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The Nonprofit Email Marketing Guide

By March 6, 2017July 20th, 2022No Comments

Email marketing has become an important and cost-effective fundraising tool for nonprofits. Using email effectively and finding content to share with your supporters can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task for nonprofits. In this article, I will share some tips and best practices that will help you step up your email marketing game.


1) Build a Quality Email List

There are many ways you can grow your email list. Most of them are easy to implement, such as adding sign-up forms at the end of your blog posts, or having an exit pop-up. I’ve dedicated an entire blog post to email list growth tips. Feel free use as many of the suggestions as you wish. My recommendation is to add one of these suggestions at a time so you can more easily understand which ones perform best. If you would like to add all at once,  you can track their performance through advanced tracking platforms, such as the Google Tag Manager.


2) Segment Your Audience

You wouldn’t mail the same fundraising letter to potential AND current supporters, so why would you do this with email? Group your email subscribers into various lists, such as donors, volunteers, high-contribution supporters, and individuals interested in your cause. Depending on the group they are in, your email subscribers receive personalized content. If you have an individual who donated $20 in the past, for example, they would get a different email than those who contributed $2,000.

Through surveys and personal conversations with individuals of your segmented email groups, you can find out what kind of content they are interested in receiving. If you’re using an email program that allows automation, such as ActiveCampaign, MailChimp, Constant Contact, or AWeber, you can create a separate automation sequence for each group.


3) Important Days

The most important days of the year for any responsible nonprofit are Giving Tuesday and Earth Day. Those are the days I can rely on my favourite nonprofits to connect with me via email. But did you know that there is a plethora of other important days on a national and global level? Depending on your cause these can be valuable occasions to connect with your subscribers. Below is a list of days that you can build into your outreach strategies.

Feel free to download this Google Sheet:




4) Email Content

Now that you have steps in place to grow your email list, have segmented your subscribers, and written down some important dates, you can turn your attention to the content. The content is what your subscribers are after, so make it count.

I’ve had subscribed to many nonprofits newsletters in the past that hardly send out emails and the few they do send are donation requests. You will notice that I said “I’ve had subscribed.” I’m no longer on their lists. Your subscribers join your newsletter to hear about your activities, be informed about upcoming events, learn more about your organization, and get “inside information” that they cannot gain through your website. In other words: They are interested in your news (hence the name “newsletter”). With every email that satisfies those criteria, your chances of getting a donation increase when you eventually send them a donation request. That’s because they will have already “bonded” with  your organization and wish to support you. Here are some emails you should consider sending.

a) Welcome

Once they have subscribed to your newsletter, send them a welcome email. Not only is this a nice gesture, it also allows you to let them know what to expect. If you intent to send them a weekly email, you could tell them here to look out for your email on Wednesdays. You can ask them to whitelist you in their address book so your emails will never end up in their spam folders.

b) Let’s be social

Because your supporters are most engaged, when they have just subscribed, the second email could ask them to connect with you on social media.

c) Our Story

Your subscribers joined because they want to hear more about you, so your third email should give them an in-depth insight into what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how they can get involved if they wish. This is not a donation request.

d) Weekly Content

Now that you have started to establish a great relationship with your supporters, you can keep them informed about your activities and organization. About once a month, you can ask for donations but refrain from coming across as pushy.

e) Exclusive Content

Make your subscribers feel special by sharing information and opportunities that are not readily available to the public. For example, a week-long discount (having a deadline for this is important) on your swag, backstage tickets for an event you’re hosting, a greet-and-meet visit at your office, etc.

f) Success Stories

Donors (and potential donors) want to see that their contributions helps you achieve your goal. Be sure to share your success stories, big and small, with them. Include pictures to show your team in action and the outcomes your team has achieved. This can also be a good time to ask for an additional donation, to consider a yearly membership, or become a volunteer.

g) Urgent Goals

Sometimes you may organize a special event for which you require their help. Write at least 3 emails about this event to get them excited. In each email, be sure to mention what sort of support you are seeking from them, how they can get involved, and what the deadline for this action is.


5) Personalize Your Email

Most email marketing providers allow you to create a placeholder when you draft your email, that will later be replaced by the name of the recipient. Here are some examples for “first name” placeholders:

ActiveCampaign %FIRSTNAME%
MailChimp *|FNAME|*
AWeber {!firstname}


6) Pick a great Call-to-Action

Not every email needs a call to action (CTA). Emails you send to seek donations, recruit volunteers, or gain support in another way, absolutely require a CTA.

Here are some great ideas your nonprofit can use:

  • Donate now
  • Get involved now
  • Make a contribution today
  • Every dollar helps
  • Help someone in need
  • Help [name of the person you are featuring] today
  • Make a difference today
  • Be a hero
  • Join together in the cause
  • Support us
  • Send your love


7) Automation

Most professional email programs, such as ActiveCampaign, MailChimp, Constant Contact, and AWeber allow you to send an automatic welcome email when someone joins your list. All remaining information you can send manually. If you want to automate the sending of more general information as well, you will have to get a paid subscription, ranging from $10-20 a month. Your time-sensitive requests or news will, however, still need to be sent manually.


I hope this overview of email marketing for nonprofits will help you step up your fundraising game and grow your organization. If you need help with any of the above, please feel free to reach out.