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10 Steps To A Successful Fundraising Appeal Email

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You’ve just sent an email appeal, and now you’re staring at your inbox waiting for replies or donations. The minutes tick by. Then the hours. Your email analytics show opens but no clicks, and certainly no donations. What happened?

There is an art and science to email marketing, and a lot can go wrong in the small amount of space and time you have to convince a recipient to make a donation.

Here are 10 steps to a successful fundraising appeal email:

1. Subject line

The one and only purpose of an email subject line is to get the recipient to open the email. It’s not to convince them of your appeal or to fully explain/preview the content of your email. It’s just to get them to open it.

So don’t be afraid to have some fun with subject lines and to be provocative. The Obama reelection campaign mastered this completely. Check out a few of their subject lines:

  • Fixing what’s broken
  • Frustrated
  • Stronger for it
  • Hey
  • If you’re ready
  • I’m saving you a seat
  • Change is possible

Generally, your subject lines should be less than 130 characters. Some data shows that short subject lines outperform longer ones, like this study of 12 billion emails from MailChimp:


As with many aspects of email marketing, subject lines are an excellent thing to test.

2. Clean images with small file sizes

Large images are okay, like logo banners and hero graphics, but large file-size images should be avoided. They can impact deliverability rates, and if the recipient has to wait for images to load, they may ditch your email before giving the content a chance.

3. Personalized greeting

If your email tool allows it, address your recipients individually (“Dear John,” “Hey John,” etc.). Don’t risk it if you have any doubts about your data – “Dear &FIRST NAME” looks worse than no personalization.

4. Donor-centric tone

Your emails, like all donor communications and appeals, should have a donor-centric tone. Use “you” more than “I” and “we” and “us”.

Be sure to follow the B.O.Y. rule (because of you). “Because of you, we… (are able to do something).” Thank the recipient before asking them for help. Show the love!

5. Specific appeal

Often, email appeals have multiple (conflicting) calls-to-action. Don’t give the recipient too much to consider – your appeal should be laser-focused on one specific (urgent) call-to-action or campaign. This will allow you to send emails more frequently.

6. Suggest donation amount(s)

Suggesting donation amounts accomplishes two things: it allows you to segment by recipients (history of giving) and it takes the guesswork out of donating. “Please consider donating here (link)” gives the donor one too many things to think about. “Please consider a gift of $20 to provide three meals for a family in need.” is much more effective.

7. Communicate impact

While you’re suggesting donation amounts, you can tie that amount or levels of giving to a specific purpose. Bonus points if you can include a brief, but heartfelt story of impact.

8. Short – get them to your website

If the only purpose of your subject line is to get them to open the email, the only purpose of the email is to get them to click through to your website. You don’t have to tell the whole story in the email. You just have to entice them enough to visit your landing page.

9. Personalized signature

To close the personalization loop, all of your emails should come from a person, not your logo. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, considering sending an email (ghost-written) from a (fictional) person you serve.

10. Style and grammar rules don’t apply

Remember, an email isn’t your annual report. It’s not an academic research paper. You don’t have to follow common rules for grammar and style.

Incomplete sentences. Fragments. Starting a sentence with a conjunction or interjection. They’re all okay! Hurray!

What rules do you follow (or not follow) in your successful email appeals? Let me know in the comments below!

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