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What I Learned About Email Fundraising in Canada from 1,234 Emails from 152 Charities

Published by Brady Josephson

Have you ever wondered how many emails your donors get from nonprofits? Or what types of emails those other organizations are sending? One of the neatest things about signing up to get emails from 152 Canadian charities — which I did and you can read about my signup experiences here — is that you actually get emails from 152 Canadian charities! Obvious I know but by monitoring the inbox you can see what it would be like to be a donor or follower of multiple charities (side note: I also get all their direct mail, sent to my house, which is not as nearly as neat…) or as a researcher look for patterns, insights, and ideas to test.

Which is what we did for The Canadian Online Fundraising Scorecard, and why I signed up for all those emails in the first place. In the study, we were only analyzing fundraising focused emails where we looked at if the main focus of the email was to get donations or, as a donor, it would feel that way. For example, if an organization sent out a newsletter but there was a big DONATE NOW button as the first thing or one of the first things you see when you open it, you would, fairly, feel like you were being asked to give. So that counted as an appeal… just not a good one.

So that’s a bit of context about why I got all these emails and here are…

4 Things I Learned About Email Fundraising in Canada

1. A lot of organizations didn’t ask me for a donation.

Actually, 58% of the organizations in the study didn’t ask me for a donation in the first 90 days. This is partly because 15% of organizations in the study sent me nothing, no emails of any kind, in the first 90 days which is, hopefully, a broken form or, potentially, a broken strategy, but that still means that less than half of the organizations that sent me an email didn’t ask me to make a donation in the first 3 months that I was an email subscriber.

Now, when it comes to email appeals, frequency, how many you should send, how soon, etc. there are a lot of factors to consider (quality of the email and appeal being a big one) but when someone first signs up to get your emails they are engaged — enough to find and fill out your form — so there is an opportunity to use those first emails to further engage, build a relationship, and, possibly, move to a donation. Something many organizations aren’t doing at all or not very quickly as 52% of organizations that did ask did so after 30 days:

Should you be asking for a donation in the first 30 days? 90 days? Probably. But you should absolutely be sending good content that can further engage these new subscribers.

Key Questions & Insights:

  • Is your email signup form working?
  • Try signing up for your own emails and make sure (once a quarter).
  • Are you engaging with your followers when they are engaged with you?
  • Do you have a ‘welcome series’ (something you can easily automate) set up?
  • Try making a (good) ask for a donation within the first 30 or 90 days.

2. Fundraising emails weren’t very personal.

There are a number of ways to have your email fundraising appeals sound more human — like sending from a person instead of an organization, cutting down on the design, and having a more personal tone in your copy — but here are three reasons why it’s important:

  1. You can get more opens
  2. You can get more donations
  3. You can stand out from other organizations

You can get more opens because, according to Litmus, who an email is from is the most important thing for when we ‘triage’ our inboxes. And when your donors see an organization name, they most likely think ‘this is a marketing email’ whereas an email from a person doesn’t stand out, in a bad way, quite the same way. Here’s one of many experiments proving this idea:

How an individual sender impacts the open rate of an organizational email (Experiment #8010)


Treatment #1

27.46% Increase to Opens

You can get more donations as fundraising, and giving, is very personal and relational — something we know in the major gifts world but often forget when it comes to online fundraising — so when we have overly designed templates, buttons, and images it can distract the reader and take away from the personal nature of giving.

Take this experiment for example, where we just changed the design elements so it felt a bit more personal:

How the design of a fundraising email affects clickthrough rate (Experiment #4174)


Treatment #1

80.29% Increase to Clicks

That experiment had a 112.5% increase in donations so it wasn’t just about clicks. Or take this experiment, where we reduced the design even further but also tried to make the copy sound and feel a bit more human:

How a personal tone affects donations in an email fundraising appeal (Experiment #4171)


Treatment #1

145.5% Increase to Conversions

You can stand out from other organizations because 77% of the fundraising emails we received were sent from an organization. Here’s a quick screenshot from the aggregate inbox with the four from people highlighted and the two from just people (as opposed to people and organization) circled:

So if all you were wanting to do was standout from other organizations, sending from a person would help. And when we opened and analyzed the emails we found that only 3% of the email fundraising appeals we received looked and felt like a personal email. The majority of fundraising emails looked a bit more like this:

Big logos. Hero images. And copy about the organization (as well as a bunch of links that don’t take you to the donation page…) comes across as marketing so more personal, human looking and feeling emails can help you stand out from other appeals from other organizations.

Key Question & Insights

  • Are you sending emails from and as an organization or a person?
  • Try testing a person as the sender and even different people.
  • Try sending emails that sound and look as if they’re from a person, not a brand or an organization
  • Write an email, read it out loud to a colleague and ask yourselves if it sounds like how a person would talk if not, rip it up and write it again

3. It wasn’t very clear what I was asked to do

When it came time to actually make the ask in the email appeal, we first saw that 42% of organizations had multiple calls to action in their emails. Look at all the other links and things they’re asking me to do:

Now that’s not a pure appeal but as a donor you are clearly asked to donate and see a big donate button so you would feel like this is an appeal (just a poor one). And when it came time to actually ask, we saw that 39% of organizations didn’t make it clear how my donation would be used. Look at the above example again for their ask:

Do you know why you should give or what your donation will do? Not really. And it’s also pretty passive: “If you would like…” and “… we invite you to make…”. I know Canadians are nice and all (and we are) but when asking you need to be more direct and clear. You may get fewer clicks but those who do know why they are clicking and what to expect and are more likely to give. That’s what happened in this experiment where we changed a few things to make it sound more emotional and personal but look at the call to action sections:

The second option — the one that was more clear and direct — got a 67% decrease in clicks but a 246% increase in conversion rate and 209% increase in total revenue which are the goals for fundraising appeals.

