How to Ask for Donations: Donation Appeal Emails

Let’s face it. Asking for donations is downright uncomfortable and scary. After all, it’s not easy asking people to part ways with their hard-earned money. But making the ask doesn’t have to be daunting. With the right resources on hand, anyone can become great at fundraising. And there are plenty of ways in which a…

8 minutes read
How to Ask for Donations: Donation Appeal Emails

Donation appeal emails

Let’s face it. Asking for donations is downright uncomfortable and scary.

After all, it’s not easy asking people to part ways with their hard-earned money.

But making the ask doesn’t have to be daunting. With the right resources on hand, anyone can become great at fundraising.

And there are plenty of ways in which a fundraising professional can ask for donations – email being one of the most commonly employed.

Sending fundraising emails is easy and affordable; it’s quick and it’s effective in delivering results. Email marketing also results in one-third of all online fundraising revenue for nonprofits. However, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to get right. Many organizations send out donation appeal emails, but not many do it well.

Do you want to become one of those that do?

You’re in the right place.

Increasing the quality of your fundraising emails is essential if you are to generate more funds for your cause.

9 Best Practices For Asking For Donations With Emails:

  1. Tailor the Message to Your Audience
  2. Get the Message Right
  3. Convey a Sense of Urgency
  4. Be Specific When Asking for Donations
  5. Use Magic Words in Your Copy
  6. Share a Powerful Story
  7. Demonstrate Your Positive Impact
  8. Appearances Do Matter
  9. Make Donating as Easy as ABC

asking for donations via email

1. Tailor the Message to Your Audience

Your donors are NOT identical.

Before you even start thinking of writing an email asking your donors to contribute, you need to take the time to understand them.

The best way to receive a positive response—and a donation—is to appeal to each prospective donor’s individual profile.

Research your donors to get a sense of who you’re talking to:

  • Who are they (age, gender, etc.)?
  • What do they care about?
  • What are their passions and interests?
  • How do they like to be communicated with?
  • What concerns do they have about giving?
  • What motivates them to give?

The ideal fundraising communication would be highly personalized to each recipient. In reality, sending a personal email to each donor is not feasible.

This is when donor segmentation comes into play. Instead of personalizing the ask to every prospective donor, segment your donors and then personalize the ask to each segment.

Donor segmentation is the process of categorizing donors based on similar characteristics such as demographics and interests.

You can segment your donors according to a variety of characteristics, depending on your nonprofit’s mission and size:

  • How did you acquire them
  • Gift size
  • Engagement level
  • Frequency of giving
  • Preferred ways to give
  • Preferred communication methods etc.


2. Get the Message Right

Getting the message right begins with crafting a powerful subject line. Great content, compelling imagery, and an outstanding CTA don’t matter if the email isn’t opened in the first place. And this is why subject lines matter.

Here are a couple of tips to get you started:

  • Subject lines with 29-39 characters get the best click-through rate. A 4-15 character line has the best open rate.
  • Use numbers if relevant and possible.
  • Use urgent or “magic” words (read more below).
  • Personalize it by including the receiver’s first name
  • Use rhyme, lists, alliterations, or ask a question.
  • A/B test, A/B test, A/B test.

When it comes to the content/body of the email, unfortunately, there’s no universal rule. What type of content will end up being successful will depend a lot on your audience and your organization.

Generally, within the body of an email in which you ask for donations, make sure you explain your exact project and goals. Also, provide background and context on the issues you’re working on.

While it can be easy to resort to a language that induces guilt, try to stay away from it. Indeed, it can be very hard to strike a balance between detailing the consequences of not acting (e.g. “Without donations like yours, more children will have to go without food and clean water.”) which can induce guilt and discourage the readers from giving, and a positive and uplifting tone.

However, this is what a good fundraising email does.

Pro tip: Offer donors different giving levels to choose from.

3. Convey a Sense of Urgency

Effective fundraising emails all answer a simple question: “Why now?”

