Email Marketing Tips for Building Effective Campaigns

July 27, 2023

Email is one of the most reliable methods nonprofits use to get in touch with their supporters, and email outreach is a core part of many fundraisers. Of course, your nonprofit is not the only organization emailing its donors. To grab their attention and persuade them to continue giving to your cause, your nonprofit needs effective marketing strategies. 

Marketing can be more challenging for nonprofits than businesses, as charitable organizations usually lack a tangible product or service to deliver in exchange for donations. However, nonprofit marketing strategies still revolve around the same general sales principles of identifying a target audience, communicating why giving is beneficial for that audience, and creating a sense of urgency to give now. 

To help improve your nonprofit’s digital strategy, this guide will walk through how to apply these principles to your email marketing campaigns. 

Use segmentation and personalization

The closer you can align your marketing emails with your supporters’ interests, the more likely they are to act on them. When drafting your emails, create templates that you can populate with information relevant to each recipient. Then, use your email messaging tool to automatically fill out those emails with data from your nonprofit’s CRM.

When designing your email templates and deciding what supporter data to reference, consider how you can use segmentation and personalization strategies: 

  • Segmentation. Segmentation is the process of dividing your supporters into groups based on shared characteristics. This might include giving level, location, or how long a donor has been with your organization. Try segmenting your audience into relevant groups and composing email templates for each one depending on what you are promoting. For example, for an upcoming event, you might create an email template for new supporters that emphasizes learning more about your cause and getting to know your community. For long-term supporters, their email might instead focus on new activities you are adding to this year’s event or how you’ve appreciated their continued support for past events. 
  • Personalization. Personalization is the act of adding personal details relevant to a specific supporter to your marketing messages. This includes their name, past giving amounts, engagement history, and any other information your supporters have shared with you. While segmentation ensures your emails will be relevant to the interests of each group of donors, personalization demonstrates your nonprofit’s commitment to connecting with each individual supporter. 

Personalization and segmentation are effective for direct marketing strategies—a form of marketing wherein you contact each supporter directly versus a broader public message like you might post on social media—like email campaigns. These strategies also work for other communication channels that are conducive to direct marketing like traditional mail and texting.

Craft compelling subject lines

The effectiveness of your subject lines determines whether supporters open your emails. Along with communicating the content of your emails, subject lines are part of your nonprofit’s brand presentation. Consider the language you use in your subject lines and ensure its tone aligns with your branding. 

When crafting your subject lines, be sure to also follow these guidelines:

  • Keep it short. Subject lines get cut off after a certain number of characters, depending on the email provider your supporters use. For most email platforms, this is a little over 50 characters on desktop view and approximately 30 on mobile. 
  • Use engaging phrases. Choose subject lines that prompt engagement. For example, you might try asking a question in your subject line or share an interesting statistic about your cause. 
  • Avoid spam triggers. Certain words and phrases may cause supporters to mistake your emails for spam. Various phrases, such as “Act now!” or “Don’t delete,” may even trigger spam filters

You can determine how effective your subject lines are by monitoring open rates. Of course, a compelling subject line only matters if your emails also have strong content that prompts supporters to engage with your nonprofit. 

Feature only one call-to-action per email

During an email campaign, you likely want supporters to complete multiple actions, such as donating, sharing your content, or registering for an event. However, sharing all of this information and multiple requests in one email can be overwhelming and result in supporters getting confused and failing to act. Studies on marketing psychology have found that fewer options actually lead to greater conversion due to providing a stronger focus for customers. 

Keep supporters focused and drive them toward your desired actions by adding only one call-to-action in each of your emails. Consider your marketing plan and how you will move each of your audience segments through their donor journeys. 

For instance, when a supporter subscribes to your email newsletter, you might start by sending a welcome email that encourages them to visit your website to learn more about your organization. Then, you send a follow-up email with a link to an article that features research conducted by your team and a request to share it on social media. Last, you would send a gift request email, asking if they could make a donation to support the cause they just learned about. 

Varying your call-to-action in each email will also help increase engagement. Prompting supporters to interact with your nonprofit in ways other than donating can increase their investment in your cause. Plus, they may even be more likely to open your emails knowing you are sending them interesting content and opportunities rather than just donation requests. 

Conduct A/B testing

As your email marketing campaign progresses, you can determine which of your strategies are the most effective by conducting A/B testing. A/B testing is a method of testing marketing elements by sending out two slightly different emails to two separate test groups. Keep your tests controlled by only changing one element in each email. 

For example, an animal shelter may want to know whether they should feature people or just animals in the photos they share with supporters. To test this, they would send Email A that features a photograph of a child petting a dog. Then, Email B contains the same subject line and body text but features a photograph of just a dog. The animal shelter would then compare the engagement results for each email. 

Keep in mind that the results of A/B testing may not always be decisive. You can improve your A/B testing and email marketing strategies as a whole by hiring a nonprofit marketing consultant who has experience in email campaigns. 

A consultant can also bring an outside perspective and suggest elements for A/B tests that you may not have considered. For example, marketing consultants have knowledge of how to create compelling copy and strategically use images. When working with a consultant, they might direct your A/B testing toward trying specific subject lines, while helping you entirely rework your emails’ body text to drive action.

Your consultant can also help you interpret the results of your email marketing campaigns and how they impacted your overall fundraising. Their analysis can help you identify your most effective strategies, better understand your audience, and get a sense of what fundraisers most benefit from an email campaign. 

Email is one of the most reliable ways to contact your supporters. Gather supporters’ email addresses when they donate, subscribe to your newsletter, or fill out any other form on your website. You can also use email appends to collect the email addresses of supporters you normally communicate with on other channels. 

From there, consider how you can divide your audience based on your campaign objectives. Determine what actions you want your audience to take, and what content to include in your emails to push them toward that action.

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