9 Emails Non-Profits Should Send to Attract and Maintain Donors [GUIDE]


Last year non-profits raised $ 324 billion through online fundraising. According to M+R Benchmarks, email marketing played a big role in that figure.

It’s no secret that non-profits are strapped for time, cash and resources, which explains why email marketing is so popular. It’s an affordable option that can attract and maintain donors with a small time investment.

While many non-profits are already sending emails to their donors, we have some advanced tips to take your non-profit email marketing to the next level. This guide explains:

  • 3 emails you should send to new donors before asking for a dime
  • 3 emails you should send to ask for donations
  • 3 emails you should send to maintain donors
  • 3 tips for successful emails

3 emails you should send to new donors before asking for a dime

New donors are an important part of your financial future, but that doesn’t mean you should bombard them with donation requests as soon as they join your mailing list. Just like any relationship, there should be a ‘get to know you’ phase.

To help you establish a relationship with new members, here are three emails you should send before asking for a donation.


  • Welcome email

When a new donor is added to your list, you need to roll out the red carpet. Within 48 hours of adding this new contact, you should send out a welcome email. With VerticalResponse, you can use our automated feature to schedule a welcome email to be delivered as soon as a new contact is added to your list.

This welcome email should offer a friendly greeting, thank the recipient for signing up and quickly explain the benefits of your email list. The call to action can lead subscribers to your website, perhaps to a specific landing page that offers the history of your organization or answers frequently asked questions.

The call to action can vary, but this is not a time to solicit a donation. This email is about establishing a connection and starting a relationship, not asking for cash.

  • ‘Did You Know?’ email

After welcoming a potential donor to your non-profit family, send an email that offers information that he or she may not know about your cause. We call it the ‘Did You Know?’ email. In other words, you should share information that isn’t necessarily common knowledge.

For example, an email might say, “Did you know that The Tri-County Food Shelf helped feed 650 families last year?” Or, “Did you know that the Zebra Foundation is teaming up with the San Diego Zoo to save 100 zebras this summer?”

The point of this email is to educate new subscribers. Like a welcome email, this email isn’t aimed at soliciting a donation. You’re sharing information to build a relationship. Your call to action should encourage the subscriber to learn more by visiting your website.

  • Exclusive email offer for new subscribers

Make new subscribers feel welcome by offering an exclusive deal. Again, it’s all about building a relationship.

The exclusive offer could be a free tour of your facility, a branded notepad, or an early-bird invite to your upcoming fundraiser. It should make subscribers feel special, but shouldn’t cost you any money.

In the email, explain that only new subscribers are getting this offer and spell out what the offer is. The call to action will help the subscriber take advantage of this deal.

3 emails you should send to ask for donations

Now that you’ve worked toward an email friendship, you can start to ask for donations. The next three emails can be sent to new subscribers and loyal donors. These emails are fundraising tools, meant to help you bring in donations without being pushy.

  • Success story email

To collect donations, one of the most powerful tools you have is your success. Donors want to know how their money will help. Asking people to donate money to build 10 homes in their neighborhood isn’t enough. You have to show them. Create an email that explains how Barbara Smith, a single mother of four, has a place to call home because of generous donors. Include a picture of Barbara and her family in front of her new home. After briefly telling her story, include a call to action that asks for donors to support the campaign.

  • ‘We have a goal’ email

A lot of non-profits set fundraising goals. When you do, share it with your donors. Let’s say your foundation wants to raise $ 10,000 to install a well in an impoverished area. You should create an email around that goal. Actually, you should create a series of emails.

The first email you send should state the goal and ask donors to contribute. The second email should offer an update. Maybe you announce that you’re half way to your goal and remind donors to give. The third email you send should be close to your deadline. This email should be urgent, asking donors to support your goal before time runs out.

Of course, there is a lot of flexibility with these goal-oriented emails. Maybe a donor offers to match donations for a short window of time. If so, you’ll want to tell others via email. If there are any updates that donors should know about, or other motivating factors, you should share it via email.

Of course, when the campaign is done, send an email that let’s donors know the outcome and thank them for their support.

  • Fundraising event email

When you host a fundraising event, email is one of the best marketing tools you have. A lot of planning goes into an event, and you can keep guests in the loop by sending out a series of emails to support the fundraiser.

For starters, you can invite guests to the fundraiser via email. Of course, the invitation should include all vital information (location, date, time, etc.) and a call to action that allows guests to RSVP.

Additional emails should follow. For example, send a follow up email to those who haven’t RSVP’d. It usually takes more than one email to get people to commit to an event. You can send an email that recaps last year’s success and sets expectations for this year. As the event nears, send an email to those who plan to attend with directions and parking information. When the event is finished, thank those who came out and share the amount that was raised.

