7 Tips for Creating a Knockout Nonprofit Email Newsletter

April 2, 2012

Create an effective nonprofit email newsletter with these strategies.

Are you worried that your regular e-newsletter is turning into a bit of a snoozefest? Do you struggle to create fresh and engaging content? Are open rates down and click-throughs nowhere near what you are hoping for?

Your e-newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with your supporters, but the problem is, everyone sends one. So how do you make your e-newsletter stand out in your supporter’s inbox? How can you make it inspiring, informative and actionable? Here are some things to consider.

Stand Out with your “Subject” and “From” Fields

First impressions are everything. What your supporters see when your e-mail lands in their inbox strongly influences whether they will even open it, let alone read it and take action. So make sure you follow some important guidelines.

First, avoid using an unknown staff name in the “From” field. Use either a well-known name (such as your executive director, or someone else in your organization who has built up a reputation with your supporters) or just use your organization’s name. Personal names, even those of your executive director, should generally include your organization’s name after the person’s name, such as “Libby Sinback, Campaign Coordinator for the Human Fund”.

But the “Subject” line is the really big deal, and one that is still often overlooked. Subject lines are where you win or lose your readers, because if you don’t have an engaging subject line, then the e-mail just won’t get opened. Game over.

There is no perfect formula for a successful e-mail subject line. One of the best things to do is play around with it and monitor your statistics, and Salsa has a great A/B split testing tool to test different subject lines for open rates. But successful e-mail subject lines are generally teasers. You want to use words or short phrases that spark curiosity or excitement right away. Be sure to think about your audience.

Definitely avoid using rote subject lines, such as “April Newsletter” or “Human Fund Newsletter #544.” Nothing could be less engaging. Be specific. Get your readers excited about what they might learn if they click. But also keep it brief. One advantage of having your organization’s name in the “From” line of your e-mail is that you won’t need to repeat it in the subject line, which will save you a lot of space.

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Give Your Supporters What They Want

Your e-newsletter is not the place to keep records or file minutes from your latest board meeting. If you want to send e-mails about the business end of your organization, segment your list, and target that e-mail to supporters whom you know would be interested.

But most of your supporters don’t need to know, and probably aren’t interested in who was appointed to the board of directors that month. What are they interested in? It depends on who they are, but generally they want to know what you’ve accomplished as an organization and how their support has helped you. They also want to know what you are currently working toward achieving, and of course, how they can help.

Consider also offering your readers tips or news – I follow a pet rescue organization, and they always include tips for looking after your pet in their monthly e-newsletters.

How is your Tone?

In the age of social media, readers are growing more and more accustomed to a less formal, conversational tone. Your supporters probably already feel a deeply personal affiliation with you, because they care about your cause, so it’s not a bad idea to talk to your supporters as though they were your friends. Establish your communication style by playing around with a more social voice in your e-mails, and tone down the formality. Include headshots and names of contributors to articles. This helps to add a human element.

Of course, again, know your audience. If your audience includes an older or more formal crowd, consider segmenting your list, and sending one informal e-mail, and one more formal one. If you are just beginning to play around with a less formal tone in your e-mail communications, you can also use A-B testing to see how responses vary between the two.

Plan your Layout

People generally skim e-newsletters. So use your introduction, headlines and captions to tell compelling stories and include descriptive images and even links to videos to break up the copy. And if you haven't already, take a look at our email template generator. Pretty cool stuff!

What’s Your Call to Action?

E-newsletters aren’t only about news; they are an opportunity to get your supporters to do something. It’s best to pick one call to action – too many and your reader will get overwhelmed. But ask your readers to do something, whether it’s attending an event, making a donation, signing a petition, volunteering, etc.

Also, make call to action connected to a measurable goal if you can. It’s much more powerful to ask, “Help us reach $10,000 by April 15th!" than a general “Make a donation.” Use a button or other graphic to call attention to where you want them to click to take action.

Include Social Sharing Features

Make it easy for readers to share your email by adding social sharing features (such as icons) for Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and so on, and don’t forget to create a “Tell a Friend” link.

Be Frequent and Consistent

Infrequent and haphazard e-newsletters tend to fall to the bottom of people’s inboxes. It’s best to create a schedule and stick to it, so your readers know when they can expect to hear from you. Put reminders in your calendar and start planning next month’s (or next week’s) newsletter as soon as this month’s has gone out. 

by Amanda Foster, Account Manager & Libby Sinback, Account Manager



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