How To Write a Powerful and Effective Fundraising E-mail

Fundraising emails are hard to get ‘right.’ And what is ‘right’ varies greatly from one nonprofit to another and one audience segment to another. Nonprofits send emails because they’re affordable, quick to send and deliver, and versatile. While there’s no formula for success, we’ve rounded up our best tips for writing emails to help.

9 minutes read
How To Write a Powerful and Effective Fundraising E-mail

Effective Fundraising Email

Nonprofit organizations are reaching more people through digital channels than ever before. While some experts were quick to declare that e-mail is dead during the social media boom, the data says otherwise.

Email lists grew by 11%, a growth rate outpaced by list growth in major social media platforms (Facebook, 13%; Twitter, 15%; Instagram, a whopping 44%). – mrbenchmarks 

However, while email revenue increased by 24% in 2017 and accounted for 28% of all online giving, open rates and click-through rates for fundraising and advocacy emails shrunk.

The reality behind how nonprofits make progress is complicated. Fundraising emails are hard to get ‘right’. And what is ‘right’ varies greatly from one profit to another and from one audience segment to another.

fundraising email

Why send fundraising emails?

A. They are free/affordable.

Email marketing services are generally free for smaller nonprofits (or nonprofits with smaller email lists). Even when your email list grows in size, email marketing remains very cost-effective – especially compared to some of the other fundraising methods (e.g. fundraising events).

Email marketing is the king of the marketing kingdom with a 4400% ROI (Return on Investment) and $44 raised for every $1 spent. –

B. They are easy to send and quick to deliver results.

The most popular email marketing services out there are quite simple and intuitive – most don’t require you to know a single line of code. Professionally designed templates, drag and drop features, and other easy-to-use editors have made sending emails easier than ever. 

They are also quick to deliver. Your nonprofit can acquire customers, supporters, donors and volunteers faster than any other method.

C. They are versatile.

In addition to being a great fundraising tool, emails can also inform, mobilize volunteers, promote job posts, and overall increase your brand visibility.

how to write fundraising emails

How To Write Powerful Fundraising Emails

There’s no email formula that guarantees success, but we’ve rounded up our best tips for writing emails that stand a chance:

  1. Sort out your database
  2. Craft a powerful subject line
  3. Get your formatting right
  4. Tell a compelling story
  5. Use a single call to action
  6. Demonstrate a tangible impact
  7. Create an effective closing
  8. Make it easy to give
  9. Track and evaluate your emails

1. Sort out your database

By segmenting your donors and catering your email marketing towards the different segments, you can increase your donor retention rates and donations.

There are several ways in which you can segment your donor base, some of the most common being based on age, gift size, last donation date, and donation frequency.

Donor segmentation primarily focuses on providing relevant content to smaller pools of donors. It prevents your donors from experiencing the frustrating feeling that your content and communications are irrelevant to them personally.

Segmenting your donors allows you to customize your tone and information and encourages your donors to engage with your nonprofit in a way that’s suitable for where they’re at in their donor journey. A donor who has given to your organization repeatedly over the months and years should receive a different email than someone who has just signed up to your email list. Segmentation also helps build trust and enables your nonprofit to use data to strategically grow your donations.

While you’re at it, make sure every email subscriber is asked for permission to join your list (verified opt-in) and update your Terms of Use and Privacy Policy documents. Furthermore, after sending out your email newsletters or campaigns, take a look at your soft and hard bounces. If you’re getting a lot of bounces, or if your open and click rates are low, you should re-evaluate your email list.

2. Craft a powerful subject line

35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone. (Convince&Convert)

A great fundraising email isn’t great if it doesn’t get opened. This is why it’s essential to craft a subject line that’s going to make your emails stand out in inboxes.

