Writing the Best Fundraising Emails

Posted by Kelly Yaker on November 8, 2018

 Person hand taking chalk drawn email sign

During the busy end-of-year giving season, your potential donors’ mailboxes are getting inundated with fundraising emails. How do you stand out without feeling like you’re selling out? As long as you stick with a donor-centric strategy, writing the best fundraising emails will be simpler than you think.


Email Setup

The sender, subject, and preview text are almost as important as the body of the email. The small snippet of text that your constituents see in their inbox will determine whether they open the email or immediately delete it.

Focus on this first.

The sender’s name will be bolded in the recipient’s inbox. Your choice depends on who you want the email to come from. Who is well-known among donors in your organization? Well-recognized names may be more likely to get a click. Are many of your emails already sent from one specific person? Switch it up this time and use someone else’s name. This is also something that can be A/B tested. Does a certain name get more clicks than another? Divide your mailing list and find out.

The next thing your email recipient will see is the subject line. This is where you can directly address your mission and the problem you are trying to solve. Here are some examples:

  • How are you helping {your organization’s cause} this year?
    • How are you helping Newport animals find forever homes this year?
  • Urgent: {group your organization serves} need your help!
    • Urgent: Boone County veterans need your help!
  • Help {your organization name} {your organization’s cause} even more this year
    • Help St. Jude care for even more children this year
  • Still looking for a way to help {group your organization serves} this year?
    • Still looking for a way to help Denver’s homeless this year?
  • {Your organization name} can help you feel good this holiday season.
    • Toys for Tots can help you feel good this holiday season.
  • Tired of the negative news cycle? Do something good for {group your organization serves} for the holidays.
    • Tired of the negative news cycle? Do something good for Palo Alto seniors for the holidays.

These are just some of the many effective subject lines you can choose from. I suggest perusing even more lists of fundraising subject lines to find the one that works best for your nonprofit. A/B testing can also be applied to subject lines to increase their effectiveness.

Lastly, make sure your preview text compels readers to learn more. The preview text is the short sentence or two that shows up right under the subject line. This can be similar to the first sentence of the body of your email or a quick summary of the whole email.

Resist the urge to ask for money in the preview text, as people may be less likely to open the email.

The Main Event

Congratulations! Your potential donor liked the sender, subject, and preview text and they opened your fundraising email. Now what?

When writing the best fundraising emails, it’s key to keep the body of the email about the donor and their impact. This is not the time to regale your constituents with stories of your organization’s history. This is the time to reveal to your constituents exactly how their contribution can help the cause you are serving.

To start, choose a relevant and powerful image to headline the email. Make sure it shows the group your organization serves, not your staff or volunteers. Remember, this email is all about the potential donor and the impact they can have, not your organization. A good example is an animal shelter. Volunteers at these shelters are fantastic, but when they are trying to get someone to donate, the shelters show pictures of the animals.

Next, dust off your storytelling skills and write a story of impact that packs an emotional punch. Focus on one person or instance, and don’t write a novel. These kinds of emails usually just get skimmed, so limiting yourself to 2-3 paragraphs is a good goal.

After your story, tell your constituents about the difference their donation will make for your nonprofit. This could mean listing what different levels of gifts can provide, or it can mean simply illustrating how donations further your mission.  If someone gives $20, for example, what specific thing will that enable your nonprofit to accomplish? Knowing the effect of their donation is what convinces many donors to give.

The Finale

The last step of writing the best fundraising emails is to zero in on the perfect call-to-action. A call-to-action (CTA) allows you to directly address your constituents and give an honest ask. It can take the form of a button, a text link, or a clickable image. It can be something simple, like “Donate Now,” or something more specific, like “Donate $50 to Someone in Need.”

The important thing is that you have more than one CTA in your email, but focused on the same link. Put one near the top, in or above your header image. Stick one at the bottom of the email, right before you sign off. Finally, find a natural place to insert a small CTA, like a simple text link, into the body of your email. This will give your constituents plenty of opportunities to click a donation link while they are reading the email.

Writing the best fundraising emails is really about being genuinely donor-centric and true to your nonprofit’s mission. If you follow these steps, A/B test frequently, and let your passion for your cause shine through, your fundraising emails will be set up for success.

Topics: Email Marketing, Online Donation

Written by Kelly Yaker

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