Writing Compelling Fundraising Emails
In this article:
Taking your email strategy to the next level
Once you understand the basics of writing a fundraising email, you can begin diversifying your messaging to empower your supporters.
Building your story
Tell your narrative in a way that makes donors want to own a piece of your movement and be a part of something bigger than themselves. Here are some tips:
Use the theory of change: A theory of change is a cause and effect sequence outlining what a supporter can do about a problem, followed by a resolution. A compelling theory of change puts the supporter in the driver’s seat and uses the organization as a conduit for real change.
Build horizontal relationships: The principle behind horizontal relationships is to “Ask not what your supporters can do for you, but what you and your supporters can do together.” Studies show that donors are motivated to give twice as much when a peer asks, so treat your donors as your partners – not as ATMs!
Use the right voice: Your emails should be conversational and fit in with your other external communications. Use a personable tone as if speaking directly to a donor. If you are working with a team of writers, establish messaging guidelines so that your voice stays consistent and readers feel like they know you over time.
Give relevant content: Email is a two-way street, so ensure your content is relevant to your supporters. Ask yourself: Is your content a delight to read? Will your audience find it meaningful? Would your family or friends donate to that email?
Be intentional about inclusion: Make sure your email is friendly and accessible to all your supporters. Stay up-to-date on best practices for inclusive language and accessible email design to ensure your message empowers everyone on your list.
Making the ask
You might feel uncomfortable asking for donations, but making the ask is more than just asking for money. It’s inviting small-dollar donors to invest in meaningful work and create a people-powered movement. Grassroots donors are often the people most affected by your work, so offering them a stake in your cause is essential.
Be specific with dollar amounts: Folks want to get involved! Make it easy for your supporters to say yes by providing them with a specific amount — also known as a hard ask. A specific dollar amount makes it easier for your donors to think about their finances and ultimately say yes without taking the time to come up with a number on their own. You know what you need, so ask for it!
Yes: Can you give $10?
No: Can you chip in?
Be clear and active: Directly ask your supporters to donate and give them a reason to chip in! Let your theory of change shine in your donation ask, and make it clear that their money will provide the solution to the problem.
Yes: It’s getting colder, so flu season is right around the corner. With your help, we can work to provide free flu shots all over the country. Can you chip in $10 to help your community stay flu-free this winter?
No: Flu season is coming. Chip in $10.
Ask early and often: Your first ask should come relatively early in your email, often after your second or third paragraph. You can follow with another two or three paragraphs, ending with a second ask. Keep these paragraphs short, so your email is more readable.
Diversify your asks: Email provides a unique opportunity to format asks in many different ways. An ask can mean putting a hyperlink in a sentence, adding buttons, adding links to images, and more. Give readers at least two options for where to click. You can also use refcodes to track the links your readers use the most.
Ask for recurring contributions: Recurring contributions give you the power to budget and sustain your work long-term. Above all, monthly donations let you raise more money. You can reduce your workload significantly by asking your donors for recurring contributions. Check out the graph below:
The blue line represents an email with a one-time ask, and the pink line represents an email with a recurring ask. After the initial send, the one-time ask brought in $1,770, and the recurring ask brought in $1,635 — not much of a difference at first. Five months later, the recurring ask had raised $5,900. This example illustrates how much money you can raise long-term when you ask for recurring contributions, which takes the same amount of work as a one-time ask.
Sampling: If you’re running a copy or subject line test, you’ll need to break your list down into randomized groups and send different copy or subject lines to each group. To determine the size of the group you need for a statistically significant test, read this!
Subject line tests: Most people receive hundreds of emails daily, so it’s essential to craft and test your subject lines whenever possible. You need your supporters to open your email before they can take action, so you want to ensure you’re using the most compelling subject lines possible.
When comparing subject line test results, you should always go with the subject line with the highest response rate rather than the open rate. For example, if you’re testing to see if a subject line increased donations or volunteer shifts, you should measure the number of contributions or sign-ups instead of the open rate. Remember, the overall goal of a fundraising or organizing email is to invite your supporters to take action beyond opening.
If you have questions about testing for your large list, or figuring out the right move for your small list, get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org! We’d love to work with you to set up a great program.