Here are few tips to improve your fundraising emails’ subject lines:

  • Keep your subject lines short, ideally 4-15 characters.
  • Create a sense of urgency using words like “urgent” and “important”.
  • Keep them accurate. While you can definitely get very creative with your subject lines, they should always pertain to the content of the email. Misleading and deceptive subject lines are no-go and are even forbidden in some countries.
  • Intrigue your readers or pose of a question – this can help increase your open rate.
  • Try personalizing the subject line by using the contact’s first name.
  • Include the name of the sender.
  • Test different days and times of the day and don’t forget to do lots of A/B testing to see what performs best.
  • Try avoiding the word “we”. “We” is a faceless entity and “I” is a person who wants to talk to “you” and “me”.
  • Use rhyme, lists, alliterations, and more. These perform well. But also break the rules and get creative.

Pro tip:

MailChimp found that the following words were bad for open-rates:

  • Help
  • Reminder
  • Percent Off
fundraising email
This WFP USA subject line creates a sense of urgency and focuses on a single individual to create a connection.

3. Get your formatting right

Our attention span is increasingly shorter. Very few people read long, elaborate emails – even if they’re great. Most people skim over the content. In addition to that, the time it takes an average user to make a judgment on your is 50 milliseconds – not even a full second!

Furthermore, with more and more users turning to mobile, the importance of well-formatted emails is higher than ever.

More than half of emails are read on a mobile device. And some studies claim even more than that.

Here are a few tips to get your fundraising email formatted right:

  • Keep it short, a couple of paragraphs long – ideally two to three.
  • Limit paragraphs to 2-3 sentences.
  • Choose descriptive headlines and subheads with active verbs and vivid nouns. These will grab your supporters’ attention and nudge them into actually reading the text.
  • Carefully craft the message in your preview snippet.
  • Make sure the fundraising email looks good on mobile screens – the text should be big enough to easily read, and all the links should be easily clickable.
  • Make sure your fundraising email isn’t overcrowded, and that the elements are surrounded by lots of space.
  • Pick one typeface and stick with it.
  • Limit yourself to 3 colors, keep your backgrounds light and use your colors as accents only.
  • Use big and bold imagery in your fundraising email to immediately engage your contacts and draw them in.
  • Always include your organization’s logo in the header of the email.
  • Include your organization’s contact information in the footer, and an unsubscribe option.

Pro tip:

Make sure your donation page is also mobile-optimized so your donors are not met with a complicated, unmanageable form.

4. Tell a compelling story

A good story is the foundation of a successful fundraising email. Humans are hardwired to respond to stories.

Stories have played an important role in human history. We have been using stories for thousands of years to convey knowledge, to educate, to share experiences and connect to others.

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”.

Not only do we remember stories more than facts, but they evoke emotion and move us to action. This is why storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool for nonprofits – who have no shortage of compelling stories to tell. Storytelling gives the reader a glimpse into your world and reminds them why your mission is so important.

Here are a couple of ways you can employ storytelling in your fundraising email:

– 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 Somalia).

– Use simple, human language. Stay away from the industry jargon.

– Use compelling visuals to go with the story.

– Tell stories that directly showcase the impact of your donors’ contributions. Tell them exactly how the money will be used and what outcome will result from their donation.

– Guide your readers along the dramatic arc.

– Paint a mental picture with your words and appeal to all senses. We internally mirror others’ experiences, whether through sight, hearing, or reading.

– Make sure your email answers the questions: Why should I care? How will my donation help? What do you want me to do/How do I help?

– Focus on a specific program or initiative. Don’t include information about everything you do in one email. 

Fundraising emails

5. Use a single call to action

Using a single call to action doesn’t mean that you ask only once in the email. In fact, many fundraising experts recommending asking readers to give three times.

However, don’t confuse your readers. If your goal is to raise funds, don’t also ask your readers to sign up for an event, to volunteer, and read your blog.

Ask in a couple of different ways.

For example, you could add a prominent ‘donate’ button to your email that will lead your readers to your donation page or link to your page within the copy.

Additionally, you don’t want your recipients to read your fundraising email and wonder what the point is. Don’t beat around the bush and make the ask in the first two paragraphs, if possible. If you wait for too long, many of your readers will simply move on to the next email in their inbox.

Pro tip:

According to a meta-analysis of over 22,000 participants (42 studies), giving people the choice of not donating almost doubles the likelihood that they will donate. Simply ask your readers to donate, and then add some variation of the following phrase: “But you are free to choose either way”.