Key Question & Insights

  • Do you have multiple calls to action in your email appeals? Remove them!
  • When you ask, is it clear what a donation will do?
  • Are you being direct in your ask so the reader knows what to do next?
  • Try being very clear, simple, and direct in your call to action.

4. Reading emails on mobile was a pretty good experience.

There is a lot of room to improve when it comes to email fundraising in Canada — remember, good is the enemy of great so everyone can always improve — but one of the positives in the study was that 91% of organizations sent emails that were readable on mobile. 

When we did this study in the US 4 years ago (you can check it out here) only 46% of emails were optimized for mobile so it appears the tools we use and our knowledge of mobile has come a pretty long way which is great. Now, 26% of the donation pages we looked at were still not optimized for mobile so going from mobile optimized email to non-mobile optimized donation page is pretty much useless but hey, that’s another section of the study and another blog post.

Key Question & Insights

  • Are your emails readable on mobile? And all types of mobile phones including older, smaller smartphones?
  • Are you pointing people to a page that is also mobile optimized?
  • Make sure the full flow — email, donation page, confirmation page, confirmation email — is optimized for mobile

Summary & Infographic

Those were just some of the findings and stats about email fundraising in Canada but here are more:

Get the Canadian Online Scorecard and Start Optimizing Your Online Fundraising Today

Learn from 152 Canadian Charities and 1,200 experiments to improve your email signup process as well as email fundraising strategy, donation pages, and overall online giving experience.

About the author:

Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. At NextAfter, he focuses on business development and partnerships, content creation, and marketing. He's also a huge Liverpool FC fan. #YNWA

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6 Nonprofit Email Marketing Hacks to Help You Do More With Less

Published by Nathan Hill

6 Nonprofit Email Marketing Hacks to Make Your Emails More Effective

Nonprofit email marketing is ripe for optimization. And I don’t just mean testing new copy and calls-to-action. But the actual way in which we create emails has a lot of room for improvement.

I know this first hand. My first full-time job was working for a major nonprofit in Chicago, IL. I had worked in their web department part-time during my last 2 years of school, and when I graduated, they hired me as their first full-time email marketing manager.

When I took the job, we had at least 6 different email platforms across the organization. And it seemed like I learned about new ‘secret’ accounts almost every day.

On top of this, there were 30+ different people that could decide we needed to send an email. 5 completely separate people had to be involved in the creation process. At least 3 people had to give full approval of the final email – and they often had very different priorities.

And before me, there was only one person responsible for actually setting up and sending the email – and they had a full-time job that had almost nothing to do with email.

I share all this so that you believe me when I say, “I know how hard it is for a nonprofit organization to send good emails.” 

Your Organization Isn’t the Only One That Has Problems With Email

Litmus recently released a report on 6 Ways Nonprofits Can Improve Their Email Creation Process. And it verified many of my hypotheses about nonprofit email. For instance (and this is an easy one), nonprofit email teams are under-resourced:

Nonprofit Email Marketing Resources - Litmus Benchmark

On top of that, there are far less people and hours devoted to email marketing at nonprofits. On average, there are 2.3 full-time employees devoted to email at nonprofits, compared to 5.6 full-time employees across industries.

Nonprofit Email Marketing Employees - Litmus Benchmark

This leads to depressing stats like this one…

Nonprofit Email Marketing Success - Litmus Benchmark

While the Litmus report has some really interesting nonprofit email marketing benchmarks and some great ideas to consider, I wanted to go one step further and share specific tools and tactics you can use to cut through red-tape, overcome under-resourcing, and create capacity to make your email program successful.

Ready? Let’s do this.

1. Send emails with minimal design (especially fundraising emails).

Spending less time on design has huge perks. There’s less setup work, less room for error or issues, and they actually have been proven to be much more effective when it comes to getting donations.

I didn’t learn this lesson until coming to NextAfter. Emails that look, sound, or smell like marketing get far fewer engagements. But emails that look and sound like they’re from a real human being tend to crush it.

This one experiment does a great job illustrating just how effective a simplified and personal email can be. Removing the big image, the logo header, the CTA button, and the designed footer – plus making the copy sound more personal – led to a 32.5% increase in clicks.


Simplified Email Marketing Example


There’s been a ton written about this, so I won’t rehash it all here. If you want to dig deeper, you can read this blog on 5 Ways to Make Your Email Appeals Sound More Human or even take the free Email Fundraising Optimization course.

Here’s why this can help speed up and improve your production process:

  • You don’t need a designer.
  • You don’t need a developer.
  • It’s super easy to make a plain-text email responsive.
  • You’re less likely to trip any spam-filters.

Full transparency – I write, set-up, and send every single NextAfter marketing email. And sending emails is maybe 10% of what I do. Yet, we can manage to get an email to our house file and several emails to smaller segments sent out every week.

If I can do it, you can do it.

2. Test to make sure your emails look good across email providers. Especially if you’re using designed emails.

Testing your emails across providers becomes less essential if you’re using the stripped-down template idea above. But even then, you need to make sure your email template displays correctly in the browsers and providers that your email file is using.

One tool that I’ve used a ton for this is called Email On Acid. They’ll tell you what platforms are being used to open your emails, and they’ll let you preview your emails on those platforms to make sure everything looks good before you send.

