 41 characters or 7 words long.

Set the Expectation and Meet It

You want to make sure your subject line carries through in the body of your email. If your subject line is “I hugged a unicorn” and I open up your email to a donation ask with no mention of a unicorn or how you got to hug one, I’d be very disappointed. Keep that in mind when you’re crafting your fundraising email. If your subject line is “For me, this fight is personal” I’d expect to see an email that shares with me the story of why you’re involved in the nonprofit and maybe some steps I could take to help you in your fight – whatever that might be. Just make sure you’re setting expectations and meeting them.

What’s Your Sentence?

There’s a famous quote that says: “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”. The same can be said for online fundraising. If you can’t explain in one sentence or less why people should donate, you probably won’t see a lot of donations come flowing in.

Now, that could be something as simple as:

“If you donate $25 today, then we can feed 10 puppies, because puppies deserve to be fed.”

It can also be as complex as:

“Every day in America thousands of children go hungry. If you contribute $100 today then we’ll be able to feed 30 of them for a week, because no child deserves to go hungry.

A really simple way of looking at this is to very simply explain the problem you are trying to solve and clarify for the donor why their gift will make a difference.

Include Images

Humans are visual first and verbal second. Literally. Scientists call this the pictorial superiority effect. The area of the brain that governs sight and how it’s processed is the largest area of the human brain. Make sure that you are including images in your donation email. Just like your subject line you want to make sure the image you use in your donation email matches the topic you’ve set up in your subject line and the body of your email.

Include a Link to Donate

If you’re sending people an email asking them to donate, you don’t want to forget to include a link to your donation page. Don’t expect your supporters to just get on your website to donate. Adding a link is a simple way of making sure your supporters know where and how to donate online.

Ensuring that your online fundraising emails include these five key elements, will go a long way to ensuring that the amazing work you are doing to write them and build your email list will result in higher donation rates online for your organization

New call-to-action



Topics: Nonprofit Marketing, Email Marketing, Online Donation, Fundraising Basics

Written by Rory Michaels

Rory Michaels is the Digital Marketing Manager for Arreva. He's spent his career helping non-profits and brands find and tell their story.