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5 Fundraising Email Best Practices

8 min read
June 29, 2023
Neon One Staff
Email fundraising best practices centered around personalization can help you grab your donors attention when your message reaches their inbox. In this image, a woman sits in front of an open laptop, reviewing her email inbox.

Fundraising is almost certainly a critical part of your organization’s communications strategy, so you’re probably familiar with most of the tried-and-true fundraising email best practices. Most leaders know that they should be personalizing their messages to encourage giving, for example—but actually doing it is a different matter. 

With few resources and a lot of donors to manage, it can be very hard to give each contact the personalized attention needed to keep them engaged. But there are some things that you can do with the donor information you have to make your campaigns more engaging. These five fundraising email best practices will help you create connections with your constituents that inspire giving.

5 Fundraising Email Best Practices 

Most donors expect personalized communications from your organization. They’re emotionally invested in your cause and they’ve given you their financial support—reciprocate their effort! While you can’t write every single email individually, there are some things that you can do to make them a little bit more engaging. 

Keep reading to learn how.

1. Segment Your Donors and Adapt Your Messages

Donor segmentation should be a standard part of  all personalized email campaigns. When you segment your donors based on criteria like their interests, giving history, contribution amounts, and other personal details, you can also adapt your emails to speak just to them.

We can use giving history as a good example of how to do this. You’ll have some donors who may have given $25 to your last campaign; others may have given $50 or $100. You could create three segments—one for $25 and under, another for $25 to $50, and another for $50 to $100.

Then, you could adapt your email based on those segments. So your donor email for your $25 givers might suggest donations of $15, $25, and $35. Your email for the next segment would suggest donations of $25, $40, and $50. Your final segment would receive donation recommendations of $50, $75, and $100. Each email has a suggested giving amount that falls in line with that specific donor’s history.

2. Keep Subject Lines Positive 

If you’re suffering from low email open rates, the culprit might be your email subject lines. Your subject line is the first thing your readers will see when you send them a message, and it will have a huge impact on their willingness to open and engage with your message. Based on our research into 37,472 nonprofit email fundraising campaigns, we discovered that words associated with positive emotions typically lead to higher open rates. Here are the five most engaging emotions and the open rates they inspired.

40% open rate39% open rate39% open rate37% open rate37% open rate

By using words that are associated with positive emotions, you can boost your email fundraising engagement rates. To learn more about our insights into fundraising, check out The Nonprofit Email Report: Data-Backed Insights for Better Engagement.

3. Connect the Donor to the Mission 

The power of the word “you” in a fundraising email should not be underestimated. When you refer to your donor by name and speak directly to them, you create a connection even when they know that the email is mass-produced. It triggers a feeling of responsibility and involvement with your organization that makes them more likely to give.

“You” is also just more conversational and less generic sounding than a third-person narrative. This can help to increase the engagement and response rate as it conveys the importance of their individual contribution to the organization.

You can improve on this by including donor-specific information in your email. For example, you might reference their prior contributions—even including a specific dollar amount—and connect that to how your organization was able to achieve its goals. That draws a direct parallel between that contribution and the donor’s impact on your organization and the people you serve.

4. Make the Most Important CTAs Visible With Buttons 

While you want your message to be clear and easy to read, you also want to strike the right balance with the number of calls to action (CTAs) and links that you use in your email. While you should limit yourself to a single call to action in a fundraising email (hint: You should ask people to donate), you can be much more liberal with the number of links to the page you want people to visit. Based on our research, using six button and form links in an email resulted in a 10.09 increase in click-through rates. Meanwhile, those who used only one or two links saw about a 7-point reduction in clicks. So, if you want someone to donate, include multiple links to your donation form.

# of linksEffect on CTR
1-7.83% impact
2– 7.21% impact
3+ 1.56% impact
4– 1.6% impact
5+ 5.81% impact
6+ 10.09% impact
8+ 1.7% impact
11+ 2.4% impact

Nonprofits may shy away from using a lot of donation form links because they’re afraid of distracting or confusing their donors. By using buttons for some of those CTAs, you can draw attention to the highest-priority areas of your form. A brightly colored “donate now” button is likely going to draw more attention than a call to action that uses a hyperlink within the text. You can still include the hyperlink, of course, but you should reiterate that with an attention-grabbing button somewhere in your email.

5. Continuously Improve with Testing

Email testing is a method of sending  different versions of messages to different groups of recipients and monitoring which changes make a difference. Then, when you have data from different messages, you can compare the two and see which are more successful. You may experiment with sending a fundraising email that includes a hero image to half of your one-time donors and an email that doesn’t contain an image to the other half. Then, you can compare which email inspired the most engagement. If you notice that the email with the hero image raised more than the one that didn’t, you can prioritize including high-impact graphics in future appeals.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Set a goal: Engagement is an abstract goal that’s hard to define. You need a specific benchmark for success, so you know which message outperforms. Examples might include a high click-through rate for a specific link, increased open rates, increased donations, or conversion rates. Pick a single benchmark by which both campaigns will be evaluated.
  2. Create two messages: You create two versions of the email that you wish to send. It’s important that you only change one element! If your emails contain different images, calls to action, and messaging, you won’t be able to tell which change impacted your overall performance.
  3. Randomize and send: Unless you’re testing for a specific donor segment, you’ll likely want to randomly assign the different versions to different groups of donors. This will ensure that you’re not skewing your data by sending one email to a group of frequent donors and another to a group of lapsed constituents.
  4. Analyze your results: Once you’ve sent the emails, you can start to track the data related to their performance in your CRM. You can measure them against the specific goal you set and can compare other metrics like click-through, open, and conversion rates.
  5. Select your winner: With your metrics in hand, you can now evaluate the email that had the best impact on your engagement, identify the element that made a positive difference, and use that knowledge to inform future campaigns.
  6. Repeat: Testing should be conducted regularly so you’re always improving upon your fundraising email campaigns. Constituents change, and messages that resonated with them in the past may not anymore. By regularly testing things like content, formatting, and other elements, you can be sure your emails are always written to speak to your supporters’ preferences.

Regular testing can help you develop your own internal email fundraising best practices so you can best connect with your constituents. Of course, your ability to run these tests will depend on the CRM you choose. Without one, this kind of testing and evaluating can be very challenging. With one, it’s surprisingly easy. 

Improve Email Fundraising with Neon CRM

By using fundraising email best practices like donor segmentation, positive subject lines, donor-focused messaging, visible button CTAs, and email testing, you can personalize your messaging and create better connections with your donors. Most nonprofit leaders wouldn’t be able to write a personal message for every single donor they work with—but a few simple tweaks can give a more personalized appearance without all the legwork. A CRM can help you manage all of this while giving you insight into how your changes affect donations.

Neon CRM is a valuable tool for implementing fundraising email best practices because it makes the entire process transparent while allowing you to easily segment and adapt your donor messaging. To learn more, contact us for a demo.

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