Email Marketing for Nonprofits: An Essential Guide

Developing a solid email marketing program is absolutely essential to building a reliable, revenue-generating fundraising department. Whether you’re creating a new supporter automated introductory email series or designing a one-time campaign for Giving Tuesday, email marketing is the perfect way to show donors your gratitude via consistent and exciting engagement. Table of Contents Why Invest…

9 minutes read
Email Marketing for Nonprofits: An Essential Guide

email marketing for nonprofits

Developing a solid email marketing program is absolutely essential to building a reliable, revenue-generating fundraising department. Whether you’re creating a new supporter automated introductory email series or designing a one-time campaign for Giving Tuesday, email marketing is the perfect way to show donors your gratitude via consistent and exciting engagement.

Table of Contents

Why Invest in Email Marketing?

There is a multitude of benefits your specific nonprofit can experience by investing in email marketing. And, all of these benefits relate to one specific thing that every fundraiser should be obsessed with: saving money, and increasing overall giving.

1. Email marketing saves money and time.

It’s true! Nonprofit organization budgets are often tight, and resources, spare. How much money did your annual fund manager spend on your last postcard appeal? How much time did you spend on post office visits and for some, handwriting addresses and adding real stamps to envelopes?

Many excellent email marketing software platforms are free, and many are very affordable (e.g. Mailchimp and SendinBlue). For those that cost, pay that small monthly or annual fee and you’re free to focus on writing, designing, and scheduling your emails.

What’s even better? Email marketing saves money while making money. In other words, it’s got a high return on investment. Studies show that for every 1,000 fundraising emails that go out, organizations raise an average of $78.

Listen to Donorbox nonprofit coach Cara Augspurger talk about email marketing, the cost effective way to build awareness of your cause. Be all set to learn some new tactics to easily amp up your nonprofit marketing!

2. Email marketing is efficient, yet personal.

The universally agreed-upon sentiment by most fundraising professionals is that face-to-face donor conversations are the most effective. This is probably true in most cases – but what about those donors who don’t have time, or even want to meet in person? What about you and your staff’s precious time and resources?

Email marketing allows your nonprofit to touch base with thousands of supporters in one click. And, there are a million ways to make emails personal! Set up your campaign to directly address supporters by name. Segment emails so that donors only receive information about what they’re personally interested in. Include a Call to Action that makes donors feel motivated.

3. Email marketing boosts donations and engagement.

Donating digitally is easy and accessible, and email marketing is a great place to promote this form of donor engagement. All donors have to do is click a button, potentially navigate through more than one page to choose their giving level or specific fund, and they’ve made a gift to your organization. Email marketing decreases the need for donors to experience the hassle of sending checks, cash, or money orders to their favorite nonprofit.

Reports show that online giving grew by nearly 21% in 2020 and more than 32% since 2017. In this day and age and with a continued shift to remote work, just imagine how that number could increase over the next several years.

4 Must-Send Email Types for Nonprofits

email marketing for nonprofit organizations

We now know why email marketing is critical and how it can serve our nonprofits – but how do we decide what type of emails to send?

1. Newsletters.

E-newsletters are the best way to update and educate supporters, raise awareness for your cause, highlight impact stories, statistics, particular volunteers, donors, and staff, and provide resources to beneficiaries.

The best newsletters are simple, structured, consistent in formatting and branding, and sent at the same time and date every single month. To structure your emails and save time, use a template much like the ones displayed here.

2. Automated supporter series.

By setting up automated email series for a variety of situations, you’ll save time and engage with your donors without even having to think about it.

For example, a 3-part welcome series for new subscribers is a great way to introduce your nonprofit’s mission, programs, impact, and ways to engage. Likewise, a multi-part gratitude series for donors who reach a certain milestone in their giving is also a great way to show that you’re paying attention and grateful for their support.

3. Fundraising campaigns.

Whether it’s for an annual, end-of-year, holiday, special circumstance (e.g. disaster relief), or Giving Tuesday campaign, sending emails whose sole goals are to raise money for your organization is critical.

Tips and tricks for these emails? One motivating tactic is to include countdowns and updates on amounts raised so far through your campaign. Emphasizing urgency, referencing a beneficiary waitlist (e.g. “the number of families still in need this holiday season”), or including a personalized or emotionally jogging video are sure to inspire your donors to give, too.

