We have learned a lot helping clients improve their fundraising efforts by making better use of email.
Here are eight recognized good practices for writing fundraising emails that have proved effective for our clients.
1. Know your audience
In email campaigning, your list is the key to communicating with the audience that will react most positively to your efforts. It’s important to split your list up into demographics such as donor level (i.e. if they’ve given and how much), interest level, and maybe even regionally or demographically. The message should be relevant and specific to the recipients.
For tips on how to start categorizing your contact lists, check out this article.
2. Set clear goals
Setting goals means using real numbers. How many more donors do you hope to get? How much money do you hope to raise? How many emails do you plan on sending (including kicker and thank you emails)?
One of the goals of these numbers should be to help you figure out your "ask" - what amount you're asking people to donate and why. If you’re looking for a lot of money from a small list, you’re going to have to make your asks especially compelling. Give examples of what the money will be used for - paint a vision of what will be achieved and ask donors to commit to secure that vision.
3. Be professional
This should be a given. Avoid being a spammer, send only to people who opt in and always include an opt out link in your emails, avoid using fancy fonts or formats, make sure your reply address is valid, and test before sending out to make sure everything is working.
4. Be personal
While professionalism is important, personality is essential. Generic emails stink of corporatism and create a distance between you and your donors. The goal is to make donors feel like they are a part of the team, because they are of course a crucial part of any organization.
Here are some tips on making fundraising efforts more personal.
5. Be positive
When crafting your "ask" statement, avoid making the situation sound dire and bleak to potential donors. Instead, focus on achievements and differences your organization has made. Hope resonates more than disaster and by the same token, positive asks tend to lead to less unsubscribes and slightly higher gifts. When a reader feels like they can make a difference, they’re more likely to want to make a difference.
6. Use stories
A donor should feel like he’s or she’s an integral part of the success of your organization’s mission, and telling real stories is how you do that. Giving a specific instance where your organization has impacted change helps further the "show, don't tell" practice of good writing.
For some ideas of how to find good stories from your donors and use them effectively, take a look at this SlideShare presentation.
7. Use a good subject line
The subject line of your email is the first thing a reader reads. Pull readers in with subjects that are specific, attention grabbing, personal to the reader, and related to the content of your email. For example, “Help prevent another child from going hungry” is way more effective at getting attention than “Please donate now.”
This article has some good tips on writing effective subject lines (and content in general) in fundraising emails.
8. Keep it simple
Readers online tend to spend more time skimming text, so keep emails short and use headers to break up text. It's best to keep the email focused and link to the action you want taken at least a couple times in the email.
This article from the Philanthropy Journal includes tips on keeping emails engaging yet to the point for maximum impact.