MobilePhone_Image.jpgFundraising online is quickly becoming a key component for any non-profit’s fundraising strategy. It is inexpensive and you can see your results right away. And the ROI is quite impressive, somewhere in the $40 to $1 range. Thanks to A/B testing, open and click through rates, real-time donations reporting, email fundraising is an essential online fundraising tool.

But you cannot compose a fundraising email the same way you would a personal email. Online fundraising, like all fundraising, is more science than art. And over the last decade or so, numerous studies have shown what works and what does not.

We know story is important, as well as stating clearly what the campaign is and whom it helps. These are essential. Here are a five more elements that will make your fundraising email the best it can be:


  1. Personalization: In one sense, a fundraising letter should be seen as just that – a letter. And letters are written correspondences between two people. If your donor receives a letter and notices their proper name in the Salutation, a sense of intimacy is instantly created. They get the sense that the writer is addressing them personally. On the other hand, if there is a generic Salutation, the donor becomes a little more defensive – Does this group know who I am? Are they randomly contacting me? Can I trust them? As they said very succinctly over at The Classy Blog:

“Show them that you know them.”

So let your donors know that you are speaking to them personally. Use their preferred Salutation, insert past or appropriate giving amounts (like their largest previous gift), and other appropriate but personalized information.

Make a real effort to find the preferred way each of your donors likes to be addressed. If you are not sure here are the four ways we address our donors, in the order for preference.

      • Salutation Provided by Subscriber

      • Prefix + Last Name

      • First Name

      • Generic Salutation like “Friend”


  1. Use pictures that reach the donor on an emotional level: A lot of copywriters spend hour after hour agonizing over the content of their email. But for many, the picture they include in their email is merely an afterthought, sort of tacked on after the email is complete. But your pictures should be an essential part of your email. Think of your email campaign as a visual product, and spend time selecting the best possible images.

Generally, we include a picture with a width of about 200 pixels, however if you’d like to use a larger one, keep it under 600. We suggest an individual who is looking directly at the camera. This helps the reader identify the cause with a real person. Remember, people give to people.


  1. Don’t forget the P.S., Mike Lawrence has been working in non-profit fundraising for over 40 years. Recently, I interviewed him about fundraising for non-profits. One of the first things he mentioned when I asked him about key elements of a direct mail letter was the postscript or P.S.

One thing we know that people will always read is the P.S. It should not be an afterthought. The function of the PS is to summarize or capsulize what you now want the reader of this letter to do.”

He was speaking about direct mail in this case, but in our studies we have found that the P.S. generally accounts for about 5-10% of the total clicks on our fundraising emails.

In your P.S. summarize what the email is about, what exactly you want the reader to do, and tell them exactly how to do it – “click here to donate now!”


  1. CTA (Call-to-Action) – For some reason, people seem less patient when reading an email. They tend to get in and get out. Very few people like to read long emails. And they want to know clearly what the point of the email is, so tell them. Study after study shows that shorter emails generally perform better than longer emails, although there is no perfect length. Regardless, keep you emails to the point and tell the reader exactly what you want them to do, why, and how. Make it as easy for them as possible. For example, “click here to help”


  1. Test, test, and test some more: A/B testing is an essential element of an email fundraising campaign. A/B testing allows you to find out very quickly which elements work and which do not. This allows you to build an appealing template, upon which you can test new elements. Generally, we follow a simple program:

We test the Subject line in nearly every email, even if it just a small sample, then we test some design element in the email or different copy. Perhaps, we’ll test the length of the email, then in the next email we’ll use that data and test a picture, or CTA button, or a landing page. We then start to incorporate our new data in the next campaign, or even the next email within the same campaign.

Things can change fast in the online world and this strategy allows us to stay ahead of these changes. You want to test all year so that by the time you reach then end of the year, with Giving Tuesday and Year-end emails, you have solid data upon which to base your template for email, landing pages, and donation pages.

So there you have it – 5 key elements to email fundraising. Try applying these tips to your next email and email campaign. Over the course of a year, you will see your results improve.


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