There’s nothing worse than sinking hours and hours into a marketing or fundraising email, only to learn that the 30% of your subscribers opening in Outlook delete it immediately because it looks like this:


Outlook Email with Disabled Images


Other tools you can use to make sure your emails show up how you intended include:

3. Run a spam filter test every now and again. You might be surprised what you find.

Deliverability is one of the trickiest and murkiest parts of nonprofit email marketing. In the latest episode of The Generosity Freakshow podcast, Chad White of Litmus talked about how much spam filtering has changed over the years. (Listen to the episode below)

It used to be fairly simple. There was a series of criteria that a spam filter looked for. And if your email tripped the right flags, you went straight to the spam folder or got blocked entirely. Nowadays, most email providers cater spam filtering to the specific preferences of the recipient. That is to say, you might be hitting one Gmail user’s spam folder, but making into another’s primary inbox.

This makes deliverability trickier to manage, and makes it all the more important that you send emails that people click and engage with – rather than just avoiding the main spam filter.

That being said, step one is to make sure you’re not getting blocked outright. And your deliverability to specific platforms could change depending on the day. So be sure and run a spam test – if not on every email, then at least every so often.

Here are some great tools to help:

4. Automate everything you can – welcome series, follow-up emails, data imports, and more.

Zapier DashboardAutomation is not magic. But it can save you countless hours of time. And I’m not just talking about automating an email welcome series. Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve automated that save me an unbelievable amount of time:

  • Getting event registrations from Mailchimp into our Hubspot account
  • Sending notifications to Tim when certain people visit our website (creepy, I know)
  • Sending a weekly email update on subscriber numbers from an actual Gmail account
  • Updating a suppression list in Hubspot based on what’s in a Google Spreadsheet
  • Pulling contest entries out of Hubspot, into a spreadsheet, and then into a slack channel for the team to see.

All of this – plus probably 20 other tasks – happen automatically, saving me hours upon hours of time so that I can do things like write this super long blog post.

The best part? I don’t know the first thing about how to create make any of these tools talk to each other. But there are several services that automate all of this stuff for you like it’s magic.

So if you find yourself swimming in a sea of mundane imports, exports, and data reporting just to keep the email marketing ship afloat – check out these tools (we use Zapier and it’s a life saver):

5. Don’t do everything in house. Use freelancers.

One of the hardest things for me to do is give something over to a freelancer that I know I can do myself. But there are only so many hours in the day, and sometimes tasks that seem so simple can send you down a rabbit hole – eating away precious time that you could have spent on something far more meaningful.

While the final setup and launch of an email campaign is something you probably want to do in house, there are tons of steps along the way that you can farm out for incredibly cheap. Here’s just a few:

  1. Use free basic email template(s) (like these from Litmus).
  2. If you need a cool graphic or image for an email, use Fiverr.
  3. Need something proofread in a hurry, try Wordy.
  4. Not sure how your wording, graphic, or ad will come across? Get user feedback with UsabilityHub.

Here’s one of my favorite hacks…

If you have a compelling story either stuck in a voicemail, a radio broadcast, a podcast, or a promotional videojust transcribe it using and use it in your next email appeal. We create entire books through by transcribing presentations and doing a little editing.

Don’t Let the Benchmarks Define Your Nonprofit Email Marketing

Litmus InfographicIt’s easy to look at benchmarks like this one that Litmus has put out and say “We’re doing as well as any other nonprofit is. We must be ok.” But living in the status quo isn’t going to serve your cause well – it’s just going to keep you from having a greater impact.

So I’d encourage you to download this Litmus infographic, print it out, and make a commitment to live above the benchmark. You don’t necessarily need me more people, or more time, more budget – you just need the right hacks.

You can see the full infographic from Litmus here. Special thanks to Chad White for putting this benchmark together and inspiring nonprofit email marketing nerds to keep improving!

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.

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Five Email Fundraising Hacks to Boost Your Email Campaign Results

Published by Tim Kachuriak

5 Email Fundraising Hacks to Boost Your Email Campaign Results

Let me start by apologizing. One of the reasons that email fundraising sucks is because of people like me. When I was new to fundraising consulting over a decade ago, I was quick to prescribe to my nonprofit clients the latest and greatest online fundraising “best practices.” I did this for the same reason that most people do: I had no clue what really worked and what didn’t. So, I played it safe and just told my clients to do what everyone else was doing. But I was wrong. 

Something happened to me about nine years ago that has completely changed my perspective on online fundraising—and even my role as a fundraising consultant. I started testing stuff. I began with the long-held best practices and started testing them against unconventional ideas. And more often than not, the crazy ideas worked and the best practices failed.

Now, after 1,000 published online experiments, I’m just starting to fully come to grips with how wrong I was. And for that I am sorry. 

But there is good news for you!

I’m going to share with you five of the most important things that I’ve discovered about what really does work in email fundraising from the last nine years of testing and experimentation. And they all come back to one core principle:

People don’t give to email machines, they give to people. 

Every other hack that I share in this post can be summed up in this one central principle. People give to people. They don’t give to emails, or to donation systems. They give to people. People don’t want to be marketed to, they want to be communicated with.   

When we grasp this one simple idea, then it is entirely possible to completely transform our fundraising. The rest of this post will walk you through five different experiments that illustrate simple things you can do to apply this principle to your email fundraising campaigns (and across your entire online fundraising program). 

Hack #1 – Design your emails to look like something you would personally send to a friend. 

