Nonprofits are sending more emails than ever before, especially email newsletters. But does news content really raise revenue? As email fundraising continues to grow and play a big role (nearly 30%!) in all online fundraising, it’s time to look at what you’re sending.

Like many nonprofit marketers who are short on time, you work hard to write and then repurpose content as much as you can. So when you sit down to draft an email, it can be really tempting to copy and paste. And unlike sending something to the printer, sending emails can seem cheap and quick with unlimited room for text. Which brings me to…

Content That Kills Email Fundraising

Before diving into content that works for email fundraising, let’s take a look at some types of content that don’t generally work in emails:

  • Press releases that read like press releases
  • Long fundraising appeals written like print letters
  • Announcing your latest board member or internal project

Why don’t they work? Because they don’t make your audience a priority.

First, the way that people read digital screens and email is different than on paper. There’s much more scanning and scrolling looking for relevant information (and seemingly a lot less patience). Content needs to be structured differently, and often written in a less formal tone, when sending an email. Use sub-headings, shorter sentences and small paragraphs to break up a wall of text.

Second, there’s a pretty good chance that the people receiving your emails aren’t thinking about you every day, or even every month. They’re busy, too! When they hear from you, there’s an expectation that they’ll learn about the things that are the mission-critical and why their support matters ­– not that you’ve rearranged the office.

As with all email marketing, if you’re not relevant, you’re in the trash can. And it’s hard to click on the donate button when you never opened the email in the first place! Cut out the clutter to help make sure that your content gets read.

Content that Works for Email Fundraising

There’s no perfect formula for email fundraising, what works for one organization or audience of supporters may not work for another. But there are a couple of things that I know to be true across the board. You need to tell people why donating to your organization makes a difference, and then you need to ask them to do it. So with that in mind, below are five approaches to consider when creating content for your next email fundraising campaign.

The Short Story

Rather than give a list of facts about your various achievements, tell a short story (even just a paragraph) about a single community member, volunteer, animal or other living creature that is better off because of your cause. Storytelling gives you a chance to connect the reader with something real. The result is that the ask (“Help more people like Sarah!”) seems more personal and the gift feels more rewarding to the donor.

The Urgent Need

Creating a sense of urgency is standard practice in most appeals. But if there’s a tangible and time-sensitive need to provide food, shelter or other vital services, email is a great tool that reaches people quickly. Describe what’s happening and what’s required of your organization during this time. People are motivated by feeling needed and by knowing exactly how their donations will be spent.

The Value-Added

Does your organization create and distribute resources like education plans, infographics, community assessments or helpful guides? Send out an email when new resources are released to show how your organization adds value. Tell people what else you could achieve (or what else is already in the works) with the ongoing support of donors like them. If your resources aren’t directly relevant to all of your audiences, be sure to segment your mailing list and only send to those that will be served, impacted or interested in them.

The Honest Report Card

Send out a survey to donors and supporters to ask what you could do better and what they want to learn more about. It’s important to balance your messages of optimism and innovation with honesty about your struggles and worries. Don’t be afraid to highlight areas of your work or programs that you’re improving. Tell people what success will look like in the future based on your strategic plans, and ask them to contribute to your “better days” fund.

The Second Thank You

You probably send a thank you letter to donors and volunteers soon after they’ve given time and money. But would it hurt to do it again? Show your gratitude by following up later in the year with an update on what the donor or volunteer accomplished with their previous support. Address them by name and be specific by including the amount they donated previously or the event/program that were involved with. By expressing your gratitude and acknowledging their impact, it’s not a big leap to ask for their continued support since they’ve already invested in you at least once before.

Looking at current trends, email fundraising will be a valuable tool for years to come. Get the most out of your emails by creating content that makes people feel needed, appreciated and motivated. When you’re on the right track, emails can bring in significant revenue and build trust over time, leading to better donor retention rates.

How are you using email to raise money? What kinds of content do your donors love and react to? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.


  1. It is important to know what to include and what not to include in your email regarding fundraising – you want to be sure to engage your audience. Great tips, thanks for sharing!