6. Demonstrate a tangible impact

Crafting a story and a dramatic arc involved you presenting your readers with a problem (possibly through a story of a single individual), a solution (likely your organization’s service), and inviting them to become part of the solution (call to action).

To really get your readers to donate, it’s important to clearly show them how their donations are going to make a difference. Link the donation amounts to specific outcomes/results.

Millennials are very likely or somewhat likely to stop donating if they didn’t know how the donation was making an impact (78 percent), the organization asked for support too frequently (73 percent) or they didn’t feel a personal connection with the organization (72 percent).

To motivate your donors to give, show them what their donations can achieve through specific examples. 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.

fundraising emails

7. Create an effective closing

One of the biggest challenges of writing powerful fundraising letters is the tone.

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.

Thank your donors in advance and tell them again why their contribution matters.

It’s during the close that you need to be particularly confident about why you’re asking for donations. This is the time to really connect and be in tune with your donor.

8. Make it easy to give

Seeing that the main purpose of a fundraising email is to raise funds, making it easy for your readers to give is essential.

Even if your email copy was perfectly crafted and your call to action was inspiring and compelling, if your readers click on your call to action and your donation process is complicated or confusing – you will lose them. If it’s hard to read and interact with a website, let alone make a donation, users will give up before they’ve even started.

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 safe and secure, and much more affordable than other tools on the market. Donorbox boasts tons of other features that can help you raise more funds for your nonprofit. Here are some of them:

  • Suggested donation amounts with descriptions to let your donors feel great by knowing what they’re contributing to.
  • Integrated employer donation matching.
  • Recurring giving options. Place a recurring giving option on your form to see higher donor retention rates.
  • Optimization for desktop computers, mobile phones, and tablets.
  • Accepting donations on your Facebook Page.
  • Donation ‘thermometer’ to encourage more donations.
  • Multiple payment gateways (Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal Express).

And so much more!

Pro tip:

Offering your donors the opportunity to sign up to a recurring giving program is a great way to boost your donations. It also helps your nonprofit make better financial projections and plan in accordance to them.

9. Track and evaluate your emails

Sending a fundraising email is only half the work. What happens after matters too.

Tracking some essential email KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is crucial if you want to know whether your fundraising emails are successful or not, and what you need to be working on in order to increase their effectiveness.

Here are some email KPIs that you can track:

  • Delivery Rate (how many of your emails reach their destinations);
  • Unsubscribe Rate (how often a recipient unsubscribes from your mailing list)
  • Open Rate (the percentage of recipients who opened an email from your organization)
  • Click-Through Rate (how many recipients click a link you placed in the email)
  • Email Conversion Rate (whether the individual completed the action after clicking the link in your email. For fundraising emails, this is usually a donation)

If you’re interested in other digital KPIs your nonprofit should be tracking, click here to read our article.

Pro tip:

Don’t forget to show gratitude for donations of any size. This demonstrates that your organization is appreciative of your donors’ support and that they’re valued beyond their wallets. There are many ways to thank your donors after a donation has been made:

  • Sending a follow-up thank you e-mail;
  • Sending a tangible thank you card;
  • Highlighting one or several of your donors on your social media platforms;
  • Inviting donors to special events or giving them gifts.

If you’re still trying to decide on the right email marketing software that suits you, FormGet has put together a comprehensive comparison of 30+ options. You’re sure to find an option that suits you.


Crafting a powerful fundraising email is hard work. Segmenting your audience, choosing the right messaging for each one, picking the right visuals, using the best words, ensuring the tone is just right – there’s a lot to consider.

While implementing the best practices and tips we shared above can set your organization on the right path, the truth is, there’s no formula for the perfect fundraising email. Every donor is different and every situation is unique.

Don’t forget that it’s absolutely crucial to test every tip and update your email fundraising strategy accordingly. This reiterative process is the only way you will truly know what works best for your nonprofit.

For more nonprofit tips and resources, check out our most recent and most popular resources so that you’re up-to-date with the latest information and tools in the nonprofit sector:

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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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