5 Things to Keep in Mind: Writing Compelling Fundraising Emails

As a nonprofit practitioner, you know your mission inside and out – but how do you translate such a comprehensive idea into a digestible, compelling email? And once you’ve done that, how do you do it again and again through entire series?

If you’ve ever felt tripped up in all the competing goals and strategies that go into a nonprofit email, this blog post is for you. Here are the five things you need to know before you put pen to paper (well … hands to keyboard):

Know what you want your audience to do

This one may feel obvious, but you’d be surprised by how easy it is to overlook the real answer. All too often, we send because we “should” send – in other words, content is more bound to schedules, projections and breaking news than to making sure we have a clear ask in mind.

Before you write anything, drill down to the most basic action you want to inspire. Do you want people to donate? To take a survey? To feel appreciated and recognized? That core request is your call to action – and that is what you need to base your message on. Anything that doesn’t relate to or drive people toward answering your call to action is outside the scope of this email, and any phrasing that clouds your actual ask isn’t your ask. Or, as our content strategists sometimes say: If you’re asking for money, you should probably ask for money.

Know who your audience is

Again, this sounds simple, but you literally need to know who you’re mailing: Is this email going to your full list? To donors only? To a specific segment of donors? Are you suppressing any subscribers you’d usually mail? This is when content strategy stretches beyond the realm of “just writing” and into true strategy – so feel empowered to connect with any colleagues with insight into the production side of things! Knowing your audience helps you determine audience-dependent language or tailor specific details to make your audience feel personally seen.

Know why the audience should care

Chances are, you feel a real connection to your organization’s mission and maybe even think it goes without saying. You should be able to state your call to action, pop a link in there and watch the conversions roll in – right?

Unfortunately, wrong. No matter how compelling and powerful your mission is, you still need to earn your ask, every single time. And while you should be able to do so concisely, it’s more important to do so thoughtfully. What does this look like? Generally, it means you need at least a few sentences of context before you’ve “earned” a link or button. Remember: Even your most loyal subscribers are getting tons of other emails every day, and need a refresher on why they support you.

However, remember as you draft those supporting sentences that the real hero of your work is not your organization – it’s the supporters behind the organization. If you write an email that explains all the incredible things you’re doing and all your audience can do is “help” or “chip in,” they’re set up to feel peripheral – when really, their support powers everything you do! Instead, frame your content so that your organization is the conduit through which the supporter changes the world.

Know why they should care now

Here’s where we get to the issue of sending “because we should send.” It’s much easier to drive urgency when major news breaks, a milestone event is coming up or you have an official deadline to point to. But what about those slow weeks when nothing is “happening,” per se, but you still have to engage your audience? Regardless of how “real” it may feel, your job when drafting is to create urgency – to build tension, need and momentum that help you earn your call to action.

Easy tricks here are to make internal deadlines: an end-of-week goal or time-limited match, for example, or a strategy meeting before which you need 1,500 survey responses. Goals and deadlines are the bread and butter of urgency – and without them, your response metrics are sure to go hungry.

Know what’s necessary and relevant

Nonprofit work is critical, powerful, necessary – and often, downright cool! The organization you work for or the issue you address may have a rich history or other interesting tangents you’d love to go down. But there is a crucial difference between developing enough context to justify your call to action and giving a complete oral history of legislation first introduced 10 Congresses ago.

Try this trick if your word count has run away from you: Write the shortest possible version of your email – no frills, no hooks, just the essentials. Once you have that, only add in what’s truly missing. That’s your message. And you can always save the fun facts for social media or an engagement experience!

TL;DR? Before you draft any email for your nonprofit, ask yourself these five questions:

  1. Why am I sending this email? (And why am I sending this email now?)
  2. Who will read this email?
  3. Have I made the outcomes clear?
  4. Have I made the outcomes urgent?
  5. Did I ask for what I actually need?