Nonprofit Email Marketing Tips for More Effective Campaigns

Nonprofits organizations are late arrivals to this email marketing. Traditionally, they relied on annual campaigns, large fund-raising events, and, more recently, quite a bit of television time (e.g., St. Jude’s, ASPCA, Shriners).

But it is time for nonprofits to take lessons from their for-profit counterparts and realize the same ROI from well-planned and carefully implemented nonprofit email marketing campaigns.

Here are three best strategies nonprofit email marketing and tips for more effective campaigns, as taken from the best examples.

Strategy 1: How and How Often You Ask for Donations

If someone has agreed to join your nonprofit email marketing list, they are interested in your cause. Your job is to maintain and increase that interest, knowing that you will be asking for donations periodically.

Send emails that pull on heartstrings

Humans need to feel that they are helping to make a difference in the lives of others. It’s their right and your duty to make your subscribers feel that way.

Care Australia does that with annual email “thank-you” reports like this one.

Last financial year of nonprofits

If you can craft emails that speak to specific news items that demonstrate actual results or that show a continued need, these should be a part of your total campaign package. 

Think about emails that might be sent by St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital – a feel good story about a child who has triumphed, for example. This creates a feeling on the part of a donor that he has contributed to that success, and a child’s life has been forever changed.

Watch Your Subject Line for Donation Request Emails

If you are only asking for a donation this time around, be careful how you phrase that subject line. You do not want to lie to your recipient by promising content that isn’t there, but you don’t want to make it just a plea for money either. 


Suppose your nonprofit is an animal rescue organization. Your subject line might be something like, “Clarence Needs Your Help” (Clarence being a newly rescued orphaned giraffe). The email can then show a photo or video of Clarence and a request for a specific donation amount.

This subject line is honest but also contains an emotional appeal that will motivate an open. Who wouldn’t want to know who Clarence is?

Keep Your Donation Email Text between 50 and 125 Words Long

This is based upon Nielsen’s research that says that consumers don’t feel like reading lots of words. They are busy, in a hurry, and want email senders to get to the point.

Using visuals and media rather than text is more engaging, and the actual donation request text can be kept short. If you want to test how the target audience will react on a branded email template, you can try for free or use the 14 days trial. It’s very simple and no coding or design skills are needed to create responsive emails!

Here are a couple of examples. A donation request can be as simple as:

“A $10 donation today will feed rescue dogs like Clarence for a week.” 

Does your nonprofit help people?

Follow the lead of many of the large organizations that look for ongoing commitments:

“Your commitment of just $19 a month will mean that we do not have to charge parents for any of their living expenses.” 

Note here as well: the requests include very specific ways in which the money will be used. Donors want to know this.

Write Simple and Clear Email Texts

Written content must be clear and simple, and conversational like in this Red Clay email.

Red Clay email example

In fact, research points out that the reading level of marketing text should be at about the 7th-grade level (you can check it with Hemingway).

Reading levels can be checked by any number of free online tools or through the use of an email service. If you must use more than a small amount of text, use bullet points and divide it into small chunks for easy scanning.

Don’t be Timid About Your Donation Request

Your call to action should be clear and specific. Ask yourself these questions when writing a request for a donation:

  • How much are you asking for?
  • How can the recipient make that donation quickly and easily right from your email?

Many organizations have a stock donation form or link to it within the email itself. The goal is to ask for the donation and then provide the most streamlined process for making it. 

Strategy 2: Personalize, Personalize, Personalize

There is both macro-personalization and micro-personalization – both are really important.


You have your email subscribers’ names. 

Use them in every email you send out— it can be in the subject line or in the greeting.

It’s a small thing but extremely important. If you are receiving emails from companies you have patronized, you know they do this with every email. Do the same.

Another part of personalization may be sending an email from your personal rather than the organizational account. This is usually appropriate if you have a personal story to share that will inspire potential donors to provide their support.


Your email audience is at various levels in their support of your cause. 

What does that mean? Each of these stages must be considered a spot in your “marketing funnel,” and each segment deserves email communication related to where they are.

A typical marketing funnel looks like this.

Purchase funnel

Here’s what these funnel stages mean:

  • Awareness—People received the first email and just learned about your organization and cause. No donation requests should be made yet
  • Interest—Nonprofit email marketing should include information about your organization’s activities and project to meet the information needs of people who got interested in learning more
  • Desire—Subscribers are well-aware of your organization and activities, so making donation requests should be appropriate
  • Action—Subscribers have made a donation; you need to keep them engaged by sending updates, success stories, and more content about your organization; donation requests should be occasional.

Help For Heroes, a group that assists veterans, shares the stories of brave individuals, has good examples of email marketing for nonprofit organizations. 

That’s how they create interest and desire to make donations and help.

help for heros - email example

It may also be necessary to segment your audience by other factors too – large donors vs. smaller donors, for example.

But how to ensure that each group of subscribers receives personalized emails?


Nonprofit email marketing apps come with segmentation features. This means you can pre-make subscriber groups and have the app divide them automatically based on their position in the marketing funnel.

Strategy 3: Increase Email Deliverability

There are steps you can take to avoid landing in a recipient’s spam folder, and you must take them all. As well, you must monitor where your emails are ending up, so you can take steps to correct issues.

Allow to Opt Out Link from Getting Emails

Give your recipients the option to unsubscribe in the email footer—it’s the law. If a subscriber does opt-out, honor that request immediately. This can all be automated if you have the right email management app.

Diana Adjadj, a content marketer for the writing service Trust My Paper, puts it this way:

“We have a huge email subscription list, and we have a schedule of regular messaging to all segments of our audience. Some subscribers decide to opt out, and we take care of opt-outs immediately. That helps us prevent any harm to our reputation by increasing the number of emails that end up in spam folders.”

Provide Your Physical Address and Contact Information

When you do this, email monitoring algorithms will take note and see you as a credible organization. Besides, it’s a major sign of trust for subscribers.

Here’s how Charity Water does it.

email example footer

Avoid Typical “Spammy” Language

Look through your own email spam folders. 

Are there some words in email subject lines that seem to have something in common? 

You might find words such as “consolidate, join/join now, important message, invitation, very urgent, countdown, read now.” 

Those are all suspicious, and people know that, too. They think of them as “pushy,” manipulative, so words like these should be avoided.

Email Marketing for Non-Profit Organizations: Summary

Non-profits might not be known for email campaigns generating millions of dollars, but they can create campaigns that make a ton of difference.

These strategies for nonprofit email marketing should work for organizations in this sector. Consider them to make your campaigns better, too!

Author Bio

Nicole Garrison is a content strategist, writer and contributor to numerous websites. She uses her large history of research and writing on this topic to direct the content marketing efforts of Supreme Dissertations, as well as freelance consulting with a number of other organizations. 

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