Using Email for Nonprofit Fundraising

Sending email newsletters is a cheap, dynamic method of getting your message across to your supporters and donors.

Below are tips for non-profits who advertise by email.


Some of the most common complaints readers have about nonprofit emails is that they’re boring. They’re too long, they don’t get to the point, they aren’t written with donors in mind. Too many nonprofits have a tendency to laud the new CEO with a full, 2,000-word biographic article — don’t do this. Your donors want to hear about the work you’re doing.

Instead, write updates about your projects, including photos and calendars of events and deadlines. You should also be posting regularly on Facebook and Twitter — at least once a day — with more specific, personal updates from staff members. You can use your email marketing software to plan your posts, so you don’t have to babysit Facebook all day.

Talk about more than your projects — readers want dynamic, varied content. Become a thought leader by lending your expertise and opinion on current events that affect your cause and are related to your readers’ interests.


If you’re asking for donations, best practice is to be timely and show that the money is needed now, for a specific reason. During the course of your projects, plan strategically when you should ask for money. Ask before events, or Internet-events, or at other times when you can demonstrate that need is high and time is running out.

If money is a continuing need, consider yearly or quarterly donation drives. These can be promoted with Facebook posts, graphics, interviews, and videos.

In your email newsletters, ask specifically for a donation. Your donation emails should be no more than 200 words, and should follow the format of:

  • State the problem.
  • State what action needs to be taken to solve it.
  • Provide the resource for the reader to take action.

Assume the reader wants to help and you’re providing the information they need to do so.

Formatting for Clarity

Your email should be short and scannable. Keep it to a few hundred words, able to be glanced at in a few seconds to get the gist. To make your formatting easy to read, use:

  • Bulleted lists
  • Images
  • Headers
  • Underlined and colored link text
  • Buttons
  • Tables
  • One or two columns

Even if you don’t have a big budget, your design can say ‘expensive’. Use solid colors rather than pattern. Use fewer images and streamline your topics to one or two per email. Design a template for your email campaign and use it consistently for all emails.

Use restraint in all aspects of design: one font and one color for all headers and one font for text. Sans serif fonts look more tidy than serif. Above all, be consistent. Underline every link, use the same type of bullet for every list item, use the same size logo every time you use the logo. Consistency in design looks like you’ve hired a marketing team who knows what they’re doing, even if you’re sending your email from your home office.

Email is vitally important for your nonprofit for several reasons

And if you’re not using it correctly, you could be missing out.

Email has almost infinite reach. If your nonprofit has a clear, concise, and impactful message, your supporters could forward it many times over. Email is also free or nearly free depending on if you purchased contact lists to expand your database. So how can you most effectively use this inexpensive method of communication to drive donations?

Reach out Regularly

As a nonprofit, you face the challenge of asking people to donate their hard-earned money, often with little promise of a concrete result. That makes your approach somewhat difficult. So when you begin email campaigns, consider your communication carefully. If you haven’t been regularly reaching out to your donor base, an email abruptly asking for donations will not go over well. It’s the nonprofit equivalent of a kid coming home from college after a semester away and asking for cash as soon as a foot is over the threshold.

Instead, warm up your audience with a few personal emails about your message, your goals, and your successes so far. This opens good relations with your donors and reminds them why they agreed to share their emails in the first place. By illustrating your goals and achievements, you create credibility, which in turn makes your audience more receptive to requests for money.

Establish a Voice 

Frequency of contact will not be effective unless you develop and maintain a clear voice. Without it, your emails will simply blend into the background noise of all the other emails your donors receive. But by reaching out with a familiar voice, your donors will react as if an old friend was sending them a message.

Consider your Direct Mail

If you use a particular color scheme or font in your direct mail, apply it to your emails as well for consistency. A varying brand message makes you look confused and unprofessional, and not many people want to give money to a group that is confused and unprofessional.

At the same time, you don’t want to bombard your supporters without consideration. Even the most professional and beautiful direct mail and email campaign will be ignored if it’s considered evasive and annoying. Think—how many companies’ email lists have you unsubscribed from because you felt harassed? Essentially, all company to consumer communication is asking for money, so be polite and don’t be invasive.

Don’t Forget to Ask (Several Times)

On the side of the coin is how often can you ask? Weekly donation requests can seem desperate. However, if you only generate a campaign twice a year, you run the risk of underfunding your nonprofit and its beneficiaries. So what is the perfect number?

This is going to vary with every nonprofit, but a good rule of thumb is no more than once a month for a major donation. Any more often and your campaign is far less likely to be well executed. Any less often and your donors could forget who you are.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t have small asks. Create an Amazon Wish List if your nonprofit needs supplies. Small donation-matching campaigns can generate continuous income throughout the year. But keep an eye on your major campaigns to avoid annoying your donors.

Review the Technical Side

Your emails are of no use to anyone if they get filtered into spam. Make sure you’re avoiding buzzwords like free and opportunity, and symbols like exclamation points, especially in the subject line. You may also need to limit the number of people you include in each message to avoid being caught in volume filters.

Ensure your subject line is concise and interesting. Don’t beg for donations right off the bat. Instead, you can develop interest with lines like “How $10 Helped This Girl go to College” and others in that vein. This is when having a list of your successes is so important. It lets you have constant stream of positive contact with your donors.

Acknowledge your Support

People want to be thanked when they donate money. Thanking them publicly can only drive further interest. If your donors have agreed to be public, then sending an email to your entire contact list with the names of recent supporters encourages others to do the same. A donor might see a name of something she knows and be driven to match that donation. Beyond being a crafty method of driving donations, thanking your donors is just a nice thing to do

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