Today’s fundraising emails are over-designed. They have too much HTML, too many graphics, and overall look like advertisements, not emails. As the titan of advertising, Howard Luck Gossage once said, “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

One simple way that you can humanize your email fundraising campaigns is to get rid of the templates and create an email that looks like the emails you send every day to your friends, or colleagues. For example, let’s look at experiment #4647 from our online research library:

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #1 Control

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #1 Treatment

Email Fundraising Hacks - #1 Results

Version A is the control version of the email, meaning it used the standard HTML and image-based design template. Version B sought to apply the principle of “People Give to People” by presenting a design that looks less like a marketing email and much more like a personal email from a friend. The result was a transformational 116% increase in donations.   

From this experiment (and others like it) we have extracted a theory that you can test when designing your next fundraising email: people give to people, because people send text-based emails, not HTML emails. 

Hack #2  Make your email fundraising more relevant by adding a personalized salutation. 

This one may seem like common sense, but if you are going to send an email that looks more like a letter from a friend instead of an ad for new tires, you should start by addressing your recipient by name. 

Let’s look at experiment #5707 that illustrates how powerful this one simple tactic can be:

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #2 Control

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #2 Treatment

Email Fundraising Hacks - #2 Results

In this case, the only difference between Version A and Version B is that Version B includes a personal salutation (“Hi Jeff”). And just by making that one change, it produced a 270% increase in click-through rates.   

This experiment points to another theory that you can test in your future fundraising emails: people give to people, because people address each other by name. 

Hack#3  Before you present your ask in your email, make sure that you have adequately explained the most compelling reasons why someone should give. 

The most important question that any fundraiser needs to answer is this, “If I am your ideal donor, why should I give to your organization rather than some other organization, or not at all?

This question (whether verbalized or not) is what every donor is considering when they are contemplating giving a gift to you. How you answer this question will determine the strength and force of your value proposition, and ultimately your success as a fundraiser. Yet, many nonprofits fail to adequately address this fundamental question. I can say that with certainty because we did a formal study of 127 of the largest nonprofit organizations and asked them that simple question. The responses were pretty crumby.   

As this hack applies tactically to email, on simple thing you can do is use more copy to explain the reasons why your potential donor should give. Let’s look at experiment #1029 in our fundraising research library: 

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #3 Control

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #3 Treatment

Email Fundraising Hacks - #3 Results

As you can see from this experiment, by using more copy to communicate the “why” behind the “what” this organization was able to drive significantly more donations. This experiment highlights another theory that you can test in your own emails to help drive more motivated traffic to your campaigns: people give to people, because people provide adequate rationale for their requests.

Hack #4 – Don’t use “clickbait” with your email subscribers—let them know EXACTLY what you would like them to do in your call-to-action. 

This one may run against the grain of something that I have been taught by many other for-profit conversion rate optimization gurus. Their argument is that you can experience compounding gains by improving the micro-metrics of one step that proceeds a following step.

For example, the idea that “the goal of an email is to sell a click, not a product,” makes sense in theory. And it does help you avoid the mistake of asking for too much commitment too soon. But based on our testing, it may not be a good practice for your email fundraising efforts. The reason for this is because of something called dissonance. In this context, dissonance is a fancy word to describe the feeling you have when you think you have been tricked.   

So, for example, if the call-to-action of an email says “click here to learn the secret of life” and then it takes you to a page that says, “Donate Now” you will most likely experience frustration. What was promised for your click was not delivered on the subsequent landing page. For this reason, we have run multiple experiments suggest that a direct call-to-action that is descriptive of the ultimate conversion objective you want your donor to take works best. 

Consider the following experiment, experiment #583 in our research library. In this experiment, the call-to-action of the email is the only variable that changed: 

Version A (Control): 

Email Fundraising Hacks - #4 Control

Version B: 

Email Fundraising Hacks - #4 Treatment

Version C: 

Email Fundraising Hacks - #4 Treatment 2


Treatment Name  Relative Difference (Donations) 
A:  Direct Ask   
B:  Stand with Heritage  50.4% decrease in donations
C:  Stand up for your principles       -51.5% decrease in donations


Versions B and C actually sent significantly more traffic to the web site by generating a click-through rate 91% higher than the control (Version A).  However, when we looked at donation responses, both versions B and C produced a 50.4% and 51.5% decrease (respectively). Not only is this experiment illustrative of the importance of being direct in your call-to-action, but it also provides an important caveat when it comes to email testing. Make sure that you are validating your tests based on ultimate conversions—not just opens and clicks.

Hack #5  When you add links to your email, make sure they are stripped down and buck naked. 

Oh good—I still have your attention!  Haha…I know this is a long post, but hopefully a useful one! What I mean by naked links is that you should insert text links as a URL instead of hyper-linked text or buttons.   

Check out one final experiment that does a great job of isolating this variable, experiment #4980: 

Version A:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #5 Control

Version B:

Email Fundraising Hacks - #5 Treatment

Email Fundraising Hacks - #5 Click ResultsEmail Fundraising Hacks - #5 Donation Results

Note that the only difference between version A and version B is that the hyper-texted link in version A was replaced with a naked URL. I believe the reason this hack works is because real people send emails with raw links, not hyperlinked phrases or buttons. This is another variable you may consider testing in your next email campaign. 

A Final Word of Caution 

Let me leave you with one final piece of advice. Take everything I’ve shared in this post with a grain of salt. As I’ve confessed earlier, I don’t have all the answers to what works (and what doesn’t) in fundraising. Nobody does. But I’ve figured out how to listen to the true experts—the donors—and learn from what they teach us by the way they respond.

The web is not just a channel of communication. It’s the greatest behavioral laboratory that has ever existed. And we can do well to learn through constant experimentation. I implore you to assume nothing, question everything, and use testing to help generate real hard data that can help you to decide. 

