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Fundraising Magic Tricks to Boost Year-End Response

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13 Lucky Year-End Fundraising Tips

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boost year-end response

Don’t hit ‘send’ until… You’ve considered all these magic tricks to boost year-end response to your fundraising emails.

And, by the way, if you’re not planning a lot of email communications you should know what you’re missing. Per different NextAfter studies, email brings in 199%… 666%…. 117%… more revenue than the next closest channel. It’s a relatively old communications medium, yet super powerful. 

  • Don’t ignore it. 
  • Don’t sacrifice email effectiveness for shiny objects that will yield much less traffic and contributions.
  • Don’t leave your email strategy to the last minute.
  • Use the magic tricks of the trade to boost year-end response!

1. Magic First Impression Tricks

It’s said you only have 2.7 seconds to make a first impression with email. Here are some tricks to help you stand out and boost year-end response. In a good way.

1. Use the recipient’s first name.

It shows the recipient you know them (at least you know that much). Don’t use “sir” or “madam” or even “friend.” Nothing grabs someone’s attention quicker than their own name. 

2. Think carefully about your sender, subject line and preview pane.

People naturally build trust through these elements. It’s generally better if the sender is a person, not an organization. People definitely are persuaded to open emails from people they know, trust and/or admire.  In fact, research from Pinpointe marketing found that replacing a general email address or company name with a specific personal name can increase open rates by as much as 35%! As for subject line and preview pane, you can find an analysis of a few examples here, here, here and here. I’ll discuss the all-important subject line in more detail below.

3. Be careful with email templates that come with your software.

Typical branding images can make the email stick out like a sore thumb, unless folks already know you well. They obviously don’t look personal.

4. Don’t forget people reply to emails.

This is a too-often overlooked element of personalization. People give to people! If you use a donotreply@email, you’ll miss out on a lot of interaction. And you’ll look like you really don’t care about the person to whom you written. You’re just a machine. Don’t be a machine. Be a human being. One who engages in conversation with donors.

2. Magic Subject Line Tricks

Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

— David Ogilvy, advertising legend

Do you leave your email subject line until the last minute? Do you delegate its writing to someone on your marketing staff who isn’t really attuned to donors? Keep in mind your email subject line has a function! And its form should follow that function, because it’s something you as the fundraiser care about deeply.

  • First, it must capture attention.
  • Second, it must convince people to open your message.

Understand the fact people open email with some sort of intent. They want to learn more. They want to receive some valuable information. They want to connect and engage with you. And maybe they even want to donate! Your subject line can offer just the magic touch needed to get your message opened. Or not. 

The subject line is a window into the email. There is no one right way to write a subject line, but I’ve found two types of headlines work best in generating more ‘opens.’

1. CLARITY positively affects click-through rates. 

If you want folks to do something, consider letting them know right off the bat. Use action verbs that communicate what you want your constituents to do after they’ve read your content. Most people don’t have time for cute and clever. State your purpose clearly to increase results. Consider “Join us;” “Save a child;” “Give clear drinking water;” “Double your impact,” and “Could you help Jimmy out?”

2. AROUSING CURIOSITY positively affects click-through rates. 

Grab attention and provoke interest straightaway. To make curiosity ‘magical,’ you need two parts – mystery + value added. 

  1. MYSTERY: Challenge relevant expectations related to what you do.

Consider a ubiquitous “clickbait” message like “11 Foods to Never Eat Again.” I eat food. I like food. I need food. You’ve grabbed my attention. Maybe there’s something about food I don’t know that I need to know? This subject line challenges my expectations and tempts me to open the email.

But… would a food-related message help your nonprofit? Not unless it’s linked to your mission. Which it could be if you’re a cancer prevention organization and these foods contribute to getting, or not getting, cancer. Or if you’re a human services organization that provides nutritious meals to people. But not if you’re a social justice organization. Or an arts organization. So even though I might open the message due to the mysterious headline, I won’t go on to learn anything more about what you do. I won’t engage with the message. And I may actually develop a negative perception of your organization if I don’t learn something useful. Mere “opens” won’t get you where you want to go. Even while challenged to open your email, the reader must ultimately find the message relevant to what they might have expected to hear and learn from you.

  1. VALUE ADDED: Highlight a valuable information gap.

Consider whether there’s something valuable you know, based on your experience and wisdom, which I don’t know. The mysterious headline will lead me to unlocking that value. For example, healthy living tips will be valuable to me, and relevant, if you’re a health organization. How I can get involved protecting election integrity will be valuable to me, and relevant, if you’re a social justice organization. What I can do to recycle productively is valuable to me, and relevant, if you’re an environmental organization. In other words, consider what your constituents want, and need, to know.

Check out copywriting A/B experiments on NextAfter archive for ideas.

3. Magic Body Copy Tricks

Humans are largely emotional and visual. Numbers don’t arouse passion. Pictures and stories do.

(1) Describe Visual Symptoms

Describing symptoms can help folks visualize the problem. It cuts through the clutter and grabs attention. You can’t see “conservation threats” or “food insecurity” or “injustice.” These are conceptual problems, not visual symptoms. You can see a brown stream cluttered with plastic. Or an emaciated child. Or a child sleeping under a Mylar blanket inside a cage.

