Email Marketing Campaigns for Nonprofits: Dos and Don'ts

Published on 5 Sep 2023 by Auctria

Email marketing is a core part of fundraising whether you’re promoting an upcoming event, spotlighting your recent work, or sending donation requests. Nonprofit organizations rely on email as a dependable means of communication, employing a range of marketing approaches that span from professional and compelling content to concise messages that strive to reach their intended audience.

To help your nonprofit’s digital strategy rise above the crowd, this guide will explore three dos and three don’ts for email marketing campaigns.

Do Use an Email Marketing Platform

For large nonprofits, a dedicated emailing tool is essential for communicating with your supporters at scale. Explore third-party email platforms that integrate with your software or look for donor management tools with native email marketing apps.

For example, Salesforce Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) is a CRM solution that comes with a variety of out-of-the-box features related to donor management. While its initial emailing capabilities are limited, the platform is also highly customizable, allowing nonprofits to further develop their system to meet their marketing needs.

NPSP is a strong choice for medium-sized nonprofits that need a custom solution. By contrast, nonprofits at the enterprise level may need a solution that’s even more flexible. These nonprofits may be more successful with an email platform developed specifically for their organization.

Don’t Let Data Silos Form

When using a third-party email marketing platform, ensure it has an integration with the rest of your technology stack. Integrations are essentially bridges from one platform to another that let data flow smoothly between them. Without integrating your software, data silos can form.

Data silos occur when information collected by one system is inaccessible from other platforms, making it more difficult to gather. Data silos slow down communication, can cause information to go overlooked, and generally make your technology stack more cumbersome to use. For an email campaign, this means supporter engagement data may get trapped in your email platform and not update supporter profiles in your CRM, limiting your ability to build relationships with them.

To integrate your software, partner with a technology consultant. Consultants can help set up simple integrations and develop middleware solutions—software that acts as an intermediary between two systems—that allow for many complex platforms to sync with one another, preventing data silos and allowing you to view all of your email marketing data in one place.

Do Analyze Your Audience

Your supporters are more likely to open and engage with emails that are relevant to them. When planning your email marketing campaign, it may be tempting to create content based on your end goal. Instead, consider what your audience is interested in first. Then, consider how you can channel that interest to help your nonprofit’s goals.

Specifically, try analyzing your audience based on the following data points:

  • Demographic data. Divide supporters based on their age, location, education level, or any other information that may be useful. For example, you might segment your donors based on age and have different messaging for college students. Your message to the college students would promote more volunteer efforts and low-cost ways to get involved, while your messaging to older demographics with more stable incomes would focus directly on fundraising and growing support.

  • Engagement history. What have your supporters shown an interest in? If a supporter gets onto your emailing list because they interacted with your advocacy content, send them messages about advocacy rather than defaulting to donation requests.

  • Interests. The more you interact with supporters, the more you learn about what parts of your cause interest them. Use this data to share blog posts, impact stories, and engagement opportunities that encourage them to build a relationship with your nonprofit. Investing in these connections may not immediately lead to donations, but in return, your nonprofit can earn life-long supporters who will more than make up the return on the investment put into forging a relationship with them.

If there are supporters in your database that you do not have an email address for, they are still worth analyzing and engaging with. You can get in touch with them through other methods like text messages, direct mail, and social media posts to keep them engaged. You can also purchase an email append to fill out their data and add them to your emailing lists.

Don’t Only Send Donation Requests

Donation requests are arguably the most important part of an email marketing campaign. After all, they’re what pushes supporters to follow through on donating. However, only sending donation requests can negatively impact your ability to build relationships with supporters, limiting their potential to become long-term donors.

Vary your content by sending supporters a variety of content, including:

Do Follow Email Subject Line and Body Best Practices

Email marketing strategies have evolved over the years, and nonprofits should stay up to date on best practices to ensure their emails are engaging, professional, and modern. By following these standards, you increase the chances supporters will view your emails as trustworthy, open them, and interact with your content.

A few best practices to follow include:

  • Create engaging subject lines. Subject lines are your primary method of attracting readers to open your emails as 47% of email recipients decide to open emails based on their subject line alone. Keep your subject lines short, approximately 40 characters to avoid getting cut off on mobile views, and to the point. Additionally, rather than bluntly stating your email’s purpose, consider how you can frame it to interest your audience. This might include asking questions, emphasizing the message’s urgency, or even issuing a challenge to supporters. For example, a subject line for an email promoting an environmental group’s upcoming silent auction might be “Auction for Earth: What prizes will you win?”, “[Donor name], bidding starts in 3 days,” or “Support the planet, win prizes.”

  • Send emails when supporters are likely to check their inboxes. Make sure your emails are at the top of your supporters’ inboxes when they are likely to open them. Studies show that weekdays tend to have higher open-rates, especially around 1 PM after lunch.

  • Use email formatting templates. With many organizations competing for your supporters’ attention, ensure your emails stand out with professionally designed graphics and formatting. Choose an email software platform that comes with customizable email design templates.

Following email design best practices can also increase supporters’ trust in your organization’s legitimacy. There are unfortunately many scam organizations posing as nonprofits, and a plain text email with no branding is likely to make supporters suspicious.

Don’t Forget to Examine Metrics

When rolling out a new email marketing strategy, keep a close eye on core metrics. This will allow you to measure its success in real-time and allow you to course-correct as needed.

For email, the two major metrics to track are open-rate and click-through rate. Open rate is how many supporters click on and presumably read your emails’ content, and click-through rate is how many supporters then follow the links in your email. Open rate is primarily impacted by the strength of your subject line, while click-through depends on the actual content.

Your email marketing software and website analytics should help you track these metrics and estimate what percent of your website’s traffic is coming from emails. For example, you might create a new event landing page and promote it through email, social media, and a direct mail campaign. Your analytics allow you to see what links people are clicking on that leads them to your landing page.

Be conscious that there is a margin of error for supporters who decide to search for or go to your website directly instead of clicking on a provided link. However, even with caveats, metrics allow you to get a general idea of how well your email campaign is performing, what strategies work well, and what approach you should take next time.

Email is a core part of nonprofit communication, and your nonprofit can ensure its emails grab supporters’ attention by following time-tested dos and don’ts of email marketing. Get started by ensuring you have the technology you need to email your supporters at scale to provide highly personalized emails even while growing your organization.

Special thanks to Carl Diesing for the expert advice, Carl is the Managing Director – Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with ongoing web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.