If you like to learn more about what we at NextAfter have learned about what works in email fundraising from over 1,000 online experiments, please check out our free 6-part online course in Email Fundraising Optimization.

This was originally posted on npENGAGE and can be found here.

About the author:

Tim Kachuriak

Tim won "Best Stage Presence" for the 1991 Pittsburgh Boys Choir.

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5 Year-End Fundraising Ideas to Actually Grow Your Revenue

Published by Nathan Hill

5 Year-End Fundraising Ideas
Almost every fundraiser or marketer I’ve talked to has a similar story about year-end fundraising: they spend hours and hours coming up with new ideas and new strategies, only to end up doing the same thing they did the year before.

Doing the same thing over and over again will never help you grow your year-end fundraising revenue. You have to try something new.

Here are 5 simple year-end fundraising ideas that you can easily apply to your campaign this year to help grow results – all based on data and results from over 1000 online fundraising experiments.

Idea #1 – Don’t be afraid to write a long email (or a really, really long email).

One of the most common questions about email fundraising is, “How long should my emails be?” Here’s the short answer:

“Your emails should be as long as it takes to thoroughly explain why someone should give to your organization.”

The hard part is understanding exactly how much information is needed for your donor to trust that investing their money with your organization is the right decision.

For example, in this experiment, we started with a really, really long email appeal. We thought that we could condense the same information down into an email appeal that was half the size (maybe even shorter).

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Write a longer email

The results? The shortened email got more clicks, but it saw a 57% decrease in donations. This contradicts every best practice out there.

Here’s the main takeaway: It often takes much more copy than you think to thoroughly explain why someone should give to your organization. Don’t be afraid to write long emails for your year-end fundraising appeals.

Idea #2 – Ask donors for a phone number, and send a thank-you voicemail afterwards.

Generally speaking, adding more fields to your donation form is a bad idea – especially if you’re asking for excessive or too personal of information.

But if you don’t ask for a phone number, you can make phone calls or send voicemails to cultivate your donors. And according to a study from GuideStar, donors may give up to 42% more after 14 months if they receive a thank you call from a board member (more on how to make this super easy and scalable in a second).

How do you ask for phone number without asking for too much information? Make your phone number field optional.

According to our testing, using an optional phone number field doesn’t affect donations. But requiring a phone number can decrease donations by 42.6%.

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Ask for an optional phone number

Once you have the phone number, you need to be able to make some thank you calls. But depending on the size of your organization, that may seem impossible.

The good news – there are services popping up left and right that will let you send voicemails in bulk to your donors without having to even ring their phone. Obviously it’s better if you can make a personal phone call, but here are some tools to make it easier:

Idea #3 – Use content as a bridge to ask for a donation; especially for new donors.

It’s tempting to flip all of your communication channels to ask directly for donations during year-end fundraising. But not everyone is going to be ready to give, especially those that have never donated before.

Here’s what I’d recommend…

If you have any acquisition campaigns (free downloads, online courses, email sign-ups, quizzes, petitions, etc), keep them running. But try using what we call an instant donation page as your confirmation page.

In short, the instant donation page becomes your confirmation page after someone submits a form. This page briefly thanks them for downloading your ebook, opting in to your email series, or whatever the offer was. But it then pivots into a donation ask, making an appeal related to the original acquisition offer.

The key here is to make sure your donation form is on this page – don’t make people have click again to get there.

Here’s an experiment that illustrates the model, and shows its effectiveness:

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Use an instant donation page

The direct donation ask resulted in zero donations. The content offer to instant donation page resulted in a 209% increase in clicks, and a 1.18% donation conversion rate.

Want to learn more about how to use the instant donation page? You can read a quick blog post about it here. You can download a free template here. Or you can take the free online course (it’s covered in session 7).

Idea #4 – Don’t use videos to make your donation appeal; use them to prime donors for your appeal.

People get angry when they hear this, but videos are not the most effective way to ask for a donation. At least not directly. Here’s an example:

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Don't use a video on your donation page

In this case, replacing the video with text that explained the same message led to a 560% increase in donations.

Let me say that again…Removing the video led to a 560% increase in donations!

If you think this is just a one-off example, check out these other experiments showing the same type of result:

If you want to (or have to) use a video in your year-end fundraising, use it as a primer to show your potential donors the value of your organization before you make your appeal like this:

  1. Send it in an email towards the start of your campaign without any sort of donation ask.
  2. Then send a direct ask donation appeal without a video within 2 weeks. 

Idea #5 – Ask donors to upgrade to a recurring donation when they click to submit their gift.

Recurring donors can be up to 4x more valuable than a one-time donor. And with year-end fundraising being the biggest giving season of the year, increasing the rate that donors become recurring donors could make an enormous impact on revenue.

One way we’ve found to help boost recurring giving numbers is to use a pop-up prompt on your one-time donation form. It works like this:

  1. Donors come to your donation page.
  2. They put in all their info for a one-time gift.
  3. They click the button to submit the donation form.
  4. A pop-up appears that asks the donor to upgrade their gift to recurring.

We tested this model and saw a 64% increase in recurring donations – all without affecting the overall donation conversion rate. In other words, we had the same total number of donors, but a larger percentage were recurring donors.

Year-End Fundraising Ideas - Use a recurring gift pop-up prompt

Need more year-end fundraising ideas?

Year End Fundraisng - Cut Through the ClutterWe have a whole eBook called Cut Through the Clutter that is devoted to year-end fundraising. You’ll find 10 unique ideas to help your fundraising stand amount to your ideal donors, all based on real-world research and field-tested experiments.

Get your free copy of Cut Through the Clutter here.

Have other ideas you’d like to share? Just drop them in the comments below.

