Skip to content
We are now Bonterra

Donor emails: An overview and 6 standout tips for nonprofits

August 28, 2020
These nonprofit workers are sitting around a table discussing how to optimize donor emails.

Email is a powerful marketing tool for nonprofit organizations. When you email donors, they can learn the most up-to-date information about your organization’s upcoming initiatives and take action right from their inboxes. Plus, with Bonterra Donor Engagement's Guided Fundraising solution (formerly Network for Good), you can communicate with many supporters at once and address each of them individually at the same time. 

To be effective, your nonprofit’s messages have to stand out from the countless other emails your donors receive each day. And once a donor chooses to open your email, they should be excited to engage with your organization.

In this guide, we’ll walk through six tips for writing donor emails that your supporters want to read. But first, let’s dive into an overview of some of the types of emails you could send to donors.

What are some types of donor emails?

There are a variety of situations in which you might email your donors. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Donation requests. When you start a new giving campaign or want to boost contributions to your annual fund, you can send a fundraising email explaining why giving to your organization is important. Include a link to your donation page for convenience.
  • Event announcements. For fundraising events, announce them via email so supporters can mark their calendars. Then, send out more detailed information and links to your registration forms as each event gets closer.
  • Organizational updates. Many nonprofits send out a monthly or quarterly email newsletter to let donors know about upcoming activities or recent progress on key initiatives. You can also update donors when your organization reaches a major goal or undergoes a transition in leadership to maintain transparency.
  • Thank-you notes. While a major contribution to your organization warrants a handwritten thank-you note, you can use email to thank supporters who give smaller donations or attend fundraising events.
  • Feedback solicitations. To improve the donor, volunteer, and event participant experience at your nonprofit, you might choose to send out a short survey via email that asks supporters for their insights.

All of these types of donor emails need to grab supporters’ attention and provide clear, actionable next steps. 

6 top tips for writing donor emails

As you begin writing any type of donor email, remember that good email writing is essentially just good writing. Keep these six tips in mind to take your messages to the next level.

1. Focus on one topic.

With the exception of your organization’s regular newsletters, it’s best to concentrate each of your emails on a single topic so that donors know exactly what you’re asking them to do. Keep a running list of potential email topics and prioritize them based on your organization’s overall marketing strategy.

Once you’ve narrowed down a topic, summarize your main point in one sentence and write down some key talking points. Going through this exercise will clarify the purpose of your email before you start writing it, which will make the message easier for you to create and for supporters to read.

2. Craft an attention-grabbing subject line.

The subject line is arguably the most important part of any email. This single line of text not only prompts readers to open the email, but in many cases, it also determines whether the message will be sent to donors’ inboxes or to their spam folders.

When writing your subject line, make sure to:

  • Keep it between five and eight words.
  • Use standard punctuation, capitalization, and fonts.
  • Make the language actionable and relevant to the message’s purpose.
  • Avoid phrases that trigger spam alerts like “Act now!” or “Click here.”

Let’s say your organization is emailing donors about participating in Giving Tuesday. You might choose to get readers’ attention by posing a question in the subject line, such as, “Are you ready for Giving Tuesday?” You could also write a subject line more specific to your organization’s purpose. For instance, an animal shelter might use a subject line like, “Help pets in need this Giving Tuesday.” Both of these examples are concise, sound natural, and invite readers to open the email.

3. Personalize every message.

Another way to encourage donors to open your emails is to add each recipient’s name to the subject line. Personalized communication shows that your nonprofit values each donor as an individual, so why not make this clear from the beginning?

Relate your message to the recipient's past involvement, giving history, or interests wherever possible. At the very least, include a personalized greeting in the body of your mass emails. Donors will be more receptive to an email that begins “Dear [donor name],” than one with a greeting like “Dear friend” or “To whom it may concern.” 

4. Keep the email copy concise.

Even if you’re sending automated emails to hundreds of donors, remember that you’re writing to real people. Make your message appeal to your audience by using an appropriate tone for the topic, including relevant photos and videos to hold readers’ interest, and most importantly, keeping the copy short and to the point.

A typical email is most effective when you condense the most important information into a few hundred words. If you need to write a longer message, use subheadings to break up the text. You could also introduce a topic in an email and include a link to your nonprofit’s website where donors can learn more.

5. Include a call to action.

Make sure your emails direct readers to take action, whether that is registering for an event or donating to a campaign. Set your specific call to action apart from the rest of your email by including a large, colored button with a link that directs donors to take a next step. 

For example, if the purpose of your email is to explain how donors can have their employers match their gifts to your nonprofit, your call to action button could say “Check Your Eligibility” and link to your matching gifts tool. Some emails might allow for two calls to action—in this example, you could also include a “Donate Now” button linking to your online donation form—but it’s often more effective to encourage readers to take one action per email.

6. Improve your strategy based on metrics.

Every solid marketing strategy, including email outreach, is grounded in data. To determine how successful your donor emails have been, consider two key metrics: open rate and click-through rate. Open rate refers to the percentage of recipients who opened the email, and click-through rate is the percentage of recipients who clicked a link in the message.

If you want to increase your open rate, try sending emails about different topics and experiment with creating engaging subject lines. To boost click-through rate, look for ways to make your email copy and calls to action more compelling. Analyzing these two statistics and adjusting your strategy accordingly will help you leverage donor emails more effectively over time.

Get started with the right tools

To implement all of these tips as effectively as possible, look for a fundraising solution that includes easy-to-use email marketing tools. With the right resources and a data-driven approach, your nonprofit can use email marketing to inform donors about your campaigns, initiatives, and events. Make sure that every donor email aligns with your organization’s overall marketing strategy and purpose, and be prepared to adjust your approach based on how your supporters respond.

Ready to Get Started?

    Donor Engagement
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing
  • Fundraising ideas