When you ask donors to be generous, when should you make that ask by email?
One good time is when you’ve already sent them the ideal appeal letter by mail. When they’re thinking about making a donation but they’ve been putting off their gift until later, then email can remind, follow up, and jog them into action.
Another time email works is when your organization doesn’t have a street address, but you do have an email address.
Let’s be clear: that’s not the best situation for you. Most donors are still more likely to respond to direct mail than to email. When they give, a letter also increases the amount they are likely to give. Even if they end up taking out their credit card and giving online, chances are great that it was getting a letter in the mail that motivated them to donate. So, you will want to ask them for their mailing address (and permission to use it) as soon as you can.
But if email is what you have, and it’s time to reach out for donations, how do you ask in a way that makes donors most likely to respond?
10 tips for writing an email that raises money
- Email appeals aren’t like fundraising letters. Getting a letter in the mail still has a certain cachet, especially if the envelope is special. Getting an email, on the other hand? It feels like just more clutter in the inbox. You have to make sure yours stands out.
- Send it “From” a real person. A name the donor will recognize, like a celebrity or someone famous in your community, is great, but the name of your ED, Board Chair, Development Director, or someone the donation will benefit also works. Not just from “Any Old Organization”!
- Get the donor’s name right in the “To:” line. If that doesn’t happen, the donor will hit the Delete button–and nothing else you wrote will matter.
- Write a “Subject:” line that makes them have to read more. According to Hubspot, “33% of email recipients are choosing whether to open your email just based on the subject line alone. Here are some examples of great subject lines. Spend as much time as you need to write one that readers can’t resist.
- Use an image. People who don’t read your email will let their eyes rest on a photo or graphic–so make sure yours says, “Here’s what you’re giving for.”
- Tell a story. Don’t try to argue people into believing their donation is needed. Talk about a real person who needs help.
- Ask. You may think it’s obvious why you’re writing to the person receiving your email today, but they may not know, or pay attention. You have to say, “Please give today.”
- Ask again. Once toward the beginning of your email (because that may be as far as they read). Once at the end, and possibly once in the middle, too.
- Just ask. The appeal letter is not the time to be looking for volunteers, or requesting people to phone their legislators. It must have a single call to action, and that action is to donate.
- Make it easy to give. Link to the Donate page on your website, and make sure that once they arrive there, the donor will be sure it’s the same organization, asking for the same thing. Do include your mailing address for the people who still want to send you a check, but they will be the minority.
One bonus tip: Keep it short.
When you’re sending an appeal letter by mail, two sides of a page are enough to convey a powerful message to donors who already know, like, and trust you. For new prospects, four sides may work better. They convey credibility, as much as they share information.
With email, it doesn’t work that way. Shorter is better.
I have seen recommendations that say you should limit your email to three short paragraphs of two or three sentences each. I don’t agree with that (unless the email is a follow-up to postal mail, or one in a series of emails), but it gives you a sense of how much an average email recipient can be expected to read.
My recommendation? Write a first draft of your email, using the ten tips listed above. Let it sit. Then…
Go back and edit out anything that’s there just because your Executive Director likes it, or your Board likes it.
Cut anything that’s there because one program will get jealous if another one is mentioned and they are not.
Get rid of anything that matters to people inside the organization, but not to donors.
You should be communicating with donors all year round: informing them, thanking them, showing them the impact of their previous donation. In this, your fundraising email, you should be doing only one thing, and that’s asking donors to give. That’s how you keep it short!