Urgency is one of the most powerful aspects of human psychology. According to behavioral psychologists, urgent situations cause us to suspend deliberate thought and to act quickly.

Neil Patel shares in an article on “Urgency causes people to act quickly. Many of the problems that affect conversions are issues of cognitive friction — people think too hard, wait too long, or simply don’t respond to our calls-to-action. Raising the urgency level cuts through a lot of this delay to create a significant improvement to conversion rates.”

Show the donors that you need the funds now, not later, so you can continue fulfilling your mission.

To create a sense of urgency when asking for donations in your fundraising email:

– Set a specific deadline for your fundraising campaign

– Highlight the negative consequences if the fundraising goal is not met and/or if the donor doesn’t give

– Repeat the ask

– Use language that conveys urgency (“now”, “immediately”, “today”)

– Tell them their gift will be matched (i.e. matching gifts).

donation appeal emails

4. Be Specific When Asking for Donations

When it comes to asking for donations, there’s no beating around the bush. While there’s space in a fundraising email to share stories, introduce some of your work, and give context – you need to be specific when it comes to the ask.

Vagueness doesn’t grab anyone’s attention—specificity does. Clearly state why you’re fundraising, what the current situation is, and what the desired outcome will be. Even if your email open rates are high, unless your Call to Action (CTA) is specific and compelling, donors will close the email and won’t follow through and donate.

A compelling CTA is:

  • Visible: By simply glancing at the email, supporters must be able to see the CTA. Make it a button instead of a link and have it stand out visually from the rest of the email.
  • Short and specific: Supporters must know what to do and why.
  • Strategically placed: There should always be one single message, unique to the fundraising email. Think about where your CTA will stand out most. Keep in mind, not every reader will scroll down through the whole email. A/B test CTA buttons placed in the beginning and at the end of the email (or perhaps repeated twice).
  • Targeted: Just as the body of an email differs based on the segmentation of your donors, so too should your CTA.

5. Use Magic Words in Your Copy

When asking for donations, pay special attention to your language. There’s only as much space in a fundraising email, so the words you choose to use carry weight. This goes hand in hand with understanding your audience and segmenting your donors.

For example, a study showed that when fundraising appeals use adjectives like “kind and compassionate,” women increased their giving on average by 10 percent. On the other hand, male donors are prompted to give more when solicitations use adjectives like “strong,” “responsible,” and “loyal.”

Here are some words that you can use in the body of your email to ask for donations and increase your donations:

  1. “You”
    You allowed us to employ 1000 homeless people last year.
  1. “Because”
    “We are asking for your help because we need to secure more forest surrounding our protected area if we’re to save the orangutan from extinction.”
  1. “Small”
    “We always welcome large contributions, but because we serve children, families, and seniors facing hunger in our community, even the smallest year-end contribution goes a long way.”

Find more magic words to use in your donation appeal email in our article 9 Magic Words that Increase Donations for Nonprofits.

donation appeal emails

6. Share a Powerful Story

Whatever the fundraising method, the essence of why people give remains the same: people give to people. People don’t give to faceless organizations, buildings, or even projects – that is unless your brand is world-renowned, credible, and strong (e.g. The Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity).

Research at Stanford University observed that we remember information more when it is conveyed as part of a narrative “up to 22 times more than facts alone”.

Choose a story that will illustrate your cause.

Tell a story that pulls on heartstrings. Here’s an example of such a story by charity:water.

Have a protagonist, a hero. It’s easier to relate to an individual with a name than to a faceless group of people (e.g. the poor in Oman). A part of what makes stories so enticing is their structure. Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Make sure your story, at the very least, has these three key components.

Storytelling using your “organization’s voice” can be powerful. However, finding new and fresh perspectives can be even more powerful. Have the beneficiary tell the story of their life through their eyes – no one knows it better. Alternatively, consider having an employee, a contributor or a volunteer share their perspectives.

To learn more about how to effectively use storytelling to skyrocket your fundraising efforts, read our Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling.

7. Demonstrate Your Positive Impact

When choosing which story to share, choose the one that will demonstrate a tangible impact. Show your donors what their donations help you achieve through specific examples.

