10 Email Newsletter Tips That Will Inspire People to Give

How can you get people to click to donate and get thousands of dollars just like the big nonprofits? Is it their marketing budgets? No. Don't worry if you have a tiny budget. Even giant billion-dollar nonprofits really mess up their e-newsletters. Is it their reputations? No. Reputation helps, but it won't make people give through an e-newsletter.

So what's the secret? All you need is to be able to write well and communicate consistently—and use these 10 tips.

Create an Enticing Subject Line

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Your subject line will either make people open your e-newsletter or delete it. Don't say, “Rosemary's Blog.” Say something like, “Learn How the Leopard Got his Spots!” or “48 hours to go: Could you give $9 today?” I have a list of 10 words to include in your subject line. Using variations on these words has helped me go from a 10-percent open rate to a 40-percent open rate for my own e-newsletter.

Create a Headline to Draw Them In

Newspaper with Scandal headline in letterbox
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Your readers will be more likely to donate if they're learning, if you're giving them new information, and if you take them on a journey. An example that inspired me recently came from the Smithsonian Magazine e-newsletter. The headline said things like “Scientists Make Progress Toward a Male Contraceptive Pill” and “These Rainbow-Colored Transparent Ants Are What They Eat.” Who can resist those?

There are a lot of different headlines and you don't have to have the millions of dollars the Smithsonian has to throw at your e-newsletters. But you can keep track of news in your field, whether it's immigrant workers' rights or pesticide reduction, and provide new information to your donors in each e-newsletter. 

Explain the Consequences if They Don't Give

Computer pointer hand pointing to written word DONATE
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The donor should believe that someone might be hurt if he doesn't give money. This may sound negative or desperate, but hear me out. People will give to stop something bad from happening more often than they will give to start something good. 

It's about what creates a story. Conflict grabs your donor's attention. It draws him in from the first sentence and keeps him reading your entire newsletter. This lets you make your donor the protagonist of the story, the person who can change the unhappy ending into a happy one. 

Make Your Donor the Hero

Superhero using digital tablet on living room sofa
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Ask yourself, "Is this likely to make the donor feel good or bad?" with every e-newsletter you write. Talk about “you” and “thanks to you.” Don't ignore your donor by talking about “we” and “us.” Each section of your e-newsletter should include the word "you." People's eyes stop scanning with that word, and it's less annoying than saying their names all the time.

Don't Make Readers Click Off to a PDF

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Are you guilty of this e-newsletter sin? Don't say "Click here to download our e-newsletter as a PDF!" because your reader may not take this extra step. When people have to wait to learn about your cause by downloading something, you'll lose potential donors. People are in a hurry. They're skimming. They're impatient. Any little delay is a major roadblock. Your reader should be able to preview your e-newsletter on your website and read the archives on your website as well.

Don't Include a Letter From the Director

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A letter won't make people give. In fact, it's actually pretty boring in just about every e-newsletter or annual report I've ever read—unless it's a powerful tearjerker story. I once read a story on Wayne Pacell's blog about saying goodbye to a faithful dog. Pacell is the CEO of The Humane Society of the USA, and his post literally had me in tears, ready to give.

Personalize the Email With the Recipient's Name

Dear Sir
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If you don't know how to do this, or if your e-newsletter software can't accomplish it, learn or get new software. MailChimp is free up to a certain number of subscribers and it lets you personalize your e-newsletters. 

Make Your Donate Button Irresistable

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Don't just use a text link. You can have links throughout your text, but also provide a big donate button at the bottom. Don't make it easy to overlook: 

  • Surround it by white space
  • Put an arrow on or next to it
  • Put a drop-shadow on it to subtly cue your readers that this is something to interact with
  • Put credit card logos below the donate button to help your subscribers gain trust that this transaction will be safe and easy
  • Make your donate button a different color from the rest of your text 

Break Up the Text

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Don't let text blocks drag on any longer than 500 characters. You can use teasers that leave people with a cliffhanger and allow them to click through to your website to finish the story.

Re-read one of your favorite stories if you need help creating a cliffhanger. What made you keep reading after the first paragraph? How can you recreate that for your nonprofit to hook people and get them to finish the story on your website?

Segment Your Mailing List

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You'll be much more successful at getting people to click that donate button if you target your message to specific groups of people. Go through your database and start attaching emails to names. You can also start by looking people up and calling them.

You can start with one email to people who have donated in the last 18 months versus others who have never donated before, or you can break it down more specifically. You can send different emails to: 

  • Former clients or people who know someone who was helped by your nonprofit 
  • People who just come to your events—talk about how much fun the events are, and how doing good and having fun are what you're all about
  • Monthly givers—show them what you've been doing with their money and tell them you couldn't have done it without them, making them the heroes 
  • Major donors 
  • People who have never given to your nonprofit before—introduce them to compelling reasons to give now
  • Volunteers 
  • Media contacts—don't send them an email asking them to donate, but perhaps a newsworthy story to potentially report on

    Emailed newsletters are vitally important to fundraising, so get yours right. Put as much time and attention into them as you would a major email or direct mail fundraising campaign. Otherwise, you're just throwing away time and money.

Guest author Mazarine Treyz is the guru-in-chief of Wild Woman Fundraising.