(2) Describe What Happens if Symptoms are Ignored

Show how the problem will get demonstrably, almost intolerably worse. Demonstrate there is a noticeable cost of doing nothing. In fact, things may completely deteriorate to the point of no return. There is a large benefit to doing something. And now is the time. This is your opportunity to convey urgency so your donor acts now. Also consider suggesting how your donor has this one-time opportunity to prevent something horrible from happening. Or to make something wonderful happen. Channel FOMO – fear of missing out.

(3) Describe the Value of Action through a Visual Outcome

The best way to do this is to describe a transformational moment. A time when something big happens and significant change occurs. When symptoms are erased and wellness occurs. Use detail to paint a visual picture.

  • A frail elderly woman who sat alone in her chair all day who today visits regularly with a volunteer companion, taking walks around the neighborhood, exercising and eating nutritious delivered meals. 
  • A neglected child who was hanging out with a gang who today attends an after-school program and is displaying art at a group show.

Include a Call to Action (CTA)

Don’t lose sight of your purpose in sending your email at this time of year. You want folks to take an action – most likely to donate! Make sure your CTA is smart, targeted and urgent. And only one CTA at a time, please. Consider what you most want folks to do, and don’t distract them during the critical end-of-year fundraising period with less desirable options (e.g., volunteer; download our ebook; sign this petition, etc.). Save other CTAs for your thank you letter, enewsletter, blog, social media and website.

Conversational Tone Works Best

Read your copy aloud and see if it sounds weird. Or filled with jargon or corporate speak. If so, it won’t come across as personal. The easiest way to write a compelling email is to talk to a friend and tell them what you want to say. Record yourself. Transcribe what you hear. You’ve probably got the beginnings of a pretty good appeal. Now it just needs some tweaking.

4. Magic Words

What good are magic tricks, after all, without magic words?! Here are the fundraiser’s versions of abracadabra, open sesame and bibbity, bobbity boo!

1. YOU

“You” is one of the five most powerful words in the English language. To make philanthropy about your donor’s experience, not yours, use “you” rather than “I” or “our” or “we” (unless it’s “we, together”).  Cross out all the ego-centric stuff in your copy and rewrite.

As veteran communicator Tom Ahern says “you is the glue.”

  • You grabs your donor’s attention.
  • You is personal.
  • You helps to “tip” your donor towards seeing your request in a positive light.
  • You makes the story you tell about your donor.

Make fulfilling your organization’s mission about your donor’s actions. Make the values your organization enacts about your donor’s caring, generosity and good character.


I thought my Mom was crazy when she said to me: “Do this because I say so”.

Who knew there was method to her madness?!

Neuroscience studies show this magic word can make any statement more persuasive.

One of the most interesting studies, reported by Harvard Magazine, revealed that as a trigger for acquiescence, the word “because” increased success by over 30%. 

I found this freaking amazing when I learned it, and I’ve used it ever since.

It turns out “because” is one of the persuasion principles that help explain the psychology of why people say “yes without thinking. The human brain is wired to react when it hears ‘because.’

It is a magical word — an automatic trigger for compliance.


The word ‘thanks’ puts people in a receptive mood.

It’s considered good manners, and makes you look like a good and giving person.

And it gives folks something they really want. Penelope Burks groundbreaking research on donor-centered retention found the three principle things donors want from charities all have to do with thank you. They want to be thanked (1) promptly, (2) personally, and (3) in a manner that reflects back the impact of their giving.

Simply put, saying thank you makes folks like you.

How you say thank you will be the single biggest indicator of your donor’s likelihood to give again.

Don’t just save the word “thanks” for your acknowledgement letters.

Thank donors in your appeal for their past giving. This reminds them they already made a decision to give to you. Which triggers one of Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion – commitment and consistency. People tend to repeat decisions they’ve already made because doing so is congruent with their self-image.

Thank prospects in your appeal for their future giving. When you show them you consider them to be caring people, it plays into the vision of the person they would like to see when they look into the mirror. It’s an ego booster that predisposes them to think well of you.

You can grab a few more magic words here.

SUMMARY: Pull These Elements of a Successful Email Appeal out of Your Hat to Boost Year-End Response

Generally all these things will have an impact. Think about each element separately and carefully; sprinkle in magic wherever you can.

  1. Sender.
  2. Reply email
  3. Send time.
  4. Subject line.
  5. Preview pane text.
  6. Design.
  7. Copy.
  8. Tone.
  9. Images.
  10. Call to action.

Keep in mind there are tons of variables, and no single magic formula. What works for you may work differently for another charity. 

  • Test for yourself to be crystal clear what works best for you. 
  • Learn from the examples and experiences of others on sites such as SOFII and NextAfter
  • Create a ‘swipe file’ of fundraising email appeals you receive that cause you to open and give.  Ask others on your team, board and staff, to collect these winning email examples for you as well. I love to use my personal file as a creative springboard when I’m challenged to write a new appeal. Check out this article about how to develop a creative sample file.

Finally, remember people give to people. Try to rediscover the humanity of the communication. Email fundraising is not a quantity game; it’s a quality game. Simply “blasting” out emails accomplishes little if they have no magic in them. It keeps you busy and gets tasks checked off your list, but it’s not a good strategy.

Fundraising is about relationships, built by conversations. Giving is an act of trust, built by putting your donor first. This is earned by integrity, transparency and clarity. 

And a little bit of magic never hurts.

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