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Four Ways to Completely Bungle Your Email Appeals


By Sean Chisholm

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Email appeals are a key component of any successful online fundraising program, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to get right. Make sure you steer clear of these four common mistakes the next time you hit the send button!

1. Make Them Nice and Loooonnnngggg

Email appeals and direct mail are two entirely different animals. Don’t get suckered into the trap of replicating successful direct mail text in your emails. Think about it, when’s the last time that you stopped and read a four-page email? If you’re like most other people, we’re guessing never.

Marketing Sherpa reported on a study that concluded that email readers spend an average of 15-20 seconds scanning any given email message they open. The study emerged from a review of millions of emails. Obviously, the major take away is that people don’t really spend much time (on average) reading an opened email. This only underscores the importance of being concise in your email appeals. That being said, don’t feel like you need to condense your message to some arbitrarily small word count. Just say what you need to say in a concise and direct manner.

2. Focus Only on Your Organization

Nobody likes a bragger, especially when that bragger happens to be asking for money. There are obviously plenty of great times to share the wonderful things your organization is accomplishing (including in your email appeals), but you need to stay away from being self-congratulatory or self-important in your messages.

M+R Strategic Services put out a white paper not too long ago about writing email appeals; in that piece, they focused on the concept of creating donor-centric stories. We love this way of phrasing things. Your fundraising emails should elevate the importance of your donors. They should reflect the fact that at a fundamental level it’s donors’ gifts that are driving the change your organization is making. You want to include your donors as a central element of the story. They aren’t an ATM, they are the first step in a process that drives important change. Make sure your message conveys that sentiment!

3. Use Squishy Language

Guess what? In order to get people to give to your organization, you actually have to ask them! After all, that’s the very essence of a fundraising appeal.

With that (obvious) point made, you’d be surprised how often wish-washy noncommittal language is used when it comes to the asking part. Lots of people have hang-ups about asking for money, but if you are going to be writing email appeals for your nonprofit, you can’t be one of them. Your calls to action should be direct and clear. Are you looking for one-time donations, monthly donations, volunteers? Whatever the case might be, let your donors know what you are asking for. It’s not hard for them to say no (all they have to do is close the email), so just make your ask straightforward and direct. For example…

A child like Tim needs your help to have a better life. A gift of $100 will provide the surgery that will make that possible.

Change a Life Today- Make a Donation

4. Don’t Track Responses

If there’s one surefire way to make sure you never improve your email fundraising, it’s not tracking people’s responses to your messages. Most email software platforms provide analytics that you can use to measure a variety of things like open rates and click rates. And they generally also allow you to view a history of different emails you’ve sent (if your platform doesn’t, you can easily create a spreadsheet to track stats over time).

By keeping a record of how well each email appeal performs, you’ll be able to periodically check back to uncover trends. Are there times of year when responses go up? Are there particular topics that resonate more? What writing style seems to be the most effective? These are all valuable insights that can be uncovered with time if you are keeping track of the performance of each individual email appeal. If you don’t track responses you are essentially fundraising in the dark.

Depending upon what fundraising software you use, you may also have the option of spinning off different donation pages for each email appeal you send. This allows you to easily keep track of the total number of donations and amount raised from each appeal. This is useful, because while your message may be very effective in terms of getting people to click through, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will bring in the most donations overall (you could have a more targeted message that garners less clicks from a more qualified audience for instance).
What best practices do you rely upon for your email appeals? Share them with us in the comments!

More Posts:

Using Email Segmentation to Drive Your Fundraising Campaign

10 Ways to Grow Your Nonprofit Email List

Increasing Donor Conversion Rates With Custom Forms

Photo Credit: Flickr User iamtekn

5 Ways Online Fundraising Pays for Itself

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