For example, show them that $50 could help you purchase school supplies for a student from a low-income family, or that $200 supplies the equipment needed to organize a river clean-up. Always prioritize transparency and forthrightness when asking for donations.

Showcase the results of your activities by sharing testimonials by those who have benefitted from your programs, by volunteers, staff members, and other stakeholders. Share stories and videos from the field.

Infographics are another powerful tool to relay complex information in a way that’s easy to digest.

Demonstrating your positive impact will help reassure prospective donors that their money is ‘safe’ and will be well-used.

If you’re not measuring your impact already, read our Crash Course on Measuring Nonprofit Social Impact.

asking for donations

8. Appearances Do Matter

In the world where visual reigns, it’s crucial that your donation appeal email looks the part.

To start with, your e-mail should be formatted right.

The average adult’s attention span is down to just 8 seconds. Also, we’re constantly multitasking. This means your supporters are squeezing their inbox checking in between meetings, train stops, and lunches.

So, for a fundraising email to be successful:

  • Keep it short and sweet (2-3 paragraphs of a couple of sentences each)
  • Make it scannable using headlines and bullet points where possible
  • Use simple language that’s easy to understand and write short sentences
  • Avoid jargon and platitudes
  • Use active verbs and vivid nouns
  • Leave plenty of white space
  • Use compelling and moving images
  • Brand the email so that it matches the look and the feel of your website
  • Make sure the fonts are easy to read on all screens
  • Make links easy to click from all devices
  • Always include your organization’s logo in the email
  • Stick to one type of font and two to three colors, unless you’re an expert in visual design
  • Include social sharing links and an unsubscribe option

Finally, your donation page should be branded too. Your nonprofit’s online donation page should appear like a seamless extension of your organization. This way, donors feel comfortable sharing their payment information.

9. Make Donating as Easy as ABC

Say you’ve followed all the tips for great email marketing and even managed to build a strong following on social media. Perhaps there’s even strong verbal support for your cause, but the physical dollars in your nonprofit’s account aren’t enough.

Did you know that M+R’s 2015 Nonprofit Benchmark Study found an average of 87% online donation abandonment rate? This translates to almost $5,000 in lost donations per 100 attempts to donate.

That’s a lot of potential dollars wasted…

To remedy this, design a simple and straightforward donation process. The steps immediately following a “click” on the CTA must be simple and seamless.

Often, when a donor clicks on the CTA button, they arrive at an organization’s website or their online donation page and then have to enter tedious personal information and go through a myriad of steps.

Talk about discouraging!

In donation appeal emails, you should fully optimize your donation forms for speed and ease of use. Customizable donation forms should be intuitive and contain only the bare minimum of necessary fields for donors to complete.

By using an online donation system like Donorbox, you guarantee a hassle-free, optimized donation system to your donors – which results in more donations. Donorbox donation pages are simple, beautiful, and fully customizable. As a system, Donorbox is also safe and secure, and much more affordable than other tools on the market.

donation appeal emails


Asking for donations using email marketing is a great strategy to bring in the much-needed funds to your nonprofit.

Beforehand, though, as often as possible, make a non-monetary ask first.

Build relationships with your prospects – send them a free e-book, ask them to come to a free event, sign-up for your newsletter, volunteer at your office or at least have one conversation about your nonprofit without asking for donations. Your donors shouldn’t feel like they’re just your ‘wallets’. Build relationships that last, whenever possible.

And don’t forget to keep testing and experimenting. Getting to that fundraising email that is just “right” for your nonprofit takes time and persistence. Track and monitor the success of your emails. Which subject lines get you the most opens? Which CTAs get clicked on the most? What email length works best with your audience?

Choose Donorbox as your online donation system and for more nonprofit tips and resources, check out our Nonprofit Blog.

Avatar photo

Raviraj heads the sales and marketing team at Donorbox. His growth-hacking abilities have helped Donorbox boost fundraising efforts for thousands of nonprofit organizations.

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