How to Write Fundraising E-Mails that Get Results

by Joe Garecht

Writing a Fundraising E-Mail

Most e-mails you send out from your non-profit should be designed to build relationships, not raise money.  They should be newsletters, updates, stories from your program staff, and resources for your donors to use.  My recommendation is that you send out 3 or 4 cultivation e-mails for every solicitation e-mail that goes out to your list.

When it does come time to ask, though, you need to make sure you send out an e-mail that produces results.

What do good, high-producing e-mail fundraising letters look like?  What are the best practices to get the best results?  While your e-mail fundraising letters will vary depending on whether they are part of an annual campaign, selling tickets for an event, etc., there are some basic rules of thumb that will allow you to see maximum results with your e-mail fundraising efforts:

Similarities to Offline Direct Mail

In many ways, e-mail fundraising letters are similar to offline fundraising letters.  Just as with offline letters, e-mail fundraising letters must be compelling and emotional.  Remember, for your readers – your organization and your mission matters!   Tell people stories that tug on the heart strings, that make them cry.

In fundraising letters, people don’t want to hear a list of boring statistics and facts.  Sure, one or two surprising or super-compelling facts might make all the difference.  But a list of twelve percentages with footnotes supporting them?  Not compelling when sent as part of as fundraising letter.

Instead, tell stories, use charts, make people cry.  Think: if I had 30 seconds to tell someone about my non-profit, and the success of our group depended on that one person writing a check on the spot… what would I say?  Then write that pitch as your first draft.

The second key similarity with offline fundraising mail is: write your e-mail in such a way that your compelling content gets read.  People are busy.  Even if they aren’t really busy, most people think they are.  Very few people think they have the time to read through your fundraising e-mail.  Most people will skim your e-mail to see if it is worth reading.  Where do they look to make their decisions?  The e-mail subject and first sentence, the pictures, the headlines and bolded or underlined words, and the P.S.  That’s it… just 20-30 second of skimming.

How do you capitalize on this tendency? First, give them lots to skim.  Use section headlines, a great subject and opening sentence and P.S., pictures, and bolded/underlined words.  Then, make sure that all of this “skim-able” content works together to tell the entire story of your letter.  Ask yourself: if someone only skimmed my letter, using the items listed above, would they know what I am saying? Would they “get” the whole story?

Differences from Offline Direct Mail

The primary difference between offline fundraising letters and e-mail fundraising letters is length.  For many organizations, long (or super-long) snail-mail fundraising letters work.  Some organizations send 3, 4, or even 5 page fundraising letters and know that their constituencies appreciate the length because they make money with these letters.

The rule online is less, less, less.  I have never seen an e-mail fundraising letter that was the equivalent of a 4 page offline letter get read.  When writing online fundraising e-mails, keep it relatively short – I would suggest trying to keep your e-mail asks to 400 words or less.  Anything more than that, and people simply won’t want to read it.  If necessary, you can include links to your website to explain additional information, but for the actual e-mail, keep it short and to the point.

The Ask

Remember – whether online or offline, people don’t give unless they are asked.  If you are sending out an e-mail fundraising letter, be sure it includes a clear, concise, and understandable ask.

Tell people that you need money.  Tell them how much you need and why you need it.  Then make an ask, by asking the reader to click on a button or link to donate now.  Make the button or link big and bold, and don’t be shy about asking – your mission matters, and you need money to carry out the good work that your organization does!

Photo Credit: Christian Schnettelker

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