How to Make Your Marketing Emails Stand Out in Your Donor’s Inbox

Despite the unfounded rumors of its death, email is still one of the most effective ways to engage, convert, and retain donors. And the number of people using email is only going to increase.

But there’s just one problem: Your marketing emails are not the only emails your donors receive.

There are virtually hundreds of other emails competing for the attention of your donors. Promotional emails, work emails, personal emails, and yes, emails from other nonprofits.

But once your email gets opened, all that competition disappears. You are the only game in town – for the moment.

1. Get off the chopping block

How to Make Your Emails Stand Out in Your Donor's Inbox

If you’re like me, one of the first things you do in the morning is delete emails. You scan your inbox to decide which emails are NOT important, and you delete them. Select all, deselect the keepers, and then click delete.

You do not want your marketing emails to be on the chopping block. But if supporters don’t get value from your emails, why would they open them?

Value is the long game.

2. Send the right marketing emails to the right people

How to Make Your Marketing Emails Stand Out in Your Donor's Inbox

It’s perfectly acceptable to send your email newsletter to everyone interested in stories about impact. Major donors, first-time donors, volunteers all want to hear how they have made a difference.

But what about your fundraising emails? Or emails promoting an upcoming event? Should everyone receive these? Of course not!

Sending the right message to the right people is precisely why you segment subscribers in the first place! For example, people who attended last year’s fundraising gala should receive emails promoting this year’s fundraising gala.

There are several ways you can segment your list:

  • By location (city, state, zip) – Perfect for promoting events or advocacy in key locations.
  • Giving history – Recent, lapsed, returning, monthly, etc.
  • Gift amount – Potential leads or follow-up for development.
  • Donor satisfaction – Donors who would recommend your nonprofit to their friends.
  • Surveys – People interested in specific programs, topics, etc.
  • Phase in donor funnelPeople who are in an active nurture cycle.
  • Email engagement – People who open every email versus people who unsubscribe.
  • Website visits – Follow up with people who visit certain pages, or fail to complete a donation.

3. Send your marketing emails at the right time

How to Make Your Marketing Emails Stand Out in Your Donor's Inbox

The best time to send is when it works best for your community.

But even if you discover the best time to send that email blast, it certainly won’t work for everyone. That’s because your email is essentially an interruption. It’s sent on your timeline, not theirs.

So how do you send an email to your supporters on their timeline?

The short answer is to send emails after your supporters have recently interacted with you. For example, when someone makes a donation, the email you send immediately after will have a much higher open rate than your email newsletter. Again, this is because it is not seen as an interruption, but rather a follow-up to an action that was initiated by them (making a donation).

4. Make the subject line about them

Your subject line has only one job: Get the recipient to open the email.

To do this, you have to appeal to the number one interest on each one of your subscriber’s minds: themselves.

The simplest way to make your subject line focused on the recipient is to include the word “you” in your subject line. Bonus points if you use their first name.

Check out these subject lines:

  • We’ve Got Your Back: Nonprofit Tech Donations (TechSoup)
  • John, I need you to take urgent action on health care (Democrats)
  • We made this for you John (Human Rights Campaign)
  • John, have I heard from you yet? (Mercy Corps)
  • Investigators need YOU! (Mercy for Animals)

5. Make your donors feel amazing each time they open your email

Donors don’t give because they’re generous, or because they like your nonprofit. Donors give because it makes them feel amazing. They give because giving creates meaning in their lives.

For example, I feel great every time I open emails from BFAS.

How to Make Your Marketing Emails Stand Out in Your Donor's Inbox

They understand that to maintain my support, they must answer WIIFM.

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John Haydon