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The 1 Word That Shouldn’t Appear In Your Nonprofit's Email Newsletter Subject Line

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It’s “newsletter.”

Let me preface this post by saying that if you send out a recurring (weekly, monthly, etc.) email newsletter and it has the word “newsletter” in the subject line and you’re getting amazing open rates, no need to run out and change everything you’re doing.

Why say no to “newsletter”

What is the purpose of an email subject line?

In my opinion, it serves only one: to get the recipient to open the email.

With that goal in mind, a subject line should be enticing and perhaps even provocative, while at the same time true to the content of the email.

So when your nonprofit’s email newsletter has a subject line of “(Nonprofit Name) January 20xx Newsletter” are you enticing the recipient to open the email?

With the amount of emails we’re inundated with on a daily basis, getting another “newsletter” feels like work; reading it becomes like a task to complete.

The other reason to avoid it is that it allows you to shift the focus away from your org and onto the recipient.

Assuming your newsletter contains stories of donor impact, you can use the subject line to preview those stories

For example, a hunger relief organization – instead of sending “(Nonprofit Name) January 20xx Newsletter” – could send “Read about the family you fed this month.”

In defense of “newsletter”

Valid opposing arguments include the following:

  • it lets recipients know exactly what the email is
  • it helps us organize / immediately identify email campaigns in our system

A good way to accomplish both would be to “brand” your newsletter.

For example, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful brands their newsletter as “Get the Dirt”

Similar to the name of a publication like a magazine, “Get the Dirt” reminds the reader that this is a recurring communication while also previewing the content – all while cleverly staying “on-brand” by tying the name of the newsletter to the organization’s mission.

Prairie Center, an addiction recovery center, does both: branding their newsletter “the prairie center connector” while still using provocative subject lines like “There’s a closeness we have I never did when I was their age” and “Packaging mirth, merriment, sobriety, and support during the holidays.”

They do a good job of tying the subject line directly to stories found in the newsletter.

All in all, open rates should drive your decision. If you’re struggling with low open rates, the subject line should be the first thing to look at changing. And if the word “newsletter” drives that subject line content, now you have an some alternative strategies to try.

What do you think? Have you had success with using “newsletter” in a newsletter email subject line? Or do you take a different approach? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Steven Shattuck

    A good open rate is an improvement over your current open rate :)
  • Clare

    Hello, I have been experimenting with provoking subject lines for the past couple emails, and I was wondering what you think a good open rate is?
  • Cindy Olnick

    We make "Los Angeles Conservancy E-News" the sender, so we don't need to repeat any of it in the subject line.
  • Sheena

    What's funny is I once tested having a more interesting subject line vs. "January E-News from [Organization]" and open rates were the same! Regardless, we did shift to more curiosity-provoking subject lines.
  • Claire Axelrad

    There's something to be said for calling it something consistent. One of Cialdini's 6 Principles of Persuasion is "consistency." We like what we like. We repeat past behaviors. If we like you, and have enjoyed opening your email in the past, this alerts us to continue. It acts as a decision-making shortcut. It's why people make repeated trips to favorite spots, be they Denny's, Starbucks or Best Western. We know we're going to get something we like. No surprises can be a good thing. That being said, I'm all for creativity and relevancy. It's great to stand out and to be clear this email couldn't come from anyone else. Everyone and their dog sends a "newsletter." Not everyone sends "Get the Dirt." Sometimes it can be as simple as "[Your cause/issue} Matters." I have one client using "Justice Matters"; another using "Family Matters." Branding is always a good thing. :-)
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