[GUEST POST] 3 tips for better email fundraising with your nonprofit CRM

Email fundraising is a constantly-evolving juggernaut. We know from reports like the M+R Benchmarks that it raises millions of dollars for nonprofits year after year, and organizations dedicated to making the world a better place deserve the chance to fully harness the power this channel has to offer.

That said, nonprofits are famously busy, and there are a limited number of hours in every work week, so it’s important to find ways to utilize email to raise funds without drastically increasing staff workloads. That’s where the right constituent relationship management (CRM) platform can help.

Nonprofits can improve their odds of succeeding at email fundraising by starting with the right acquisition practices, building good habits based on best practices, and remembering to take an expansive approach to everything email can do. Here are three important tips essentially any nonprofit can apply to improve their email fundraising practices, plus ways the right technology can help.

Tip #1: Start with solid acquisition practices.

It might sound obvious, but in order to do email fundraising, you must first have a list of supporters to contact! Tactics to help you acquire supporters and grow your contact list can be as simple as:

  • Adding a form to your website asking supporters to subscribe to your emails.
  • Posting on social media to share your email subscription form and asking supporters to sign up.
  • Using other channels, like digital ads, to ask supporters to subscribe.
  • Collaborating with coalition partners to add your opt-in forms to some shared digital properties, so you can grow your list authentically and ethically.

These are just a few ways your organization can grow your email fundraising audience. No matter which acquisition tactics you use, one of your most important goals should be to make sure you’re feeding your supporters’ contact information directly into your CRM and managing it within your platform. This saves you time, since you can avoid shuttling data back and forth in spreadsheets. It also helps to protect the accuracy of your data by reducing opportunities for human error, and it empowers your staff to conduct donor outreach more efficiently, since storing and managing your donor data in your CRM right from the start means you can easily grant the right staff the right levels of access to it.

Once you’ve identified the right opportunities to acquire new supporters and you’re bringing them on board for email fundraising, make it clear what you plan to do with their information when you collect it. If supporters understand why they’re getting emails from you, they’re less likely to mark your messages as spam, which can help you preserve a good sender reputation and protect your ability to land emails in your supporters’ inboxes.

As you acquire new supporters and make a plan to engage them for email fundraising, one of the first tasks on your to-do list should be sending them a welcome series. This is important because it allows you to get to know your new supporters, ask them questions about the kinds of content they’d like to see from you, and gather demographic and behavioral data so that you can personalize the content you’re sending them to make it feel relevant.

These practices are helpful, and the good news is that support from the right technology can mean they’re efficient and reliable, too. Your CRM should offer you the ability to automate your welcome series, and build branched workflows into them to allow you to customize your series content according to your supporters’ interests and direct them to the appropriate email stream based on actions they take or new information they share with you. This supports nonprofit email fundraising by allowing nonprofits to create customized outreach to supporters based on their actions. Busy staff will appreciate knowing your technology is there to dispatch the right email series installments to the right supporters at the right times.

Key takeaway: With the right acquisition tactics and CRM capabilities, busy nonprofit staff can bring new supporters on board and engage them with personalized content in order to convert them into donors via email fundraising.

Tip #2: Embrace email fundraising best practices.

Just like proper technique and regular practice can help athletes stay strong and perform at their best, evidence-based email habits and consistent data hygiene can help nonprofits succeed at email fundraising with a little help from their CRM. The right technology should help your fundraisers follow best practices and make the most of your email fundraising asks, including:

  • Double opt-in — Asking supporters to confirm that they want to receive email from you is important, since you always want to make sure you have permission to contact them and aren’t sending unsolicited messages.
  • A clear unsubscribe pathway — Make sure your email recipients can easily find your unsubscribe link and follow it if they decide they’d like to stop receiving messages from you. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also a simple way to preserve good will with supporters even if they decide to stop hearing from you.
  • Multivariate testing — This is also sometimes referred to as A/B testing. Having the ability in your CRM to create multiple versions of an email, test them across a small selection of your subscribers, and then send the winner to the rest of your audience can help you improve your email programs based on data instead of on your best guesses at what will resonate with supporters.
  • Understanding your open rates (and other metrics) — When Apple released its Mail Privacy Update in the spring of 2022, many organizations were worried about losing the effectiveness of the open rate metric entirely. The key now, in this post-Mail Privacy Update world, is to understand how much weight to give your open rates, as opposed to other metrics like clicks on your calls to action (CTAs) or your form completion rates. Your CRM should help you measure a range of metrics and use your findings to optimize your email fundraising send after send.
  • Report on your successes and areas of improvement — Once you’ve identified which metrics you’ll use to measure outcomes, you need the ability to report on them and share your findings with teammates across your organization. Because nonprofit staff are famously busy, reporting on your email fundraising outcomes and metrics should be quick and straightforward: Dashboards that automatically update every day and regular scheduled reports can help you make the most of your limited staff hours while capturing the work you’re doing to meet your email fundraising goals.
  • Target different supporters using clean, accurate data — We’ve already gone over the importance of tailoring email content to your supporters based on what you know about them. To succeed with a practice like that, nonprofits need tidy, well-managed supporter data, and your CRM should support your data hygiene efforts with functionalities like supporter self-service pages that empower donors to update some of their information independently instead of requiring staff to connect with supporters in real time to manually update their records.