4. Stewardship emails.

Stewardship is often more important than the ask itself because donors are people, too! If your friend kept asking you for money but gave you nothing in return, would you feel inspired to give again, or burnt out? We can avoid this burnout with donors by writing and sending thank-you emails.

What to include in these emails? Tailored donor statistics and impact stories, such as information about how much money a donor has given so far or what that money has been used for.

6 Excellent Email Strategies to Increase Giving

email marketing for nonprofit organizations

1. Build a healthy email list.

Making sure you have a solid email list prior to diving deep into email campaigns is critical for maximizing your return on the time you’ll put into these initiatives.

One way to incentivize new supporters to provide their email is through a ‘lead magnet’. This is a ‘free’ gift that is designed to motivate your target audience to give up their email address to receive it. If your nonprofit supports children’s mental health and many of your donors are worried mothers, your lead magnet could be a list of key signs that a child is experiencing depression.

You can also build your list by asking for emails as often as possible. Bring an email sign-up list to every event you host.

2. Wait to ask for money.

Before asking for money, send your new supporter a personalized welcome email series. Your series should include everything from your mission and values statements, to introductions to your programs, staff members, and stats and stories about your organization’s impact.

Send these emails one week apart at a minimum, and two weeks apart at most. We don’t want to bombard our nonprofit’s new friend!

3. Get consent to email your supporters.

email marketing for nonprofit organizations

If you’re emailing individuals who never wanted to hear from you in the first place, it’s unlikely you’ll get high engagement rates. Sending marketing emails to people without receiving their consent could actually breach data protection laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation. If in violation of the GDPR, you could face fines ranging from 2% – 4% of your revenue.

Also, supporters who don’t want to receive your emails might mark them as “spam”, harming the deliverability of your email marketing campaigns (i.e., whether they end up in the inbox or junk mail folders).

To get consent, rely on things like lead magnets and in-person sign-up forms. Always include an unsubscribe option and update your mailing list once someone unsubscribes.

4. Deliver compelling, targeted messages.

One size definitely doesn’t fit all. Instead of sending the same email to all of your donors, segment them according to your donors’ preferences. Are you an animal rescue nonprofit with some donors who are interested in cats and some in dogs? Create two segments in this situation, sending more dog or cat-focused emails based on the segment.

Most email platforms will allow you to segment your lists so that creating and sending targeted emails to multiple segments is an easy process. To gather your donors’ preferences, create an opt-in page when new donors subscribe that asks for those preferences! For existing subscribers, send out a survey that asks for their opinion on your emails and which topics have resonated with them the most.

5. Optimize your email marketing platform.

Most email marketing platforms come with a set of design and build options that are great for increasing your email engagement rates.

There’s far more to consider than just the body of the email itself. Make your subject lines concise so that as many characters as possible can be seen from both a computer and phone screen. Your messages should be eye-catching and include enough spacing, breaks in text, images, and buttons with links.

6. Use your insights!

nonprofit email marketing

Metrics and data insights on your email marketing are key for creating an effective strategy.

Most email marketing platforms provide metrics on open rates (the percentage of supporters that opened your email), click rates (the percentage of supporters that clicked through one or more of the links in your email), the amount of time a supporter spends looking at your email, and the most common days and times your supporters are opening emails.

Your data might inform you that most older donors click through emails on Thursdays at 11 AM. Younger donors do so on Tuesdays at 9 AM. Segment your email list and send emails to these different groups of supporters on different days and times. 

5 Affordable and Effective Email Marketing Platforms

1. Mailchimp

best email marketing software for nonprofits
Mailchimp helps you reach all of your supporters at all the right moments.

Features: Robust marketing automation, targeting customers based on behavior and preferences, automatically sending emails at the same time in different time zones, accessing reporting insights, growing your audience with Facebook or Instagram ad campaigns, and more.

Pricing: Nonprofits receive a 15% discount. Free, Essential, Standard, and Premium marketing plans range from $0 – $299 per month.

Donorbox lets you seamlessly integrate with Mailchimp for the ease of communication and sending personalized emails to your donors.

2. Campaign Monitor

best email marketing software for nonprofits

Campaign Monitor helps you connect with your audience via straightforward email marketing and automation tools.

Features: Professionally designed email templates, customization of every aspect of your email marketing strategy, highly targeted emails via segmentation, visual journey designer, automated emails and triggers, numerous integration options, metrics and insights, and more.

