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8 Excellent Email Marketing Ideas to Steal

Published by Nathan Hill

Email is the most important tool that online fundraisers have in their tool kit. Period. A well-crafted email send could generate hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars for your organization depending on the size and quality of your email file…

Now, we’ve spent a lot of time testing, optimizing, and learning what works to grow email fundraising. In fact, we have a webinar coming up that will break down 6 ways to write and design better email fundraising campaigns that will lead to major revenue growth.

But one area we have not tested as much is newsletters, cultivation emails, and email marketing focused around driving clicks and website engagement. Luckily, we have some really smart people join us each year at the Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit that have spent years researching and studying what works to drive email marketing growth.

One of those experts is Jessica Best. She is the director of data-driven marketing at Barkley, and she’s also an email super genius. In her talk at the 2017 NIO Summit (pronounced ‘nee-oh’), she walked us through 8 email marketing ideas that you can you use to drive deeper engagement with your emails.

Here are her 8 excellent email marketing ideas, as well as some real-life examples of how you might apply them in your fundraising.

1. Make it skimmable.

When it comes to newsletters, blog feed emails, pushing retail products, or anything where your primary goal is to drive more clicks, easily skimmable emails are often the way to go.

That doesn’t necessarily mean your email should be really short…you can have lots of content in your email, but it should be easy to see the headlines and calls-to-action. Jessica refers to this as writing “snack-sized bits.”

Make your email skimmable

This approach has been proven time and time again to increase clicks. So if your goal is to get someone to click and read a blog, or watch a video – definitely test using skimmable copy.

One caveat… this may not be as effective if your goal is donations like in a fundraising appeal. So be sure and test, measuring every metric, to make sure your approach is improving the metrics that are most important.

2. Use motion to tell your story.

Motion can be an effective way to draw the eye of your reader, grab their attention, and drive more clicks. Videos can do this. Animated GIFs can do this.

In this experiment from our own library, we see how something like an animated countdown clock can not only grab attention, but also increase the sense of urgency to take action. It’s not motion for the sake of motion, but it’s motion being used to communicate a message more effectively.


Treatment #1

3. Make it accessible with images.

Images can be difficult. Similar to motion in an email, it needs to be done with a purpose. Adding images just for the sake of it doesn’t help convey your message, but an image that adds particular value can help increase clicks, and in some cases, drive greater conversion.

In the experiment below from DTS, we saw how adding an image specifically related to the offer drove more than double the clicks to the landing page:


Treatment #1

4. Make it mobile friendly.

At this point, emails have to be mobile friendly. And they shouldn’t just be mobile-friendly, they should be created specifically to look good, read well, and make sense on a mobile device.

Mobile email usage

Jessica shared this chart during her talk that really says it all: the vast majority of people say that they straight up delete your email if it doesn’t look good on their phone.

5. Make it relevant via personalization.

Personalization is a non-negotiable at this point in email marketing. But in fundraising in particular, personalization is critical in establishing a personal relationship with a donor or potential donor.

We operate on the (proven) theory that people give to people, not to email marketing machines. So we need to take at least the minimum step of calling our donors by name.

Here’s an example where we saw a 270% increase in clicks, simply by using the donor’s first name in the email:


Treatment #1

6. Make it relevant via segmentation.

Segmentation is essential to getting a relevant message to the right audience. Most of this a no-brainer. For instance, you shouldn’t send a local event invite to a donor that lives 1000 miles away. And a new subscriber generally needs a different kind of cultivation than a major donor.

But even small, subtle changes can have a drastic affect when targeted at the right segment. Here’s an experiment that we actually conducted on a donation page that shows how even seemingly simple changes can make a major impact based on where a subscriber or donor is in their life cycle…

DTS had previously determined that they could lift conversion rates on their general donation page by using an open gift amount field. But, they wondered if new subscribers would be more likely to donate if they were shown default options in a gift array.


Treatment #1

If a small change like this can increase donations by 34%, then how much more do we need to make sure our email messaging as a whole is tailored to specific groups of donors and subscribers?

7. Make it relevant via automation.

Automating your communication to donors and subscribers can get a little complicated, and it requires having the right tools. But how much more effective can you be as a fundraiser if you didn’t have to spend all your time writing new emails and setting up new campaigns.

There are a million different ways that you can apply automation to your fundraising. Jessica explained a very simple structure that can be a starting point for you in automating donor cultivation.

Email automation plan

Whether you test this plan exactly, or make it something more specific to your donors, automation will help decrease your workload and can increase the relevancy of your emails to you recipients.

8. Make donors part of your story.

There a lot of different forms this idea can take, but one simple application is to test using testimonials that demonstrate the direct impact of a donation. By making donor’s feel personally connected to the impact and results of your organization’s efforts, you can often drive more donations and greater generosity.

Here’s an experiment example:

In experiment 6739 with Harvest Ministries, we ran a really simple test. The control was a typical appeal asking their file to donate in support of their upcoming event. For the treatment, we added a testimonial that showed the direct impact that event had made on an attendee in the past.


Treatment #1

By clearly connecting the donation to an impact – making the donor a part of the impact story – we saw a 27.6% increase in clicks to the donation page.

Building your email file

None of the strategies above will work if you don’t have a healthy email file. And you won’t have a healthy email file if you’re not actively acquiring new subscribers.

Jessica had a lot of thoughts and ideas at the NIO Summit on how to grow your email file as well. Here’s a quick clip from her session talking about the importance of asking for email on your website:

Wistia video thumbnail

Now, we’ve all been on the receiving end of bad email acquisition. But there are ways to use tools like pop-ups, slide-outs, and exit intent ads on your website that provide value instead of  being annoying. And if you need more help in growing you email file, you can get the free eBook on 6 Ways to Grow Your Email File here.

Have you put any of these 8 email marketing ideas to the test? Have they worked for you, or have you seen different results? Let me know in the comments below.

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.