11 Tips For More Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing

Andrew Desmond
February 11, 2015

While email marketing isn't a new trend, it certainly should be a staple of your constituent communication. Why? It's fast, easy, inexpensive.

Email has the highest rate of return on investment for any marketing channel - that’s $40 for every $1 spent (yay!) While it’s important to understand the risk, it’s even more important to work toward reaping the benefits of sending quality emails that deliver positive results.

Here’s a handy infographic that helps you put all these risks and rewards of email marketing into perspective (and keep them there):



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Here are 11 tips for more effective email outreach!

Email Marketing Nonprofits

There are many ways you can communicate with your constituents. Of course, there are increasingly less-effective methods such as direct mail, phone calls, and in-person fundraising events such as auctions or walkathons.

All are important interactions but also a bit time consuming for you and your already busy staff. 

Savvy email marketers/fundraisers know that email, coupled with other communication modes like direct mail, social media, and personal interactions, is an essential piece to building direct relationships and strengthening your brand and mission.

However, I'm sure if you're reading this, you may be thinking, “but who has the time?” We get it. At Salsa, we work with hundreds of organizations who have a limited staff and a tight budget. You're feeling stretched at both ends.

To help simplify your email communication and optimize your outreach for the greatest success, here's a list of tips and tricks:

  1. Keep It Simple (and Short)
  2. Be Engaging
  3. Provide Incentive
  4. Allow Easy Sign-Ups
  5. Time It Right
  6. Craft Your Subject Line
  7. Include a Donate Button
  8. Test and Re-Test
  9. Send Regularly
  10. Encourage Sharing
  11. Thank Your Supporters

Compiled from Salsa's long experience in nonprofit email marketing and analyzing the work of over 3,000 clients across the globe, these tips are sure to help you succeed!

1. Keep It Simple (and Short)

Imagine yourself as the recipient. During your workday — or whenever you most often check email — how long is too long until you think, “oh forget it, I'll come back to this email later” but never do? If your emails are streamlined, concise, and to the point, your constituents will thank you.

In addition to keeping your copy short and simple, another way to make your newsletter more inviting is to break up the text into short paragraphs.

With the help of heading text and bullet points, you can make your email newsletters more scannable, allowing people to find the information they're interested in reading. 

Main point: Your email newsletter can't be effective if no one wants to read it. Make your copy short and break up the text into easy-to-digest paragraphs. 

2. Be Engaging

Think first: why are you sending this email? Keep this reason in mind throughout your whole crafting process. 

Is the goal to watch a video? Then make it front and center. Hoping that they'll forward it to a friend? Include a big button call-to-action so they can't miss it.

When your content is engaging, readers are more likely to respond, share your content, and take the necessary actions to complete your newsletter's main objective.

Let's say your church is looking to capture your congregants' interest. In your newsletter, you could include: 

  • Information about upcoming events. 
  • Quotes from scripture and mini-lessons on the Bible.
  • Spotlight guest speakers or influential members of your congregation. 

Provide plenty of opportunities for your readers to respond, engage, and act on each individual email.

The more engagement opportunities within an email, the longer they'll stay on your message and the more they'll absorb.

Main point: Keep your readers engaged by including multiple opportunities for them to interact with your organization. 

3. Provide Incentive

Why should someone sign up for your email list? It's vital that you emphasis to readers why your newsletter is important and what benefits they'll receive.

Additionally, let donors know what they can expect when they sign-up for your emails. Make sure to address:

  • How often you'll send emails (i.e: monthly, weekly, quarterly)
  • What kind of information will be included (i.e: fundraising events, behind the scenes look, supporter/team member spotlights)

When you're transparent about what's included in your newsletter, you'll attract more donors that are truly interested in receiving your content. 

Main point: Let donors know what they should expect from your newsletter. This will not only peak their interest but also provide some incentive to sign up for your emails. 

4. Allow Easy Sign-Ups

For most organizations, growing your email list is extremely valuable. Design your website, landing page, and social media sites to cater to those interested in signing up for your e-newsletter or email updates.

When signing up for a newsletter, your donors shouldn't have to fill out a lot of information; their name and email address is all you need to start sending them your newsletter. 

Plus, the less time it takes to complete your sign-up, the more likely donors are going to complete the process. 

Main point: Make signing up for your email list quick and simple. A complicated sign-up process can cause readers to leave the process before it's complete. 

5. Time It Right

Timing is essential. Depending on what type of email you're sending, there are certain months, days of the week, and times when those emails will get the most reads. 

However open rate shouldn't be your only concern when it comes to emails, especially when your sending fundraising appeals. 

It's crucial for donors to not only open your email but also make a contribution to your cause. That's why, sending out emails during specific times of the year, lead to the most responses. 