This is a non-exhaustive list. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Talk to your platform vendor, any partners or consultants you work with, and peers at similar organizations to understand other technical steps you can take to improve your email fundraising practices with support from your CRM.

Key takeaway: Effective email fundraising doesn’t just rely on staff with the expertise to run compelling campaigns; it also requires a little technical know-how and support from key CRM functionalities that can help busy teams engage more supporters and raise more money, more efficiently.

Tip #3: Remember that fundraising is just one way to utilize email!

We’ve established that email fundraising is powerful, and almost every fundraiser has heard the phrase “don’t ask, don’t get” — meaning that if you don’t send those donor appeals, you may not receive the funds you need to fuel your work. That said, it’s important to avoid asking for money in every single email you send. The reason for this is simple: Your supporters will stop opening your emails altogether if they feel they already know what you’ll say, which can lead to lower response rates overall in the future. Your CRM can support your efforts to think creatively and expansively about the power of your email channel and help you meet your goals.

Invest in creativity

One set of strategies to keep people opening and engaging with your emails revolves around creativity. Identify regular opportunities to engage supporters with a wide range of non-donation asks, like newsletters, announcements, themed educational email series, volunteer opportunities, rapid response messages, advocacy opportunities, and more. Ask for supporters’ opinions with engagement tactics like surveys, but make sure you have a plan for how to use that information so it’s clear that your ask has a purpose.

No matter what type of email you’re sending, it’s a good idea to invest in your email creative, and making sure it’s both ethical and effective can improve the health of all your programs and give your fundraising outcomes a boost. When all your donor data is stored in your CRM, and when you have the ability to test and target different messages with different audiences, it’s easier to track their effectiveness and fine-tune your strategies.

Think of the full donor experience (and expand into other channels)

Another set of strategies for engaging donors with email beyond fundraising asks is to remember how email can act as a gateway to other moments in the supporter experience and even into other channels. Map out how your emails intersect with other pieces of the digital donor journey — like the form they’ll use to complete their gift, or the acknowledgement they receive after clicking submit — and invest in those steps. Ideally, your nonprofit technology should support you with capabilities like applying your branding across all your donor-facing assets, or allowing donors to save their information to pre-fill across your forms so that in the future they can add their name to a petition, make a gift, or sign up for a volunteer shift with just one click.

While you’re examining the full range of actions you can take using email and the many opportunities you have to give donors a more pleasant experience no matter how they’re taking online action with you, think about how your nonprofit can use email to branch out into other channels too, like mobile messaging. Even if you’re not ready to start sending texts to your donors, using email to ask them to opt in and share their mobile phone number with you is a great way to lay the groundwork for future efforts.

Key takeaway: Although email is a powerful channel for fundraising, it’s important to remember all the other ways it can help you move your mission forward — and your nonprofit can reach a wider range of goals more quickly and efficiently with support from the right technology.

Let’s go!

Successful email fundraising doesn’t just rely on dedicated nonprofit staff. Those busy teams also deserve support from CRM technology that helps simplify their work; enhances outreach to new donors and makes that outreach more reliable; embraces technical best practices; and even supports expansion into new channels. This helps organizations meet their goals in an efficient way.

To learn even more about nonprofit fundraising strategies that won’t exponentially grow staff workloads, check out episode 72 of the Nonprofit Voice, “Discover Ways to Become a More Efficient Fundraiser,” featuring Cathexis Founding Partner Mark Becker, Bonterra Chief Fundraising and Engagement Officer Kimberly O’Donnell, and So Others Might Eat (SOME)  Director of Data Services Crystal Schanette.

By Grace Duginski – Content Marketer

Grace Duginski is a content marketer with EveryAction, now becoming Bonterra. Before joining the team, she earned nonprofit fundraising experience in the abortion rights space, and now applies those learnings to blogs, videos, and more to help nonprofit staff make the most of their strategies and move their missions forward.

Leave a Reply