How to Write a Killer Fundraising Email

By Sarah Taylor

As an email marketer, you are a small fish in a big pond.

Let's face it, there are millions of people selling products or services every day and it’s up to you to make a compelling case as to why you are different.


Oh, and you have about 11 seconds to do so.


According to Salesforce, the average person has an attention span of 11.1 seconds when reading an email- unless you can capture their attention.


So how do you capture the attention of your prospects?


Here are 5 tips for crafting an eye-catching email that converts your prospects into donors.


1. Fight Dismal Open Rates with A Catchy Subject Line

If you follow these tips, more people will open your email- it’s TRUE!


Email subject lines that are Timely, Relevant, Unique and Engaging (see what we did there), will peak your prospects’ interest and have a better chance of being opened.


Email subject lines are tricky because they walk the line between being eye-catching and off-putting.

To err on the side of being eye-catching, use subject lines that are timely to what is currently going on in your industry, relevant to your audience, unique enough to stand out among your competitors and engaging with a call-to-action.

For fundraisers, however, be careful with which industry-specific words you use. A study by Mailchimp revealed that many keywords associated with charity severely decreased open rates.





Although it’s difficult to avoid these words as a fundraiser, it is important to know which words to stay away from completely in your subject line (hint: ‘donate’ is not your best choice).

Hubspot recommends puns (when appropriate), stories, relevant numbers or statistics, and compelling questions, all valuable tactics for catching your prospect's attention.


Incorporating one of these tactics while staying TRUE to the content of your email will produce an email with a higher open rate.


(Subject line side tip? Use your recipient’s first name in the subject line. This can be easily automated with most CRMs and can be incredibly effective if not done in a kitschy manner. One study found that “personalized promotional emails have 29% higher unique open rates and 41% more unique click-through rates.”)


2. Use an Opening Sentence that is Specific to the Prospect

After you have your prospect’s attention, you need to make it clear that it’s not a spam email.


Include a detail that makes the email feel like it was written specifically for the prospect, even if the body of the email is based on a template.


Entrepreneur suggests doing light research on your prospect to learn their current title, recent projects, and any other facts about them that are relevant to your cause. This will not only increase the chance that your email is read but also that you get a response.


3. Be Brief.

Less is more.

OK, maybe not that brief, but as you craft the body of your email, you can respect your prospects’ time by getting to the point.

They are not necessarily invested in your mission just yet, so filling an email with a long description of your organization or a long personal testimonial will likely result in a prematurely closed email. Remember… you have 11 seconds to capture their attention.


For a first-touch email, you should aim to introduce yourself and your organization within one sentence and state your organization’s brief mission statement in the next. Follow this with a short explanation about why you are contacting them and then close the email with a call-to-action.


This CTA should lead to a page on your website where potential donors can get better acquainted with your organization and have the option to donate.


According to Classy, fewer points provide fewer chances to drop the reader's attention and tend to convert better than long emails.


4. Use Images

When writing an email that minimizes word count, remember that pictures are worth 1,000 words. The right image can tell an entire story without you having to explain it.

Take this example from UNICEF:



UNICEF included their logo, a hashtag (which we think is great - read more about hashtags in last week's blog about fundraising on social media), compelling imagery and a call-to-action to learn more.


Including imagery below your personal message introduces your prospect to your brand and helps acquaint them with your organization's mission.


However, don’t forget to optimize your images for mobile, since 53% of emails are opened on a mobile device first. Using a mobile-responsive email template will help streamline this process. You can find a template that works well on both mobile and desktop here.


Don’t be part of the 89% of email marketers who lose leads and opportunities because of poorly optimized emails.


5. Close with a Compelling Call-To-Action

Your call-to-action doesn’t have to invoke immediate donations to be effective.


Acquiring donors is about creating lasting relationships.


Recurring donations are more valuable than one time donations because they represent donors that are committed to your mission.

Your CTA should be an ask that is appropriate to your prospect. If you are contacting a lead you have never communicated with before, maybe inviting them to learn more about your organization would be more valuable than asking for a monetary donation.

If the prospect is familiar with your organization, then perhaps you ask them to donate to a specific initiative or to your organization in general.


Your ask should be just as personal as your opening. Tailor your CTA to your audience.


If you are requesting donations, general tips for creating a compelling CTA include being specific about your needs and ask, timeliness, tying the CTA to emotion, and of course, using action words.


personal greeting


We like this example from Oxfam America because it shows different specific CTAs that fit a variety of audiences. All include engaging verbiage such as “fight,” “change,” and “start.”

Firespring suggests thinking of your call to action button as an “I want to” button. Make the action something that your prospect would want to do!

If you’re more concerned with just getting a prospect to your site or to click a link to learn more, try to use a CTA that evokes a question in your prospect’s mind, without being overly clickbaity. Unicef did a great job with their image and CTA above by making potential donors aware of part of the story and then triggering curiosity about the rest with their “Find Out Why” CTA.



There you have it - our tips for writing a fundraising email that converts! If you use a catchy subject line and first sentence, include a brief message with images, and end with a compelling CTA, you are well on your way to acquiring new donors through email.

If you have any more tips, leave them below in the comments or on our social media!

Tags: Media & Messaging, fundraising advice, fundraising, open-rate, subject line

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