Pricing: Nonprofits receive a 15% discount. Basic, Unlimited, and Premier pricing packages range from $9 to $149 per month.

3. Email Octopus

best email marketing software for nonprofits

Email Octopus provides simple, powerful tools to help you grow your business.

Features: Free email templates allowing you to create campaigns that are responsive to any device, drip email sequences, importing contacts, customized reports, form integration, targeted email campaigns, and more.

Pricing: The starter plan is $0 per month and the pro plan is $24 per month. Offers a 20% discount to nonprofits.

4. Flodesk

best email marketing software for nonprofits

Flodesk is a small platform helping new and expert nonprofits grow their business.

Features: Drag-and-drop email builder for quick customization, email and form template gallery, curated designs, streamlined workflows and dynamic forms, connection to more than 3,000 apps through Zapier.

Pricing: Nonprofits receive a 50% discount, a 30-day free trial. It’s only $19 a month.

5. Benchmark

best email marketing software for nonprofits

Benchmark provides powerful, simple tools streamlined for organizational growth.

Features: Drag and drop builder, HTML editor, RSS emails, photo editing, pre-built email templates, color customization, A/B testing, marketing automation, list building, landing pages, insights, reporting, integration with more than 1,500 services, and more.

Pricing: Free plan, $13/month pro plan, and enterprise plan price depend on your organization.

5 Awesome Email Campaign Examples

1. World Wild Life (WWL): Statistics based, personalized emails

email marketing for nonprofits

Using numbers and statistics to show the present condition that needs help and support from people can catch your reader’s attention.

Emails like the one above from World Wild Life are a great way to educate and inspire your supporters once the email is opened. Try including statistics and numbers in both your subject lines and the body of your email campaigns. Also, have a look at how the email addresses its receiver by name. That’s a great way to make a personal connection with your donors.

2. Human Rights Campaign: Emails that incentivize donations

email marketing for nonprofits

Donors absolutely love freebies and ‘gifts’ in return for a donation! Incentives make donors feel appreciated and recognized for the giving that they do.

This example from the Human Rights Campaign is a bold, enticing display of an incentive – a ‘free’ T-shirt for donors who give $15 or more. The campaign emphasizes urgency by putting a time limit on this opportunity; i.e. the idea that T-shirts can only be received if donors give on this ONE day.

3. Sevenly: Emails that announce matching gifts

email marketing for nonprofits

According to Double the Donation, matched gifts are the #1 factor that inspires donors to give more. According to a 2017 report, 84% of donors would be more likely to donate if their gift was matched (doubled) by an outside source.

This example from Sevenly is beautiful and straightforward. It smartly uses its Giving Tuesday campaign – an already popular time to donate – to market a doubling of all donations given. Including the word “doubling” several times gets their message across well. The bold, large button at the bottom of the email makes it easy for donors to know where to go and how to double the impact of their shopping purchase.

4. LoveYourBrain: Thank you emails

email marketing for nonprofits

Stewardship is one of the most important parts of fundraising. Many donors want to feel appreciated in order to give again.

Take this example from LoveYourBrain. This email includes a large, warm photo at the very top of the email. It uses numbers to highlight the fact that their Giving Tuesday campaign goal of $60,000 was surpassed. And then it explains how the money will be used to benefit those whom LoveYourBrain serves.

5. The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation: Emails that tell a story.

email marketing for nonprofits

The Identifiable Victim Effect proves that donors are more likely to give when a cause highlights a single individual rather than a large group of people. The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation is one such organization that tells heart-warming stories of individual children in need in its email campaigns.

By describing the needs of one particular individual, your nonprofit can cause a donor to feel a personal connection to your organization. This personal connection creates a sense of urgency for the potential giver. If your friend was in desperate need, would you wait to give money or other forms of support to get them through their hardship?


nonprofit email marketing

The next time that you go to write a one-time email to a donor or multiple donors, stop and reconsider. Are you using your time wisely? Is there a way to reach larger audiences while saving time and increasing your donation rates?

The energy and costs associated with investing in a great email marketing strategy are more than worth it. A solid email marketing strategy could be the difference between a mediocre and absolutely booming fundraising department. Invest in your organization and your supporters today by taking this step!

Donorbox, being a fundraising as well as a powerful donor management tool, lets you effectively segment your donors and integrate with communication tools so you can build a lasting relationship with them. Check out our features here.

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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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