Planning a year-end fundraising campaign can be a huge stressor – in particularly if you’re caught in a rut of running the same campaigns over and over again, hoping it brings in as many donations as last year (or more). This free online course on year-end fundraising will give you a fresh look at your year-end fundraising, and help you craft a plan based on data, testing, and research that will bring in more money this year-end than you thought possible.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.

Set yourself up for online fundraising success this year-end with a free year-end fundraising course.LEARN MORE »

Increase Your Matching Gift Revenue: 5 Email Examples

Published by Adam Weinger

Increase Matching Gift Revenue

How well your nonprofit communicates with supporters online sets the tone for the rest of your relationship. After all, since the majority of your interactions with future givers will likely be online, it only makes sense to want to strengthen your email marketing efforts.

Yet, many nonprofits are unaware of the massive fundraising potential email marketing has for your cause, especially when it comes to promoting matching gifts to your supporters.

If you’re unfamiliar with matching gifts, the fundraising strategy works like this: every year, thousands of companies offer corporate matching gifts programs to their employees in which they commit to matching certain donations at a 1:1 (or even 1:2 and sometimes 1:3) ratio.

Your team can leverage smart email marketing strategies to get the word out and promote matching gifts to your donors. Each year, only 7% of donors who work at companies that offer matching gifts successfully submit their match simply because individuals aren’t aware of how gift matching works.

In this article, we’ll go over some examples of how to promote and educate your community about matching gifts through your email communications pipeline. We’ve provided templates for a:

  1. Matching Gifts Explainer Email
  2. Company-Specific Matching Gifts Email
  3. Segment-Specific Matching Gifts Email
  4. Campaign-Specific Matching Gifts Email
  5. Year-End Fundraising Matching Gifts Email

When your supporters are educated and aware of the matching gifts potential their donations have, they’ll be inspired to follow through on completing their match. Let’s dive into these effective examples so your team can start boosting your matching gifts fundraising revenue!

Example #1: Matching Gifts Explainer Email

One of the best ways to increase matching gift revenue is to simply connect supporters with the resources they need to find out how to get their gifts matched.

This is why one of your first matching gifts emails should be a concise explainer of what matching gifts programs are, how they work, and the impact they can have on your cause.

Before you craft this email, you should create a matching gifts page on your website like this one from Mercy Corps. Include a matching gift database search tool on this page so donors can check if their employers offer these programs without leaving your website.

Here’s an example from a hypothetical women’s advocacy group:

SUBJECT: Get your donations doubled for free

BODY: Did you know your employer may match your gifts to Lakeside Women’s Group at no cost?

Every year, thousands of companies commit to match employee donations through their corporate giving programs.

Yet, 78% of matching gifts-eligible employees aren’t sure if they qualify for these matches.

Ready to find out if you can make double (or even triple) your impact as a Lakeside Women’s Group supporter? Discover whether or not your company matches gifts by searching our [hyperlink: matching gift program database].

Want to make your gift today? Click the donate button below to make a difference for women across Lakeside County.

[Button: Show Your Support!]

Bonus tip! The best way to make sure supporters open your emails? Optimize your subject lines! Learn more about subject line optimization strategies.

Example #2: Company-Specific Matching Gifts Email

Another great way to convert email list members into matching gifts donors is to leverage matching gifts automation technology to preemptively identify matching gifts leads in your community. If you can identify donors who work for companies with robust matching gift programs, why not reach out to those donors specifically?

Implement a solution like 360MatchPro to segment email lists by matching gifts eligibilityThen, you can create company-specific matching gifts marketing emails to directly address constituents who work for matching gifts companies.

Take a look at how this animal shelter reaches out to employees who work for The Home Depot:

SUBJECT: See your contributions doubled by The Home Depot

BODY: Did you know The Home Depot has a matching gifts program for its employees?

This means that for every donation you make to Averyville Animal Shelter, your company will match that gift up to $1,000 each year!

The average donation we receive from supporters is about $250. That means the average donor could get their gifts doubled 4 times each year.

Whether you’re a full-time or part-time employee, you’re still eligible for this impactful giving program.

Even better, the minimum gift they’ll match is just $25, so you can still benefit from this program if making a larger gift isn’t possible right now.

Ready to learn more about The Home Depot’s matching gifts program? Head over to our [hyperlink: matching gifts database] for more details.

Example #3: Segment-Specific Matching Gifts Email

On a similar note, your matching gifts marketing emails will be strengthened when they feel more personal to the readers who receive them. In other words, the more you tailor your email templates to different constituent segments, the more likely it is they’ll encourage supporters to make a donation and submit a matching gift request.

The best way to ensure your email lists are effectively segmented is to keep clean, accurate data in your donor database. Consider creating email lists segmented by different donor types: the first-time giver, the occasional contributor, the recurring donor, etc.

Consider the way this children’s hospital connects with first-time donors and encourages them to look into their matching gifts eligibility:

SUBJECT: Double your impact with a no-cost employer donation match

BODY: We know you love Franklin Children’s Hospital, so why not maximize your impact?

If your employer offers matching gifts as part of their corporate giving commitments, you could be making double the impact with your contribution to our essential institution.

Every year, billions of potential matched gifts go untouched because donors like you were unaware that they were on the table.

For your latest gift, why not secure a gift match from your company? To see if your employer offers a matching gifts program, [hyperlink: visit our matching gifts database].

The average minimum donation to qualify for a gift match is just $25, so it’s more than likely your gift will be eligible!

Make your latest contribution go further towards sustaining children’s health. Secure your gift match today.

