Get Your Nonprofit’s Email Marketing Strategy Right: 5 Tips

In the ever-changing world of digital marketing, keeping up with the new ways to get connected with your nonprofit’s online community can seem daunting.

Whether it’s mastering the latest social media trends or finding new software tools to engage your supporters, there always seems to be some new strategy organizations are trying to strengthen ties with donors, volunteers, and other community members.

Yet, even though nonprofit professionals are so eager to get ahead of the digital marketing curve, there’s one fundamental strategy that’s often overlooked: email engagement.

Email marketing remains one of the most effective tools in your nonprofit’s arsenal for fostering meaningful connections with your community and spreading the word about your cause, but too many organizations still think of it as just another way to promote fundraising campaigns.

If your team wants to implement more effective email marketing efforts, then it’s time to learn some tried-and-true ways to get your strategy right. Keep in mind some of these smart nonprofit email marketing methods:

  1. Create intelligent supporter segments.
  2. Make your emails personal.
  3. Enliven your email’s copy and subject lines.
  4. Offer relevant information to readers.
  5. Learn from key email marketing metrics.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive into these essential email marketing best practices!

1. Create intelligent supporter segments.

The number one rule of effective email marketing (for nonprofits and organizations in general) is that you need to know your audience. If you send out generic, broad email blasts, people will start to notice.

Instead of using a one-size-fits all email marketing approach, tailor your outreach to different segments of your supporter community. You’ll want to offer individuals information that’s designed for their interests, needs, and engagement habits.

To get started on a segmented email marketing strategy, determine which supporter segments are most important to your organization’s overall fundraising strategy. Your key segments might represent:

  • Different donor tiers, such as major donors, first-time givers, or crowdfunding campaign supporters.
  • Important volunteer groups, including volunteer fundraisers and volunteer grant recipients.
  • Lapsed supporters, meaning donors or volunteers who haven’t engaged with your cause recently.

Once your team has determined which segments to track, start sorting supporter profiles into different segment groups in your nonprofit’s customer relationship management (CRM) software.

When you’re drafting your different email templates for these groups, you’ll reference your supporter profiles to access their contact information and track these messages to stay on top of their engagement history in your database.

Bonus! Thinking of upgrading your organization’s CRM? Choosing a comprehensive donor database can play a huge role in making your email marketing strategy more effective. Visit Double the Donation’s list of the top nonprofit CRM options to find the best fit for your cause.

2. Make your emails personal.

Another way to better tailor your email marketing outreach to supporters is to make them feel your content is actually meant for them.

Although segmenting your email lists is a great start, that alone isn’t enough to convince readers that your emails have personal value; you’ll still need to apply some email marketing best practices to ensure that your supporters feel placed at the center of your audience.

Here are a few key ways to make supporters feel like they have a personal stake in your content:

  • Address the emails to your supporters using their actual names (not “Dear Reader” or “To Our Valued Supporter”). With most email marketing platforms, this information can automatically be added to emails without manual input.
  • Tell people-driven stories in your emails. Instead of using vague language like “We reached our latest fundraising goal this February,” center your emails around the supporters who got you to that point, emphasizing their names and including photos when possible.

Even better? Plan out your email marketing content to ensure supporters receive messages on a schedule that actually makes sense for them.

Depending on your list segments, set different email calendars. For example, if your goal is to convince a first-time donor to give again, your emails may need to be more frequent and regular.

However, you don’t want to overburden groups like recurring givers with too many emails and put your fundraising relationship in jeopardy, so those individuals might be suited for just a handful of marketing emails a month.

3. Enliven your email’s copy and subject lines.

Once your supporters click through to your nonprofit’s marketing emails, you’ll want them to actually make it to the end of the text and click through to your fundraising form, event registration page, social media profile, or organization’s website.

With this in mind, there are a number of ways that you can make the copy of your marketing emails more lively, interesting, and inspirational.

Try out some of these strategies to make your email copy more effective:

  • Leverage active language throughout your emails and in their subject lines. Emphasize what you want supporters to do, why they should do it, and how they can get involved.
  • Use the second person when referencing supporters. In addition to using the reader’s first name, refer to them as “you” throughout the copy to keep them engaged.
  • Keep your emails short and sweet without sacrificing key information. With some exceptions, your marketing emails should stay around 250-300 words.
  • Break up the text of your email with interesting formatting. Don’t overdo it, but try to use italics, bolding, and colorful hyperlinks to draw attention to key information.

Further, a major mistake nonprofits often make in their email marketing outreach is to try to make their messaging all things at once.

