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10 Email Marketing Tips for Cultivating Major Donors

Posted by Ian Lauth

Find out how to generate more major donors through email marketing

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to reach potential donors and keep them interested, informed and engaged with your nonprofit's mission. Use these 10 tips to improve your email campaign strategy and maximize your efforts. 

1. Use an Email Service Provider (ESP)

ESPs are companies like ConstantContact or MailChimp who offer free or inexpensive online marketing tools for sending professional-looking branded email campaigns to your donor database. Most offer pricing models based on the size of your database, and some even offer special pricing for nonprofits. Not all ESPs offer the same features. Consider your options and take advantage of free trial periods to find the best solution for your Nonprofit's needs. 

2. Mix it up

Not every email should be a direct ask for money. While solicitation emails are important, they can annoy donors if you send them too frequently. Your goal with email marketing is to engage donors with useful content so they want to open every email from your organization. If solicitation emails were the only type of communication you sent, donors would stop opening your emails altogether.

Build email campaigns that update supporters on your mission, achievements and goals for the future. Emails are also great for sending thank-you's, special announcements and promoting your fundraising events. 

Cultivate more major donors with properly timed emails3. Email Timing & Frequency

Finding the right number of emails to send is best discovered through trial and error. What works best for you usually depends on your audience and the scope of your nonprofit mission. Some organizations have so much going on that it makes sense to send out weekly correspondence, while others may only need to update their supporters once every few weeks.

At very least, try to send out two email newsletters and one solicitation email each quarter. Whatever you choose to establish as your email schedule, make sure you keep it consistent. There might be months where you don't have as much information to share and that's okay. Send something simple, like a statistic that relates to your cause or a link to view a photo gallery. The idea here is to stay top of mind. 

Timing is also an important consideration when it comes to email marketing. There is mountains of data out there with varying recommendations for the best time and day to send an email blast. Typically though, you want to try to send email campaigns mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) between breakfast and lunch

4. Pay attention to analytics

After every email campaign you send you want to pay attention to your open rate and click rate. These are your best indicators of how successful your email campaign was.

Focus on Analytics to enhance your donor email marketing

  • Open Rate: Usually expressed as a percentage, this is the number of recipients who opened the email and viewed it in their inbox.  NP Industry Average: 25.71%
  • Click Rate: This is the number of recipients who opened the email and then clicked on a link or call to action within the body of the email.  NP Industry Average: 2.99%

There are industry benchmarks for average open and click rates (above) based on the billions of emails sent through ESPs each year. If you can meet or exceed these percentages, then you're doing pretty well. If you're not consistently meeting these averages, then consider recalibrating the frequency, timing or content of your email campaigns.

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5. Keep it short and sweet

Rather than compiling all of the news and events about your organization and sending it in one big email, break up your content into multiple posts that you can send over time. With each email you send, have just one specific goal - whether it's to get them to ready a blog post or view a photo gallery. This will help keep donors interested and prevent them from deleting your emails before they have finished reading. 

Format text to make your emails skimmable. Even if your donors don't read your emails word for word, they can pick up on the main ideas you're trying to share as long as the content is easy to digest. Try using headlines and bullet points to break up the content and make your emails easier to read.

6. Make it mobile friendly

Ensure your donor email marketing efforts are mobile-friendlyStarting in 2015, more than half of all emails will be opened on a mobile device. Older generations have admittedly been slower to adopt this trend, with only 31% of those 65+ years old using a phone or tablet to check their email in 2014, but these numbers will only continue to grow. 

What does this mean for you? Make sure you are building emails that render nicely in a mobile inbox. That means never using static images to display your content, which unfortunately is still a common practice for many nonprofits.

Most ESPs have templates and intuitive user interfaces for building and testing mobile-friendly emails. Send yourself test email messages and check them on your phone so you get an idea for how it works.

7. Use more text than images

Visual aids can help your message, but many email clients block images until the recipient "accepts" them. If your entire message is placed within an image (argh!), many recipients will just delete the email. In fact, a whopping 80 percent of people say they delete an email if it doesn't render correctly in their mobile device.

Make sure that at least two-thirds of your content is actual text, and then use supplementing images to support what you have written. 

Personalize your donor emails for better results8. Make it personal

You won't have time to sit down and write an individual email newsletter to each donor on your list. You can, however, make your messages sound more personal by writing in a conversational style and addressing recipients with their name at the beginning of the email. ESPs will give you tools for using these personalization tokens that pull the recipients first name, as long as you have it in your database.

Another important consideration is to make the "From" name and email that of an actual person, rather than your organization. Do not - I repeat - DO NOT send email campaigns from the email address "". Make sure the "from" email address is an actual person or a group email that multiple people monitor, like "". The reason is, you actually want people to reply to your email campaigns with questions or feedback. The only difficult part is you might have to sift through a couple hundred auto-reply vacation notifications - but its well worth it. 

9. Send thank-you’s.

Every donation deserves a thank-you. If you're using email to thank donors for giving money then send an email after every donation, no matter how big or small. Some ESPs will give you tools for setting up an automated thank you after donors give online.

Don't rely too heavily on your automated thank you emails, however. Especially for larger donations, its always a best practice to follow up with a phone call or personalized (handwritten if possible!) thank-you letter. 

10. Welcome new donors

Start each donor relationship right by sending a personalized welcome email. First impressions are important, and welcoming a first-time donor or an interested person can encourage more involvement or donations in the future. Design your welcome email to introduce the donor to your cause, tell them what they can expect with future emails and get them engaged by encouraging them to like or follow your organization on social media


Today's email marketing tools are so powerful they can make it appear like you have an entire marketing team supporting you behind the scenes. With the right campaign strategies in place, you can your team can use email to cultivate stronger relationships with more donors from your existing database.


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Ian Lauth
Ian Lauth
With an extensive background in marketing development and content design, Ian’s role at Winspire is to develop external communications, brand expansion and product delivery processes to help Nonprofits maximize their fundraising revenue. Ian serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Winspire News, creating and managing blog content, newsletters, eBooks and other resources for Nonprofit fundraising professionals.

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