Email is one of the most effective online fundraising channels. But it’s not enough to just write any old email and send it out. You have to write an email with a strong theory of change, an urgent call to action, and tells a compelling story. Over the coming weeks, your donors will be receiving dozens of fundraising emails. It’s more important than ever to write the best email you can in order to get the donation.
So the question is: How do you write a great fundraising email?
As you put the final touches on your year-end fundraising emails or even #GivingTuesday emails, here are 5 tips to help you tell a better story in your next email appeal. I’m also sharing an email that I worked on last year that performed really well that I hope gives you some additional ideas.
Remember that emails are generally shorter
Unlike direct mail, emails are generally a lot shorter. This means that you have less word real estate to get your point across and tell the story. Some writers will see this as problematic. I personally see this restraint as a challenge that forces me to be more creative with the sentences and words that I write. But before I actually start writing, I make a mental note of the amount of space that I’m going to have so that I can anticipate that as I write.
How long should an email be? I don’t know if there really is an answer that applies to every non-profit audience. In my experience, it often comes down to what your audience is used to receiving from you. So if you send 1000+ word emails regularly, then people will likely read and respond to those emails. On the other hand, if you typically send shorter emails a long one might be too much of a change.
For reference, most of the emails I wrote for clients last year were approximately 500 to 750 words.
Use your first sentence to make a strong statement
The first sentence of your email is absolutely crucial. You have to make a strong first impression and get your point across. The first sentence should do several things. It should tell people your main point and it should give them at least one reason to keep reading.
Here’s an example of a strong first sentence:
When women gather in circles to join forces the world shifts.
Today, you have an opportunity to join a circle of people fighting
to end violence against women.
In this particular example, we tapped into a shared value for the audience – women coming together to create change. Next, we told them that they have an opportunity to come together for an important issue – ending violence against women. These two sentences set the tone for the rest of the email and foreshadow the ask.
Spend a few sentences building your case
After your first sentence, it can be tempting to jump to a call to action right away. But this is not the best choice. Instead, spend some time building your case and telling the story of your theory of change. In an email, you may not always tell a story about a specific person, place or thing. But you are creating a sort of narrative. That narrative needs to lead your audience toward the logical conclusion of answering your call to action.
Here’s an example of building a case that also tells a story:
In 1982, women in Vancouver saw the need to support women who had
been sexually assaulted. They witnessed their pain and they knew something
had to shift. They wanted to ensure that women received support and justice.
Together they envisioned a society where all women are free from violence. Today, (ORG) and our supporters continue to carry out this important vision.
You can see in this example that they use the history of the organization to tell a story. This is also the story of their community and supporters, and what they have joined together to do. The idea of using this is to evoke memory and passion for this work.
Have a call to action before the scroll
Many organizations wait too long to make an ask in emails. It will often be the last sentence before the sign off, plus the PS. That means that someone has to read all the way through or just scroll to the bottom to see the ask. A smarter strategy is to sprinkle your asks throughout the email as you are building your case. The first ask should be “above the fold” and in email, that means people should see it before they have to scroll.
Ensure that your call to action is tangible, specific and has some urgency to it.
Here’s an example of a call to action:
This holiday season, you can stand with us to shift our community.
With your donation of $50, you’ll provide 1 hour of counseling support to
a woman who has been sexually assaulted.
In this example, supporters are told exactly how much to give and how that gift will be used. Providing them with a clear idea of how they can make a difference is key. It’s how you get people bought into the solution for your theory of change and excited to make that gift.
I learned this tip from my partner, Matt, who happens to be a brilliant email writer for movement organizations. He told me that one of the things that your words need to do is paint a picture and inspire action for the reader. Sometimes that requires you to use a phrase that evokes those images and characterize your point. A classic example of this is the phrase “drawing a line in the sand.”
As you read through the emails that you write this year, think about what words or phrases you could use to more powerfully characterize your point.
I hope these tips help you as you work on your year-end appeals. I’d love to know which one you found most useful. Leave a comment below and let me know.