There are lots of different channels for online fundraising. Your website, social media, and crowdfunding are all important, and all have their place. But no online fundraising method is as effective as e-mail. In this article, I’m going to show you how to write an effective solicitation email for your non-profit.
Why is E-Mail So Important for Online Fundraising?
Before we go on, I want to remind you why e-mail is so important for your online giving program. Email is the only truly active fundraising tactic you have access to online. All the other online giving strategies (social media, your website, etc.) are passive, and you don’t control them. With email, you’re in the driver’s seat. For a complete explanation of why e-mail is do important for online fundraising, read The Most Important Thing to Understand for Online Fundraising.
As noted in the linked article, when it comes to email fundraising, your general strategy is:
- Sign people up for your e-mail newsletter
- Communicate with them on a regular basis
- Send out occasional solicitation emails
It’s that simple. Build your email list (here’s how), use it to build relationships, and then ask for money via email. Of course, asking for money through email is different than asking for money through other mediums. Let’s take a look at the best ways to solicit people for gifts via email.
The Basics of Writing a Great Solicitation Email
Don’t just write your solicitation email… be deliberate about it. As with snail mail letters, there are best practices gleaned from millions of fundraising emails that have been sent out buy thousands of non-profit organizations. Let’s take a look at how solicitation emails are like snail mail fundraising letters, and how they differ… then look at a number of other best practices for raising the most from your next solicitation email.
How Solicitation Emails are Like Snail Mail Fundraising Letters
If you want to successfully raise money through email, it’s important to understand that for the most part, a great solicitation email is a lot like a great snail mail fundraising letter:
First, fundraising emails should use bolded, underlined, and italicized words to make sure that people who are merely scanning the email get the gist of your message. Like snail mail letters, solicitation emails should also include headlines and a P.S. to draw the attention of readers and ensure that everyone sees the most important parts of your solicitation message.
Second, fundraising emails should include a defined ask (sometimes called a “hard ask”) in order to be successful. Like snail mail letters, solicitation emails need to include an ask that is an actual question and asks for a set range of gift amounts. For example, “Would you be able to give $100, $50, $25, or whatever you can afford to help end homelessness in our city today?”
How Solicitation Emails are Different from Snail Mail Fundraising Letters
Of course, there are also some ways in which a strong solicitation email differs from a great fundraising letter:
First, a good solicitation email is shorter than a good fundraising letter. While many snail mail fundraising letters are 3, 5, or even 7 pages in length, great fundraising emails are much shorter… usually no more than 400-500 words. Remember, many people will read your fundraising email on their phone or tablet and won’t want to scroll through the equivalent of 5 or 7 typewritten pages.
Second, remember that one of the most important parts of your fundraising email is your subject line. The subject line you write for your email will be the primary way that many of the people on your list decide whether or not to open and read your email appeal. There is no real correlation between your subject line and anything on your snail mail appeals. Even the teasers you put on your snail mail envelopes aren’t as consequential as your email subject lines, so be sure to take great care in crafting appealing subject lines that get people to open your emails.
Don’t Send Just One Email!
One of the most important rules when it comes to sending great fundraising emails is that, unlike offline / snail mail fundraising letters, you never want to send just one fundraising email. Instead, you should always send a “flight” of 2-4 emails to help you break through the clutter.
The average person’s email inbox is overflowing with personal emails, advertisements, newsletters, and nonprofit solicitations. In order to break through and make sure that your emails are read, you’ll need to send multiple emails for each email fundraising campaign.
Each email that you send in your email flight should be focused on the same message and include the same ask. You should send the emails relatively close together (with most of our clients, we send 3-4 emails over a 7-9 day period). The emails should get progressively shorter. Your first email might be 500 words, your second email 300 words, your third email 250 words, and your final email might be 100 words… just enough to ask the reader if they got your previous emails and reiterate your ask.
Don’t be shy about sending multiple emails. Whether it is an annual appeal, year-end giving campaign, or any other type of fundraising campaign, your email solicitations will be much stronger if you start sending out flights of emails for all of your email fundraising appeals.
Simplify Your Fundraising Emails
One final rule as you plan out your next solicitation email… don’t overdo it! While your email newsletters may be highly designed and include lots of pictures, sidebars, and graphic headers, for the most part your fundraising emails should be relatively simple.
When I am designing a solicitation email, I generally avoid using sidebars or pictures. Instead, I focus on getting the message across in a compelling and emotional manner. Similarly, I avoid including lots of links back to other places on our website, and instead focus on the donation button / link. Your email newsletters should drive traffic back to lots of pages on your website, but your email fundraising letters should be focused squarely on getting people to hit the donate button or click on the donate link.
Remember, when it comes to online fundraising, email is the “killer app” for your non-profit. Focus on getting as many people as possible to sign up for your email list, send them email newsletters monthly (or even weekly) and then send them email solicitation flights on at least a quarterly basis.