3 emails you should send to maintain donors

To keep donors engaged with your non-profit, you’ll want to send emails that maintain your relationship. Here are three emails that do just that:

  • Newsletter

When it comes to maintaining a relationship, there is no better way than through a newsletter. A newsletter is like having coffee with a friend. It gives you a chance to catch up. By keeping donors informed, they feel like part of the team.

Your newsletter can include all kinds of content. You can include a letter from the director, discuss upcoming projects, update readers on initiatives, highlight a volunteer, share a success story, provide industry-specific news, recap fundraising efforts and mention upcoming events. The options are endless. Take a look at all of the content included in this example from the RSPCA.

9 Emails Non-Profits Should Send to Attract and Maintain Donors [GUIDE]

While the point of the newsletter is to inform, not solicit, it can contain several calls to action.

  • Useful news emails

Keep donors engaged by sending emails that contain interesting news that’s related to your non-profit.

For example, an animal shelter could send an email about protecting pets from dangerously cold temperatures. A non-profit that focuses on cancer research could send links to several news articles that contain the latest breakthroughs.

These emails keep your non-profit ‘top of mind.’

  • Donor preference email

Several times a year, ask donors what they want. One of the easiest ways to do this is through an email survey. Create a survey through a site like SurveyMonkey and include a link to it in your email.

The survey should ask donors about their preferences. For example, a survey could focus on what kind of campaigns donor prefer, or you could ask questions to improve a specific fundraiser that you host each year. By asking donors about their preferences, rather than making assumptions, you will improve donor loyalty.

Remember to keep the survey short and ask specific questions that provide useful information.

3 tips for email success

Since we have a theme of three going here, we’ll end the guide with three tips to ensure your email success.

  • Use empowering language

When you’re asking for money, you want to use active language and select words that empower donors. It might sound like we’re squabbling over something petty, but word choice matters.

We’ve created this handy chart to help. On the left are overused marketing phrases. On the right are active and empowering alternatives.

  • Make a contribution                         Donate now
  • Click here to donate                         Make a difference today
  • Give what you can                            No donation is too small
  • Please, we need your help               Be a hero to someone in need
  • We can’t do it without you                Donors like you make this possible
  • Every dollar helps                             Donate $ 5 now
  • Please give                                       We appreciate your donation
  • Add pictures of people

Every email is better with pictures, but the best images include people. These are the pictures that can motivate donors to act. Use pictures of those you help and volunteers in action. Try to stay away from generic pictures or stock images. You want pictures of real people. Take a look at the American Red Cross email below. The picture of the little boy makes the whole email.

9 Emails Non-Profits Should Send to Attract and Maintain Donors [GUIDE]

  • Segment your list

When you create an email, it’s natural to want to share it with everyone. There are certain emails that you should send to your entire list, but it shouldn’t happen with every email. Segmenting your list is the best way to go. To segment your list means to break it up into smaller, specific groups. For example, the donor section of your list might be broken into new donors, loyal donors and VIP donors.

Segmenting your list not only allows you to send targeted messages, but it also avoids email fatigue. You don’t want your audience to get tired of your emails, so it’s best to only send emails that are of interest to the recipient.

These nine emails should help your non-profit engage and connect with your subscribers and grow your donor base.

As a non-profit, what kinds of emails do you send to attract and maintain donors? Tell us your thoughts and tips in the comment section below.

Try out these tips today with the VerticalResponse free program for non-profits. Sign up and get started.

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The Answer to Finding Nonprofit Donors: Social Media


finding nonprofit donors in social media

finding nonprofit donors in social media

For profit marketing experts are bullish about using social media to generate new leads:

“At least 58% of marketers who have been using social media for three years or longer state that it has helped them boost sales. On average, marketers spend between four and six hours on social media each week. While marketers do struggle with lead generation and measuring ROI on social, there is no question that social media a critical piece of your marketing mix.”

– Marketo, How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation

This is what nonprofit marketers are saying:

“Huh? What’s lead generation?”

It’s time to seamlessly integrate social media into your marketing mix as a lead generator (i.e., prospect finder) and relationship-building tool. Today, electronic communication – social, mobile, email, crowd funding, online donating — has permanently disrupted the traditional donor-engagement process.

Here’s my personal story to illustrate:

My husband passed away unexpectedly four years ago. I knew right away I wanted a new relationship. After all, I loved being married. But… I needed a “lead.”  Where to find one?  I discovered the dating world had changed since I last dated. Dramatically. The old strategies no longer applied.

