Tips for Writing Effective Email Communications for Your Nonprofit


Not every nonprofit organization is lucky enough to have dedicated writers to create and edit email communications. If your organization is like many, you’re on your own when it comes to writing, and you may find yourself struggling to create emails that engage constituents and move them to donate or take some other action.

In this article, I’m sharing some tips I’ve learned over the years for writing emails that help grab constituents’ attention and get your message across.

Let’s start with the basics. Before you even start writing, take a step back and define some key components of your email message:

  • WHO is your audience? You shouldn’t send all emails to everyone in your database. Ask yourself: what groups of people do you want to target, and what groups of people do you want to exclude?
  • WHAT do you want your audience to do as a result of reading your email? Every email should have a clear purpose, also known as a “call to action.” There are three main email purposes: to raise money, to gain constituents, or to simply engage your existing audience. Define your email purpose, and then determine the one (just one!) action you want a reader to take to help you achieve that goal.
  • HOW will you communicate? Do you want this to be personal, like you’re writing to an aunt; super-formal, like you’re writing to an attorney; or somewhere in between? Define what you want your email to sound and feel like before you even begin writing. Generally, the tone of your email should match your brand and the level of seriousness of your email topic.

Now it’s time to start writing. Here are some best practices for writing emails that get your audience’s attention and get results:

  1. Keep it short.
    You likely don’t read through a long email completely, and neither do your readers. Make your email as short as possible while giving readers the information they need to complete the action you’re asking them to take. Use “learn more” links if there is additional information you want to offer readers.
  2. Pick ONE call to action.
    In most cases, when you send an email, you want your constituents to do something — such as visit your website, take a survey, register, or donate. Including multiple calls to action in an email may distract them from taking the action you actually want them to take, so be sure that your email makes a clear and single call to action.

    TIPS: If you’re struggling to pick just one call to action, think of it this way: after you’ve sent the email, what would you consider to be a successful result? Also, ask someone else to read your email and tell you what they think is the main message.

  3. Make sure you actually ask!
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen emails that never actually ask the reader to do something. For example, an email might say “Here are tips to fundraise…Fundraising helps our organization…We’re here to help!” without actually saying, “Please fundraise,” or specifically asking readers to raise money. For an email to be effective, you must explicitly ask readers what you’d like them to do, and also include a link so they can complete the action.
  4. Place links in text, not just on buttons or pictures.
    Some recipients’ email tools may remove images by default, so if you only have button images for your links, those readers will not have any links to click. So, be sure to include text links in addition to button image links. For example: “donate now” should be a button, but also a link somewhere in the text — ideally in the sentence in which you actually make the ask.
  5. Be consistent with your style.
    Inconsistent grammar, spelling, and punctuation can be distracting and appears unprofessional. Be sure to be consistent throughout your email. For example, if you capitalize a word in one place, it should be capitalized in all instances.
  6. Break it up!
    Use headings, subheadings, bold, bullets, buttons, and pictures to break up words and bring attention to key points — especially in longer emails.
  7. Make it personal.
    The more people feel like you know them, the more likely they will be to respond. Make your emails more personal by auto-populating information like name and other personal information when relevant.

    TIP: You can make your emails even more personal by thinking back to the audiences you defined for your email, and creating different versions of the email for different groups of people. For example, perhaps those who donated in the last year should receive a different message than those who have never donated, and those who donated in the last 30 days should be excluded completely.

  8. Track results.
    When you set up your email, be sure you can track how many people complete your action. This might mean creating a unique version of a donation form or using unique source code information in your URL strings. Knowing what you want to track ahead of time will help you set up your email so you can best view and analyze results.
  9. Have someone else review it.
    Having even one other pair of eyes on an email to look for errors and give you feedback on the email’s first impression can help you find ways to improve the email before sending it.

Once you’ve written your email, go back through the tips listed above to make sure you’ve considered each recommendation. If there is a suggestion you don’t want to follow, be sure to have a reason for it. By following best practices and being intentional about your writing, you’ll be well on your way to creating email communications that get results.

by Daniella Dowiak, Account Manager, Cathexis Partners
Daniella has worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 8 years. With a deep understanding of nonprofits’ limited resources, she is passionate about helping organizations get the most out of their technology.

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