For instance, giving is at its peak during the holiday season and right before the New Year. Sending out your last email appeals during the end of the year allows you to maximize your team's efforts. Double the Donation's guide on year-end appeals offers more strategies to make your last fundraising appeals count!

The time and day of the week also play a role. Plenty of studies and best practices have been published regarding the best times to send emails. Within our client base, we've seen organizations like humane societies have a lot of success with weekend distribution. While others prefer the workday or late at night. 

In general, we recommend Tuesday-Thursday and weekends. Research shows that emails with the highest open rate are sent between 6am-noon and 6pm-midnight.

To figure out the best time for your nonprofit, test it! Segment your list and send your emails at various times of day and see what generates the highest open rate.

Main point: When you send your newsletter is just as important as what you put in it. Experiment with several different times to find the one that leads to the highest open rate. 

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6. Craft Your Subject Line

Along with the timing, your subject line may be the most important factor leading to a high open rate. Consider both the wording and length. It's recommended to have a max subject line of 50 characters.

Further, a subject line that clearly tells what's inside an email sets a reader's expectation and tends to garner higher open rates. Here's a useful infographic about how to craft an effective subject line.

Subject lines that grab your donors' attention should also make them interested in learning more. For instance, you could make your subject line a question or address the recipient. These tricks can peak your donors' interest and get them to open (and read!) your emails. 

Main point: Create a subject line that's engaging and leaves readers curious for more information. 


7. Include a Donate Button

I mentioned earlier how important it is to have your end goal in mind as you craft your emails; it's also important to give donors clear instructions on what their next steps are. 

Therefore, all your emails should lead readers toward making a contribution. By having a donation call-to-action directly in your emails, donors can simply click the button and be taken to your donation form. 

Work with a donation form provider that allows donors to verify their gift via email. That way, donors can give seamlessly. 

Here's how it works: donors will click on the donate button in your email and be directed to a pre-written email with their desired donation amount. All they have to do is send the email to confirm their donation. 

With just two steps in the process, supporters are more likely to contribute to your cause.

Main point: Your newsletter isn't just a great place to encourage more engagement. Use your emails to lead supporters to your nonprofit's donation forms. 

8. Test and Re-Test

I've already mentioned testing a few times throughout this post. Testing is easily the most efficient way to optimize your emails. Here are some good opportunities: 

  • Segment your list into 2 or more groups then vary the send times for each. Practice to see what time generates the most opens from your subscribers.
  • Try different words, lengths, and punctuation in your subject line to see if something really peaks your readers' interest.
  • Test social sharing widgets. Are your subscribers sharing your content? If so, is your email list growing as a result?

By testing out different variations of your emails, you'll be able to find that sweet combination that leads to higher open rates, reader engagement, and donations!

Main point: Testing different subject lines, content, and send times gives you enough data to see what combinations work the best. 

9. Send Regularly

If you're going to send monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly, stick to it. If not, they will begin to lose interest and those emails will land in trash folders.

Consistent communication will ensure that you maintain your network's attention. Keep your emails regular, light, informational, and interesting.

Then, when it's time for the year-end appeal or gala registration, your readers will be willing to help out.

Main point: A successful e-newsletter should maintain a consistent schedule so that readers know when to expect your content. 

10. Encourage Sharing

There are so many other opportunities for your email — get the most out of each one!

By encouraging readers to share your newsletter, you can spread the word about your cause, gain new subscribers, and find new supporters.

Use the following tips to help make sharing your newsletter simple:

  • Include all of your social media links and easy share buttons so readers can post your content to their newsfeeds.
  • Ask readers to forward your newsletter to friends and family members.
  • Offer incentives to those that get peers to sign-up for your newsletter. 

Main Point: When donors share your emails, your organization has the potential to raise more awareness and money for your cause. 

11. Thank Your Supporters

Your subscribers are pretty likely to also be your current or future donors, volunteers, advocates, and supporters. Be sure to thank them regularly for subscribing and reading your news.

You can thank your supporters by:

  • Sending a thank-you email during the holidays to all your donors, volunteers, and email list subscribers. 
  • Highlight supporters in your newsletters.
  • Create content that shows your appreciation (i.e: videos of your team thanking supporters).

Showing your appreciation is a great way to show donors that you care about their support. If all your emails ask for donations, your donors are sure to stop reading them, but by adding thank-you emails and other content into the mix, your donors will appreciate that you aren't always asking for money.

Main Point: Show donors and readers that you appreciate their support by thanking them as much as possible. 

There you have it: eleven ways to improve your email marketing. Use these tips to increase your supporter engagement and raise more funds for your organization.

If you want to unlock more online marketing and supporter engagement, check out these additional resources:

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Topics: Nonprofit Marketing
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