I had to go online to efficiently find a pool of prospects.

It’s not something I (or my fiancé) ever envisioned doing. But the digital revolution had changed business as we knew it. So, when in Rome… Not only did I find a “lead,” but also a means for beginning to build a relationship.

I had to take it offline to seal the deal.

Sure, we ultimately took that budding relationship offline — where we continued to build it. You should be doing the same thing with your nonprofit marketing and fundraising.

Nonprofit marketing today is not an either/or proposition.

It’s not online or offline. It’s not this staff or that. It’s not push or pull. It’s more offer, offer, offer; then accept.  Show folks what you’ve got in a compelling way… listen for their interest… respond…. offer a little more… show that you value them…. offer a bit more still… bond… engage with people… then ask for a desired action response.

Once you’ve done the social media relationship building required to warm folks up to the idea of donating, then you’re ready to graciously accept their offer to help. And please make sure to thank them for whatever it is that they do (be it retweeting, commenting, signing a petition, joining a contest or making a donation).

You can have the best social media and content marketing strategy in the world, but it won’t matter if you don’t also have strategies in place to close the deal.

Everyone in the organization has to get into the new mindset.

In “To Sell is Human,” Daniel Pink writes about how we’re all in sales now.  We’re all constantly in persuasion mode – whether to get our kids to get up in the morning or to motivate our employees or bosses to do something we deem important. When I had the good fortune to hear Pink speak, in my mind I kept substituting the word “fundraising” for sales.  In the nonprofit world, we’re all in fundraising now.

Social media and content marketing must be approached from an organization-wide perspective that centers on your customer.  What might they do next?  What do you want them to do next? How can you get this to happen?  If they’re going to wind up on your landing page or website, then those pages better be optimized to close a deal.  If they’re going to end up calling your receptionist, then that person better be trained to seal the deal.  If they’re going to be thrown into a mailing cycle, then the mailer they receive better incorporate quality information your prospect will enjoy/need/use or otherwise perceive as meaningful and relevant.  

Go online to find folks who share your values and may resonate with your message and mission.

Don’t forget that, today, people in every generation are online. It’s called “Generation C” (for “Connected”) – and it knows no demographic boundaries. Engage with them.  Chat with them.  It’s an awesome way to do the most important work of development: Uncover people with shared values.

That’s really what online dating is about as well.  And you’re not going to make a love connection with every single person, so don’t give up if not everyone is interested in you. The same thing happens offline. Not everyone in the universe is going to be “into you.” Don’t forget that! Persevere.

Here’s another story, this time a professional one – and a cautionary tale:

I recently spoke with a new client that was bemoaning the fact that budget cuts have forced them to discontinue their hard-copy newsletter and annual report. “Waagh! Nobody reads our online version!” Guess what? They probably weren’t reading your offline version either.  It’s just that you didn’t have any way to track/measure their actions then. What gets folks to read your messaging is not paper vs. bytes. It’s remarkable, useful, relevant, donor-centered content.  I took a look at this organization’s newsletter, and it was filled with jargon, statistics and ego.  There was little way a reader could see themselves as part of the story they were reading.

Whether you’re online or offline, it’s your job to speak to your prospect’s needs.

You’ll find leads when your content matters to people.

IF you have something people want, they’ll find you. So that’s where you start. Think from the perspective of your audience. What’s in it for them?  What do they care about? What do they need to know about? When do they need to know about it?

One of the great beauties of online marketing and social media is that it’s real time.

You can tell who is participating and who’s not (there are a variety of free (Google Analytics) and/or inexpensive analytics tools, including some that are more expensive). You can tell who connects with and appreciates your content. Once you know who likes your content, you can spend more time with them and not waste your time on the folks who’ll never convert to donors.

Try putting social front and center in your organization. Build an inter-disciplinary social task force charged with improving your organization’s strategies for building relationships. Use social media platforms to facilitate referrals. Erase the notion that social media is all about advertising and “spin” and doesn’t have anything to do with fundraising.  It has everything to do with fundraising!

We’re all in sales… fundraising… social media… marketing… there’s nothing as human as connecting with other human beings around causes and values we share.  Go forth and connect like it’s 2014.  You’ll be glad you did. It will make your life so much easier, and so much more rewarding.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About the Author:

Claire Axelrad

This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing leadership experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a web and audio presenter for Good Done Great Nonprofits and was recently honored as “Best Fundraising Blog” by FundRaising Success’ 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. Her passion is instilling an institution-wide culture of philanthropy to help organizations build constituencies and drive increased income to sustain and expand missions. +Claire Axelrad

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