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The 10 Elements of a Fundraising Email Appeal

Published by Jeff Giddens

Over the course of the next several blog posts, we’re going to look at seven proven strategies to optimize your fundraising email appeals. And as we pick apart email appeals, there are 10 main elements that we can test, and there’s insight to be gleaned from each one. Before we jump into the seven strategies, let’s first identify the core elements of an email appeal.

Element 1 – The Sender

Senders have a huge impact on the trust that’s built with a donor. Sometimes that trust is measured through email performance metrics like open rate, click-through rate, or donor-response rate. Other times, we might measure that trust with the amount of replies we get from an email. Ultimately, we’re building trust through our communications.Element 1 - The Sender

Element 2 – Reply Email

The reply email can help build or break trust. If the reply appears to be to a real person, that builds trust in the mind of the recipient that this an email they might want to open. If it’s a “Do Not Reply” email, you’re essentially saying, “We don’t want to hear from you.”Element 2 - Reply Email

Element 3 – Send Time

Although many people claim to know the perfect send time, your donors will tell you when they actually open your email. We want to make sure we place our emails in front of them at the right time.Element 3 - Send Time

Element 4 – Subject Line

Depending on where a person opens your email appeal, this is one of the first elements seen. In the following blog posts, we’re going to look at research we’ve done on subject lines that may cause you to second guess some of the standard best practices.Element 4 - Subject Line

Element 5 – Preview Text

Thankfully, many email providers today allow you to dictate this element. If you don’t set this area of the email, it usually will grab the first part of your email to preview. This could be good or bad. Preview text gives the recipient a hint as to what your email is going to be about.Element 5 - Preview Text

Element 6 – Design

Design sparks some interesting, lively conversations in regards to email. Design, or creativity, is often subjective. But there are hard and fast ramifications for design, and we’ll explore those in the following chapters. But as a starting note, sometimes the “best” design can actually be a distraction that is hurting the performance of your email appeal.

Element 6 - Design

Element 7 – Copy Length

When we write an email appeal, should it look like a direct mail letter, or is it better to keep it short and sweet? The only way to really know which is more effective for your donors is to test it. The right length of copy can change from organization to organization, and from appeal to appeal.

Element 7 - Copy Length

Element 8 – Tone

How do we write our emails? Sometimes, it’s not about how long it takes you to say something, or how it looks, but it’s how you’re actually saying it. Notice the difference between these two examples below. It’s important to evaluate how we’re talking with our donors, and how it affects their trust of our organization and our senders.

Element 8 - Tone


Element 8 - Tone

Element 9 – Images

Are images helpful or hindering in emails? Should your entire email be an image? Maybe. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to test it. A lot of emails we receive in our aggregate donor inbox, and a lot of the examples you’ll see in future blog posts about email appeals, use images. But just because a lot of people use images in their emails, doesn’t mean that you should too. Sometimes images can reinforce your value proposition, and other times they can distract from the purpose of your email.Element 9 - Images

Element 9 - Images

Element 10 – Call-to-action

What are we asking people to do in our emails? With each type of email (like fundraising, advocacy, personal, etc.), the purpose changes, and this influences the final call-to-action. Usually, we’re asking the recipient to take some kind of action. Below are real calls-to-action we’ve seen.

Element 10 - Call to Action

Each one of these elements represents an opportunity for testing and optimization. As I’ve said before, following “best practice” doesn’t guarantee growth. And applying best practice without testing it might actually be hurting your email revenue. Over the next several blog posts, we’re going to examine seven different strategies to optimize these elements of an email appeal. We’ll look at tests with real nonprofit organizations, evaluate the data, and learn from the trends.

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Published by Jeff Giddens

Jeff Giddens is President of NextAfter.