Most non-profits know the power of e-mail for fundraising. While e-mail fundraising isn’t as effective as asking for gifts in-person or on the phone, e-mail remains the most effective digital fundraising strategy. (To learn more about why that is, read The Most Important Thing to Understand for Online Fundraising).
In previous articles, we talked about how to write great fundraising e-mails and how to pick effective subject lines… in this article, I want to show you another strategy that can help boost your e-mail fundraising revenue. That strategy is sending fundraising e-mails in “flights.”
What is an E-Mail Flight?
Most non-profits that send out fundraising e-mails only send one e-mail solicitation, then wait for the donations to come in over the next week or so. What we’ve learned over the past decade, though, is that it is far more effective to send out several e-mail solicitations over a short period of time. We call this group of e-mails a “flight.”
For example, your non-profit could send out a fundraising e-mail on Tuesday, then another fundraising e-mail on Friday, then a third fundraising e-mail the following Wednesday. These three e-mails would all be related: they would have the same theme or topic, and they would have the same ask. (Remember… if you want to effectively raise money via e-mail, your e-mail needs to contain a true ask, not simply include a donation link).
Sending a series of e-mails like this is called “sending an e-mail flight,” and we’ve found that it’s far more effective than sending a single stand-alone fundraising e-mail. This is because everyone’s e-mail inboxes are overflowing, and for many of your donors it can take multiple touch points before your ask breaks through the clutter.
Are There Downsides to Sending E-Mail Flights?
Some non-profits worry that if they send multiple e-mails instead of just one, their donors will be mad or will unsubscribe from their e-mail newsletter list. I haven’t found this to be the case. Sure, you may get some additional e-mail unsubscribes, but in general, if people are unsubscribing when you ask them for money, they’re not good fundraising prospects anyway – so why worry about them leaving your list?
In working with dozens of clients sending out flights of fundraising e-mails, I have seen firsthand the benefits of this strategy. Most non-profits raise significantly more money from sending multiple e-mails than they did from sending one single solicitation e-mail.
If you are worried about donor fatigue or losing subscribers, the best way to combat that is by following the 3-1 Fundraising Rule… making sure that you send out 3 non-ask communications for every 1 ask / solicitation. For the purposes of this rule, your entire flight counts as 1 ask (if you send out a flight of 3 e-mails, don’t count it as 3 asks… count the entire flight as just 1 ask).
And remember – if you have the capacity and bandwidth to do so, you can remove anyone who has already so that they don’t receive subsequent e-mails. Thus if Mr. Smith makes a donation in response to the first e-mail and Mrs. Jones makes a donation in response to the second e-mail, you can take them off the list so that neither receives a third e-mail. If you don’t have the technological capacity or time to remove them, then just leave them on the list and let them get all of the e-mails, even after making a donation.
How Should I Craft My E-Mail Flights to Make Them Successful?
When sending flights of fundraising e-mails, we have found that the optimal number to send normally 3 or 4. You can have success with 2, though generally sending that 3rd e-mail will greatly increase your returns. If you send 5 or more e-mails, people will often start to feel bombarded. So, my recommendation is to stick with 3-4 e-mails in your flight.
Generally, the length of your e-mails should decrease as you move further along in your flight. Thus, the first e-mail in the flight should be the longest. The second e-mail is shorter, the third e-mail is even shorter, and if you’re sending a fourth e-mail, it should be the shortest of them all.
Remember that fundraising e-mails generally should be shorter than snail mail appeals. While there is no hard and fast rule about how long your fundraising e-mails should be, a general rule of thumb I use is that your first e-mail should be between 400-500 words maximum. Your second e-mail could then be around 300 words, your third e-mail between 200-250 words, and your fourth e-mail between 150-200 words.
Each e-mail should have the same theme and include the same ask. Also, it is often very effective to mention your previous e-mail(s) in subsequent communications. When I am writing e-mail flights, I will often have the second e-mail say something like, “I want to make sure you received my last e-mail,” or, “I’m not sure if my last e-mail came through… so I wanted to reach to say…” Likewise, your final e-mail in a flight could say something like, “I’m reaching out one last time to ask for your help.”
Try Using Flights in Your Next E-Mail Fundraising Appeal
If you’ve never tried using e-mail flights, I want to encourage you to give them a try in your next online fundraising appeal. While every non-profit and every e-mail list are different, it is very likely that you’ll see a higher response rate, more donations, and very few additional unsubscribes from your list.