This happens when an organization’s marketing team can’t decide what information or news is important and throws all of their updates into emails without rhyme or reason.

When writing the copy for your email marketing streams, ask your team: can the point of this message be summed up in a sentence or two? Is it easy to walk away from reading this with a clear understanding of what we’re trying to communicate?

Remember: you can always send supporters more emails down the line to keep them up-to-date with your cause. However, if you cram all of your updates into one message, you risk your supporters simply ignoring the email because of how dense it is.

The bottom line? Since email messages are often scanned or read quickly, be sure your point is clear and that readers don’t need to spend more than a minute or two to take away what you’re trying to share.

4. Offer relevant information to readers.

A similar tactic to strengthen the effectiveness of your email marketing is to design your strategy around what information is relevant to your supporters.

Since you’re already taking a segmented and data-driven approach to your email marketing efforts, your team should know a bit about what information is meaningful to your different supporter demographics and what kind of messages they respond to.

Build on this audience awareness to offer them emails they’ll be excited to read. For most nonprofits, the heart of their email marketing strategy will revolve around periodic newsletters.
However, these are some of the most ignored messages on the internet and have really low open rates.

Try basing your email content strategy around these three core types of interesting content:

  • Educational content. Your supporters may not be aware of different concepts related to your mission, fundraising efforts, or community. Share short messages catching them up on concepts that are at the center of your cause including how you carry out your mission, how you plan to grow your community, or the history of your nonprofit.
  • Unique engagement opportunities. Members of your community are involved with your cause because it inspires them, but not everyone can regularly donate. Spotlight creative ways to give back by promoting volunteer opportunities, educating individuals on how to receive a matched gift, or talking to people about setting up a P2P fundraising page.
  • Fundraising progress reports. Many people forget campaigns are ongoing as soon as they make a gift, and simply reminding them of how close (or far) you are from your goal can inspire them to give again or encourage friends to give. Try adding graphic elements like fundraising thermometers to your emails to visualize your nonprofit’s progress.

Remember: diversity is the key to an effective email marketing strategy. If supporters feel all of your content is the same, they’ll be less inclined to open it when it arrives in their inbox. For good measure, always offer individuals relevant and interesting content to drive engagement.

Bonus! Think your email marketing strategy needs a reboot? Partnering with a nonprofit consultant can be the key to ensuring your marketing content is more effective and engaging to your subscribers. Check out Averill Fundraising Solutions’ guide to hiring a nonprofit consultant to learn how to get the ball rolling.

5. Learn from key email marketing metrics.

Finally, the best way to take advantage of all your email marketing tools have to offer is to track essential metrics to learn what kind of strategy works for your community.

Every nonprofit is different, and every nonprofit’s community is just as unique. That means what works for a nonprofit of a similar size and mission as yours still might not be the right fit for your unique organization.

This is why it’s so important to set goals for your email marketing strategy, track key metrics using your marketing software, and then leverage analytics to inform your strategy moving forward.

Choose a marketing software that empowers your team with the tools you need to track the following essential email marketing metrics:

  • Open rates. This metric is pretty straightforward and likely the first thing people think of when considering email marketing metrics. Open rates measure how frequently subscribers open your email messages and can be a good indicator of what kind of content initially attracts them.
  • Click-through rates. You’ll also want to measure click-through rates for links that you include in your email messages to learn what sort of content inspires readers to stay engaged even after they’ve read your messages. Nonprofits often measure click-through rates for their giving pages to learn how to better introduce those links.
  • Conversion rates. Find out what it takes to complete an important marketing goal by measuring conversion rates in your email streams. For example, your team could measure what percentage of your readership ends up researching their matching gift eligibility in your database after reading about the subject in an email.
  • Churn rates. This metric is calculated by subtracting the number of individuals who unsubscribe from your lists with the number of new subscribers you receive in a certain period. This helps your team calculate how many new subscribers you’ll need to garner to keep your subscription numbers at a healthy level.

Remember, having all this data on hand isn’t really useful if your email marketing strategy hasn’t been thought through thoroughly. As you plan your different campaigns, set goals for your efforts and reasonable timelines for meeting them.

Whether you meet, surpass, or miss the mark in reaching these goals, you’ll always learn more about what drives your audience. In the end, even if your nonprofit doesn’t experience the growth you were intending, you’ll still walk away more informed and better prepared to hone your marketing strategy moving forward.

Spreading the word about your cause and staying engaged with supporters online can be tough, but optimizing your email marketing strategy doesn’t need to be.

Now that we’ve reviewed these essential email marketing tips, your team is ready to get started building a smarter strategy and engaging more effectively with your digital community!


Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via email or on LinkedIn.