Bonus tip! Want to find out more smart ideas for boosting your online fundraising revenue? Look no further! Check out this article on growing online fundraising revenue.

Example #4: Campaign-Specific Matching Gifts Email

Promoting matching gifts to your email subscribers is a truly effective way to increase the fundraising momentum for specific campaigns, too. As you promote your latest fundraising campaign, be sure to send out tailored matching gifts emails as part of your content calendar.

For example, boosting your matching gifts revenue is a great way to get you closer to your capital campaign’s fundraising goals. Since you’ll need many mid- and high-level gifts to reach your goals, each and every dollar counts.

Check out the way this homeless shelter ties matching gifts in with their ongoing capital campaign:

SUBJECT: Help us expand our shelter faster with matching gifts

BODY: In 2020, we’ll be growing our campus. Get us closer to our goal with matching gifts.

Does your employer offer a matching gifts program? In these corporate giving initiatives, companies match their employees’ gifts to causes like Hopeful Community Shelter.

Find out if you’re eligible for one of these impactful programs by [hyperlink: searching our database].

As we plan for our upcoming expansion, we need all the help we can get to reach our $5 million fundraising goal. These contributions will help build a sustainable campus to house over 500 families in need from the Jackson metro area.

So, are you eligible for an employer matching gifts program? If so, it’s time to get your gifts matched! Whether you’ve already donated this year or are ready to make a contribution, don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

Bonus tip! Planning a capital campaign? Visit Averill Fundraising Solutions to learn all you need to know about getting your next capital campaign right.

Example #5: Year-End Fundraising Matching Gifts Email

Finally, your team can incorporate matching gifts promotion into your year-end fundraising email marketing. During this bustling online fundraising season, you can encourage more supporters than ever to look into their matching gifts eligibility and secure their gift matches.

Since year-end fundraising is so dependent on tapping into the holiday spirit, you might find it useful to send these messages out right before high-impact fundraising days like Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.

See how this arts organization leveraged year-end fundraising momentum to boost matching gifts:

SUBJECT: Make a bigger impact this holiday season with matching gifts

BODY: Before the year is up, be sure to find out your matching gifts eligibility!

Thousands of companies have matching gifts programs in place to double employee gifts to organizations close to their hearts, like Kelly’s Arts Center.

Your employer may be one of them. Visit [hyperlink: our matching gifts database tool] to find out whether your company has one of these meaningful programs in action.

Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility, you can submit your gift match request and double the impact of your donation by the end of the year.

We know money can be tight, and we know that the holidays are often one of the most hectic seasons in your calendar. This is why we want your family to find out if securing a gift match is possible for you.

From our family to yours,

We wish you a joyful holiday season!

With effective email marketing strategies, increasing your matching gifts revenue will be a breeze. Now that you’ve read these helpful templates, you’re sure to boost matching gifts at your organization!

About the author:

Adam Weinger

Adam Weinger

Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs.

Set yourself up for online fundraising success this year-end with a free year-end fundraising course.LEARN MORE »

What I Learned from 152 Email Signups from 152 Organizations

Published by Brady Josephson

Before I worked for NextAfter, one of the resources I used and referenced most was the Online Fundraising Scorecard. I found it incredibly useful to see what other organizations were doing, what they weren’t doing, and what I could or should be doing. So when I joined the team and we decided to do a new version of the scorecard, and with Canadian organizations, I was pumped.

I also didn’t know what I was getting into.

Have you ever signed up for emails for 152 organizations? If your answer is yes, I want to know your story friend. But it’s not as easy or as simple as it sounds for a lot of reasons (more on that below) but it was fascinating to see so many sites, offers, and forms back to back to back to back to back to back to back… you get the point. Signing up for emails is one of four key areas that we’ll look at in the study — along with email communication, donation experience, and acknowledgment — and with the first part done, I wanted to share…

6 Things I Learned from Doing 152 Email Signups to 152 Organizations

Let’s start with the positives.

1. Organizations were “pretty good” at making the email signup quick and findable

It took me more than 10 seconds to find the email signup for only 17% of organizations compared to 24% in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard. For 75% of organizations, I could sign up for their emails in less than 2 clicks from the homepage — compared to 64% in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard. And, in total, 67% provided an email signup within 10 seconds and less than 2 clicks.

While that is “pretty good” (relative to the original Online Fundraising Scorecard) it also means that for 33% of organizations, it either takes more than 10 seconds or more than 2 clicks to signup for an email. Being able to easily find out how to signup for emails — for those rare people who are seeking that out — should common practice so I think there’s still some room to improve here.

And… that concludes the positive part of this post.

But before things get more negative — and I embed GIFs from me live tweeting this experience — let me just say that I love the charities and nonprofits working to change and impact our world for good. Truly. I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t believe in them and the sector overall or devote all of my professional life to work with, for, and alongside them.

On to the more negative section (but also full of GIFs).

2. Not every organization wants to get and send emails.

25 out of the original pool of 152 organizations (16%) either provided no way to sign up from the website or had a broken form and did not respond with a way that I could sign up within 5 days after I reached out to see how I could get their email updates.

I was expecting some of the later findings, but this one truthfully took me by surprise and I found this quite shocking. My thinking was that even if email wasn’t the number one source for online donations for these organizations — as it is for many nonprofits and a lot of our clients — I thought it was generally recognized that capturing and sending emails was a useful thing to do when it comes to online fundraising. Apparently not.

And many of these organizations weren’t new, hyper-local, or small either. There were some pretty major organizations (revenues over $50M) that were in this group. I suppose there may be some reasons for not allowing or wanting email signups — like being a national entity with local and provincial chapters — but even then I don’t believe they are good enough to not allow or want people to engage with you in a high-value channel like email.

