Skip to content
We are now Bonterra

The comprehensive guide to nonprofit email marketing

October 12, 2022
Two nonprofit professionals look at a laptop computer and discuss their email marketing strategy.

Email inboxes remain a prime location for nonprofit organizations to scale communication and engage with thousands of supporters in just a few clicks. However, it can be challenging to break through the noise and clutter of your prospective supporters’ inboxes to capture their attention. The solution: envision, build, and execute a focused nonprofit email marketing strategy

In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about nonprofit email marketing, including what it is and how to make the most of it.

What is nonprofit email marketing?

Nonprofit email marketing is a digital strategy centered on using email to develop relationships with new supporters, convert one-time donors into long-term donors, and drive actions related to your purpose.

Why is nonprofit email marketing important?

A strong nonprofit email marketing strategy helps organizations raise brand awareness, effectively communicate with their audience, expand their supporter base, acquire and cultivate donors, and develop long-term relationships. 

It’s an important tool for all of these tasks because donors prefer email. In a survey conducted by Campaign Monitor, 42% of donors said they prefer to hear from a nonprofit via email from the organization, and 20.5% said they’d be inspired to give again after receiving an email from the nonprofit.

5 common types of nonprofit marketing emails

Choosing the right nonprofit marketing email requires careful consideration of your goals and target audience. For instance, depending on your needs, you might choose to employ the following emails: 

  • Welcome email: The welcome email serves as an introduction to your organization for every new subscriber or donor. It’s the perfect opportunity to not only welcome a new supporter but also to start building the foundation of a long-term relationship with them. Explain your organization’s purpose and prompt them to take action to deepen their engagement.
  • Donation confirmation email: Confirmation emails are much more than a formality — it’s a critical opportunity to recognize the actions of your supporters, show your gratitude for their generosity, and provide further paths for engagement. Say “thank you” and highlight more ways for them to show their support such as volunteering or following your organization on social media.
  • Volunteer recruitment email: The volunteer recruitment email is a way for your supporters to connect with your organization beyond financial transactions. Keep them informed about opportunities to become directly involved in the important work that you do.
  • Re-engagement email: The re-engagement email is intended for lapsed donors and supporters who haven’t engaged with your communications in a while. Ask them to explore upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, and fundraising campaigns. 
  • Newsletter email: Email newsletters are a regularly occurring snapshot of your organization’s operations, key campaign highlights, and opportunities for supporters to take action. These emails often include resources that supporters find valuable in their relationship with your organization.

Regardless of the type of emails you choose to send, the use of text, images, and visuals should be consistent with your organization's branding in order to capture the reader's attention and increase brand awareness. It's also essential to consider the timing of the email to maximize the chance that the message will be seen and read. We’ll explore more best practices in the next section. 

Email marketing best practices for nonprofits

Grow your subscriber list online and offline 

In order to build and grow your email list, your nonprofit should make it easy for supporters to opt in, either online or offline.

Make sure the sign-up form to subscribe to your email list is easy to find, whether it’s under the website navigation bar or at the footer of each webpage. Pop-ups or chatbots are also an effective way to let your website visitors know that they can opt-in to receive communications from your organization. 

Events and direct mail are also great ways to collect email addresses and other contact information. It’s important, however, to ensure that any form or sign-up sheet you use includes an area that allows supporters to acknowledge whether they want to receive emails from your organization.

By opting-in addresses and confirming them, you ensure the person on the other end absolutely wants to hear from you and will be an engaged subscriber. 

Segment your email marketing list

Your subscribers aren’t identical and they deserve personalized content that reflects their unique interests and preferences. Segment donors into different groups based on shared characteristics, such as their level of engagement, giving history, or geographic location. Doing so will help your nonprofit send relevant communication tailored to each individual and promote better engagement from them. 

Test email marketing performance

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to email because every email list is unique. What works for one organization may completely fail for another nonprofit. Your organization knows the people on its email list better than anyone else and should be able to understand what drives them to open an email, read it, and take action. The key to developing this understanding? Testing.

An effective set of digital tools should enable you to run A/B tests on email subject lines and content. This allows you to try out different options and discover what most resonates with your audience through trial and error. Careful testing empowers nonprofits to fine-tune the language and tailor it to their particular audience’s preference. This gets them to open emails instead of deleting them or letting them sit in their inbox.

Implementing detailed testing on email subject lines and call-to-actions takes nonprofit email strategies to the next level and maximizes both impact and return on investment. After looking at the results of your tests, be sure to adapt your program and messaging based on what you found to be successful.

Improve email deliverability

If your organization is having deliverability issues, focus on only sending nonprofit marketing emails to active individuals. Active individuals are those who have opened or clicked within the last 6 months or less. Continue sending to that audience until open rates get back to the 20-30% range. Then, expand the audience by adding in another group of less engaged addresses and focus on building engagement with them. Simply repeat this process over and over for each email domain. While this takes time upfront to fix, the payoff from these efforts is increased fundraising due to better deliverability.

One final note about nonprofit email marketing

Now that you have a better understanding of the ins and outs of nonprofit email marketing, start launching your own campaigns. Remember to use data-driven insights to adjust your approach and improve performance over time. 

Ready to Get Started?

    Supporter Engagement
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing