How to Write Better Fundraising E-Mails for Your Non-Profit

Raising more money online is an oft-quoted goal for non-profit organizations. Most charities are using their websites, e-mail, and some social networking sites to stay in touch with donors, but many are not raising any significant revenue online, and the ones that do often feel that the amount of time they are investing is too great for the small financial return.

In this article, I want to hone in on one of the best ways to raise money online: e-mail. Let’s talk about how you can write fundraising e-mails that produce great results for your non-profit. What do good, high-producing e-mail fundraising letters look like? What are the best practices to get the best results?

While your e-mail fundraising letters will vary depending on whether they are part of a capital campaign, selling tickets for an event, an annual e-mail letter etc., there are some basic rules of thumb that will allow you to see maximum results with your e-mail fundraising efforts:

Similarities to Offline Direct Mail

In many ways, e-mail fundraising letters are similar to offline fundraising letters. Just as with offline letters, e-mail fundraising letters must be compelling and emotional. Remember, for your readers – your organization and your mission matters! Tell people stories that tug on the heart strings, that make them cry. In fundraising letters, people don’t want to hear a list of boring statistics and facts. Sure, one or two surprising or super-compelling facts might make all the difference. But a list of twelve percentages with footnotes supporting them? Not compelling when sent as part of as fundraising letter.

Instead, tell stories, use charts, make people cry. Think: if I had 30 seconds to tell someone about my non-profit, and the success of our group depended on that one person writing a check on the spot… what would I say? Then write that pitch as your first draft.

The second key similarity with offline fundraising mail is: write your e-mail in such a way that your compelling content gets read. People are busy. Even if they aren’t really busy, most people think they are. Very few people think they have the time to read through your fundraising e-mail. Most people will skim your e-mail to see if it is worth reading. Where do they look to make their decisions? The e-mail subject and first sentence, the pictures, the headlines and bolded or underlined words, and the P.S. That’s it… just 20-30 second of skimming.

How do you capitalize on this tendency?

First, give them lots to skim. Use section headlines, a great subject and opening sentence and P.S., pictures, and bolded/underlined words. Then, make sure that all of this “skim-able” content works together to tell the entire story of your letter. Ask yourself: if someone only skimmed my letter, using the items listed above, would they know what I am saying? Would they “get” the whole story?

Differences from Offline Direct Mail

The primary difference between offline fundraising letters and e-mail fundraising letters is length. For many organizations, long (or super-long) snail-mail fundraising letters work. Some organizations send 3, 4, or even 5 page fundraising letters and know that their constituencies appreciate the length because they make money with these letters.

The rule online is less, less, less. I have never seen an e-mail fundraising letter that was the equivalent of a 4 page offline letter get read. When writing online fundraising e-mails, keep it relatively short – I would suggest trying to keep your e-mail asks to 400 words or less. Anything more than that, and people simply won’t want to read it. If necessary, you can include links to your website to explain additional information, but for the actual e-mail, keep it short and to the point.

The Ask

Remember – people don’t give unless they are asked. If you are sending out an e-mail fundraising letter, be sure it includes a clear, concise, and understandable ask. Tell people that you need money. Tell them how much you need and why you need it. Then make an ask, by asking the reader to click on a button or link to donate now. Make the button or link big and bold, and don’t be shy about asking – your mission matters, and you need money to carry out the good work that your organization does!

A Few Other Points about Your E-Mail Fundraising Letters…

What else can you do to write e-mails that raise more money?

Avoid Asking for Large Gifts Through E-Mail

Very few large gifts are given in response to a fundraising e-mail (at least not without further follow-up). Use e-mail solicitations to ask for small or mid-level gifts from your list.

Tie Your E-Ask to Something Tangible

One of the best tactics for getting people to donate online through an e-mail letter is to tie your ask to something tangible. People like to know where their money is going, and this is doubly true on an impersonal medium like e-mail. Tying your ask to something tangible is a great way to let people know how their money will be spent. For example, you might ask for $25 to buy school supplies for one student (with the option to sponsor ten students for $250) or for $32 to pay for 20 hot meals for the homeless. You get the idea…

Whatever You Do, Don’t Spam

You’re only sending fundraising e-mail out to your own list… right? Never send out unsolicited (spam) e-mails. They don’t work, and only make people mad.

Include Offline Contact Information

Some people from your list may want to contact you directly for more information, or to make a larger gift. Make sure they have a way to get in touch with you. Include a link to your website and your organization’s phone number in every fundraising e-mail you send out.

Photo Credit: gordonr