Fundraising Series: Anatomy Of A Winning Email

When an email performs well, you know something resonated, whether it’s the lyricism of the copywriting or the relevance of the message. It’s an artform, really. But it’s also a science.

Step into our optimization lab. Why did this particular Freedom to Marry email perform four times better than their other fundraising emails? We have the answers below—and we encourage you to adopt the same rigorous testing in your own program. The data says the anatomy of this email is a very good place to start!

1. Stand out in a cluttered inbox

Get more eyes on your emails by testing the format of the name of the sender. We’ve often seen sender names work best when it’s just a person’s name without their title or the organization alongside it, but it’s always worth testing. One organization tested sending from the nickname by which they’re known and saw 51% more donations as a result!

Get creative with your subject lines to make your emails stand out—when used appropriately, things like unicode (❤), personalization (Hi, Jane!), and teasers (Spoiler alert!) in your subject line can help make sure your emails are noticed in crowded end-of-year inboxes.

2. Good news? Get straight to the point

Don’t miss an opportunity with your pre-header text (the short summary that follows the subject line in your inbox). When you’ve got a special offer—like a match gift or special merchandise—try including a short, direct explanation in the preheader copy and link it to your landing page. One of our clients saw a 25% increase in donations by putting it all up front. But be careful, if it’s not a good sell, you might end up actually depressing your response rates.

Pro-tip: Don’t just stop with one good email—follow up! There are many ways to get extra mileage (and dollars) out of an email that performs well without investing a lot more effort. Short “kickers” and forwarding the email by another sender are an easy way to reap extra value. Another tactic is simply changing the subject line and re-sending it to non-openers who might have missed it the first time around.

3. Never ask for less (or too much)

Experiment with the suggested gift amounts in the email to determine what works best for the various donor segments your list. Test different ask variations based on what your donors have given before—like a percentage of their Highest Previous Contribution, or an average of their previous donations, or whatever formula you feel may be effective with your audience. Do your non-donors respond better to $5 asks, or $25? How about with merch incentives? In some cases, it’s better not to suggest an amount at all, particularly with higher-dollar segments.

4. Format matters

Make sure it’s easy for your audience to take action. We’ve seen things like a stripped-down, simple, less-designed email template increase conversions by more than 40% for some of our clients, while we also recommend sticking to best practices like putting donate buttons in email footers. In other cases, a clean, bold full-graphic email is the way to go.

Pro-tip: Don’t forget the little things, e.g. including a “naked” URL in the body copy can improve click-through rates, especially on lists with older audiences.

5. Keep it short

Great copy is important, but most of the time, you shouldn’t need more than a few quick paragraphs to capture your readers’ attention and tell them why they should take an action. Need further convincing? One of our clients tested copy about half as long as they usually send and saw a lift of 36%. But for any rule, there are always exceptions!

Pro-tip: A picture is worth a thousand words, so get creative with your graphics. Try using gifs to grab people’s attention, embedded countdown clocks to drive urgency (we use Moveable Ink for this), or even turn your email into one big long scroll to tell a story.

And for more insights, lessons, and tactics that will help you take your fundraising to the next level, download our Year-End Fundraising Report.