Email Best Practices & Tips

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You need your nonprofit’s emails to break through inbox clutter so your supporters will open them and take action. Especially since the 2015 M+R Benchmarks Study shows 22% of all online donations are from emails (and it’s growing).

The best way to do that is to make the emails relevant. Include information your readers care about. Keep them opening your emails by timing them well and sharing information they didn’t have before—so they’re inspired to pay attention whenever your name shows up.

Let’s take a look at three key steps for creating effective emails.

1. Planning

Set a schedule that taps your supporters with the frequency and for the reasons and occasions that strategically match your fundraising approach.

For best supporter retention, pay attention to your ask to thank ratio for emails. Lynne Wester, The Donor Relations Guru, recently wrote a good blog post about this.

Select a dependable, responsive email provider, and take advantage of all its services. JustGive uses the VerticalResponse (VR) platform. VR has a full suite of online tools to manage and track marketing programs, including email. In a special offer for nonprofits, Vertical Response includes 10,000 emails per month for free, and a 15% discount on monthly plans for high-volume senders. It also offers a wealth of email tutorials, webinars and articles to help you.planning_ux-787980_1280

Use a mobile design for your emails to make them a quick read and skimmable. Latest stats show that up to 66% of emails are now opened on a smartphone or tablet.

Build and maintain your email list using your donor database. Ask them to opt in and give permission for emails (either through sign ups on your website or in a direct mail appeal), and include the unsubscribe choice in every email. Lists could be a blog topic by itself . . . but here are a few free guides and more information from Vertical Response. Don’t forget to get donor information from your JustGive Donation Report to keep growing your email list!

2. Writing & Sending

Write content that’s clear, compelling and action-oriented. Short and sweet, with words that speak directly to your reader (use “you” and write as if you’re talking to a real person). A simple rule of thumb for content: around 20% images and no less than 80% text.

Take time to develop attention-getting subject lines and headlines. If you keep the subject line to around 45-50 characters, readers will see all of it on mobile devices. For subject lines, check out this list of 21 words that came from analyzing billions of emails—to get you rolling or help if you’re stuck.  For headlines, you may be surprised to know that Upworthy’s editorial process is to write 25 headlines for each article before selecting one . Twenty five seems extreme to me, but you get the idea.fonts and colors

In your content and design:

  • Limit your overall color scheme to 2-3 colors and use basic fonts to keep the email professional-looking. Colors from your logo work well. For high readability, consider 12 point type, and check out this study about fonts.
  • Use prominent call-to-action buttons. Try different colors, shapes and words in your buttons to see what works best. And hyperlink phrases or sentences for easy clicking from mobile devices.
  • Integrate social media icons to connect with supporters through your other channels.
  • Add Google Analytics links to buttons, images and key phrases to see what gets readers’ attention and most drives action. If you don’t know how, here are get-started instructions. Test and double check those links!

When to send your email? Studies suggest 10 am in a reader’s time zone, Tuesday through Thursday. But the real answer is it all depends. Your best bet: Experiment with different times of the day, chart the performance you get, and see what your audience prefers.

If you’re converting direct mail fundraising appeals to email—Check out these 8 Commandments from Kivi’s Leroux Miller’s Nonprofit Blog.

3.  Measuring Results

analyticsAnalyze your Google Analytics stats and Reports from your email provider to monitor results. Review open rates, click through rates, unsubscribes, and most importantly, conversion.  Nonprofit benchmarks give you a good idea if you’re moving in the right direction.

Drilling down to what links, buttons and visuals draw clicks can also help you create more effective emails.

  • Do some testing (A/B). Split your mailing list randomly to test one change at a time—the subject line, time sent, message or image (positive image vs. “needy”)—and see what generates the best response.
  • Identify what’s working, what’s not, and adjust. On a regular basis. Bottom line: How much did the email generate in donations or bring in new donors?

For more info, check out the Nonprofit Tech for Good’s 10 best practices and the Top Takeaways and Strategies article from the 2015 Marketing Sherpa Email Summit.

Don’t miss out on more fundraising tips and tools: Subscribe to our Nonprofit Blog today.

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

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