The Donation Maximization Blog

Generating Revenue from Email Marketing: 3 Top Tips for Nonprofits


With tight budgets and short time frames to raise funds, getting your message out quickly and cost-effectively is often the goal for nonprofit marketers. The easiest way to achieve this is through email marketing.

Email is a great tool for nonprofits: it is low cost, can be delivered quickly and offers features direct mail and telemarketing cannot, such as testing messages on different segments of your contact list, creating personalized messages and providing insight into how recipients are responding to your communications.

Email marketing has the potential to make a positive impact on your organization. While this idea may seem daunting, there are best practices that will help you generate more revenue per email campaign.

Develop an Organic Email List

Begin your marketing strategy by creating a contact list. While buying an email list might seem like the fastest way to get your message out to potential donors, it can damage your credibility as a legitimate organization and seriously skew your results for email deliverability. It is best to grow your email list organically.

You want to send your email to people who care about your organization’s mission and will want to read what you have to say. You don’t want your message to be marked as spam or thrown directly into the trash. Accomplishing this takes some legwork, but it is not impossible (or impossibly time consuming).

To create your list, collect email addresses when communicating with current or prospective supporters and let them know how you intend to use it. For example:

  • When sending out event invitations, add an email address to response forms
  • When sponsoring events, put out a newsletter sign-up sheet
  • Set up a giveaway for attendees who put their name and email address in a drop box

You can also build your list online through your website. Visitors come to your website to learn more about your organization, which gives them the incentive to provide their contact information to establish a relationship with the organization. Set up a quick online registration form for visitors, the keyword being quick — the shorter the form, the more likely they are to sign up. Place it in an eye-catching spot on your homepage so it is hard to miss and promote it throughout the rest of your website.

Don’t forget to let people know the benefits of providing this information — you are able to inform them quickly of events, important news, developments and programs about your organization. And always give subscribers the chance to opt out of receiving future mailings.

Design Great Emails from Top to Bottom

Once you have a list of email addresses, you must craft an email that recipients won’t be able to resist.

Begin with content. Develop your subject line using short, action-oriented words that evoke emotion and entice readers to open to read more. It should be no more than 50 characters in length.

Once readers are interested enough to open your message, make sure it is scannable. The purpose of your email should be immediately evident in the first few sentences— in today’s world, our attention spans rival that of a goldfish, which can cause readers to mark your email as spam if its purpose is not instantly clear.

Personalize your message to be specific to your donors’ interests, location and any other relevant information that will enhance your relationship. If possible, use a marketing automation system to include first names for a personal touch.

Once you’ve written the text of your message, make sure to incorporate visuals. Design your message to use the colors associated with your organization, and include photos where it makes sense. Be sure to use alt text for your images and link your images to reinforce the text.

The last thing to include, and perhaps the most important, is a call to action (CTA). In many cases, the CTA is “Make a Donation.” Take yours a step further by including a specific ask amount for your donors, like “Donate $75”. How? Predictive analytics solutions, like ExactAsk, use Big Data to accurately estimate the maximum amount an individual is likely willing to donate—providing a substantial lift in campaign revenues.

Track and measure your results

Using an email marketing tool to track different benchmarks will help you not only obtain results, but truly understand what works regarding copy, design, delivery and more. Once you have results, you can adjust your next campaign appropriately. Here’s what to look for:

  • Open rate: The percentage of recipients who view the message versus the number of total messages sent. While you can’t tell who actually read your email, it helps when determining the effectiveness of your subject line. A good open rate for nonprofits is around 32 percent.

  • Click-through rate: The percentage of recipients who click on links in the body of the email. This indicates the effectiveness of the text and graphics in the email and the level of interest in your campaign or organization. Be sure to check the results for each individual link and for the message as a whole. About 8 percent is and average clickthrough for nonprofit emails.

  • Response rate: The percentage of recipients who take some type of action after clicking through to your website. This may include taking a survey, signing a petition or making a donation.

  • Opt-out rate: Your email communications should include an “Unsubscribe” button to opt out of receiving future emails from your organization. It is helpful to be able to track how many opt-outs you are getting and who is unsubscribing, as this is potentially an indication your content needs some work or the frequency should be altered. An ideal opt-out rate is below .43 percent.

  • Forward rate: This tracks how frequently your supporters forward your emails to their family and friends and whether those additional recipients open and click through the emails.

Creating emails for your nonprofit organization is a great tool for reaching large audiences while staying within your budget. These best practices will help you get started on developing your most effective campaign yet. Have you experienced success with any of these practices? Let us know in the comments below!


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