3. You really can get a crappy newsletter anywhere.

Well, I guess based on #2 above not anywhere… but almost anywhere.

For this report, to assess the value proposition associated with an email sign-up offer, I tried to rank the appeal and exclusivity of that offer. For appeal, I tried to assess whether or not, as a donor, I would be highly interested in the offer, somewhat interested, or not interested at all. For exclusivity, I tried to determine if the email offer was something I could find nowhere else, somewhere else, or anywhere else. This is the same method we used in the original Online Fundraising Scorecard.

Here are the less than ideal results:

  • Only 6% of organizations offered something with ‘high interest’
  • Only 8% of organizations offered something people couldn’t get anywhere else
  • In total, only 10% of organizations had an offer that scored over 2
  • The average score was 0.48 and the median score was… 0

Instead of harping on the negative here — and there is a lot to be negative about — let’s think about the other side of the equation and all the opportunity! Just by simply starting to offering something that is appealing and something that is even somewhat exclusive means you can quickly and easily stand out from all the other newsletters out there.

4. Organizations are not using enough copy to communicate their offer

One of the biggest lessons I’ve seen from our research and experiments is that there is immense power and value in copy (your text and writing). In fact, the most important tool you have to communicate your value proposition is your copy. Yet in this study, only 32% of organizations used more than one sentence to state their case as to why someone should sign up for their emails. That’s less than a third that are even trying to use what we’ve seen as the most powerful tool when it comes to email acquisition.

I don’t know if this is because the people wrongly assume people don’t read, they are getting advice that it’s all about the design, videos, or images (it’s not), or if people just aren’t spending enough time caring and testing when it comes to trying to get emails but this was one of the most discouraging findings.

But, again, instead of looking at the negative — like where the heck is everyone getting their conversion and email signup suggestions from — the upside is that, most likely, by using more copy to explain in a way a potential donor can understand (clarity trumps persuasion!) why they would like your emails and how they are unique compared to others you should be able to get more visitors to become email subscribers.

5. Organizations are not taking advantage of the confirmation page.

The confirmation page — the page you are should be taken to after an action like an email sign up — is one of the most underutilized tools in the online fundraiser and digital marketers’ toolbox. It makes it easier to set up goals/tracking in Google Analytics so you can see where your sign-ups are coming from and even run some experiments but at the very least, confirmation pages should:

  • Confirm the action that someone took
  • Thank them for that action
  • Let them know what they should expect because of that action

If landing pages should be conversational in their tone and approach — as our research and findings suggest — then not having a confirmation page is like walking away in the middle of a conversation. Imagine if you invited a friend over for dinner, they say yes, and you say… nothing. Not thanks. No ‘see you then’. Just silence. How weird would that be?

But that’s what many organizations are doing as 61% of organizations did not have a confirmation page of any kind.

So, just to recap, if you wanted to sign up for email, found it, and got over the fact that there was, most likely, very little value being communicated to you and you still went ahead and signed up for emails you had a 60% chance to be greeted with… nothing. No confirmation. No thank you. Nothing.

There is clearly a lot of room to grow with just having a confirmation page but beyond simply having one, they can, and should, be used more strategically to engage donors and move them toward another action — follow, share, take a survey, etc. — and even a donation with something like an instant donation page. That may sound counterintuitive — didn’t they just sign up to get email updates from you? — but they’ve already made a bunch of micro ‘yes’ decisions which builds up cognitive momentum so asking or encouraging another greater action just keeps the momentum going which is why we’ve seen conversion rates on these pages anywhere from half a percent up to 10% or even 20%.

Remember that scenario where you invited your friends to dinner, and they said yes? This is kind of like asking them — now that they’ve shown interest in your dinner — if they can bring a dessert or a salad. If you just asked if they’d bring a salad that would be weird. But once they’ve said yes to coming it’s actually pretty natural. Many people will even ask “what can I bring”. Think of your confirmation page with an instant donation page kind of like that.

Yet only 7% of organizations in the study had an ask for donations (of any kind) on their confirmation pages. And only 1 had anything like a specific ask with a form on the page.

Again, there is ample room to experiment with this low-cost approach to more quickly turn email signups into donors.

6. Many tools and templates organizations are using suck.

As I went through the process of signing up for 152 emails, I ran into some pretty poor sites, pages, and forms.

Like being asked to provide my email twice on consecutive screens (and then not having a confirmation page):

Or needing to create and register for an account to just get emails:

Or having a good offer… only show up if you’re on a desktop or laptop:

Or requiring information but not telling me about it until I submit all the information:

Those are just a few. I’d say the majority of my Tweets/GIFs/frustrations were actually about the tools, sites, and user experience as there was a lot of friction (form fields, information required, decisions to make, etc.) and anxiety (Is my information secure? Did I actually sign up?). Much of this is down to the tools being used which are either poor (overall) or need to be customized to be better and people/organizations either don’t care or don’t know how to do that.

In either case, while I have a lot of empathy (truly), it is still a choice to use a crappy tool or do nothing to improve the experience you are providing donors. One of the goals of this report is to shed light on some of these areas and findings in the hope that more people will care and do something about it.

For me, you, and all of your donor’s sakes… let’s hope so!

Summary & Infographic

Those were some of the early findings and things I’ve learned in the process and here’s a handy infographic with more of the key stats so far as it relates to email signups:

Get the Canadian Online Scorecard and Start Optimizing Your Online Fundraising Today

Learn from 152 Canadian Charities and 1,200 experiments to improve your email signup process as well as email fundraising strategy, donation pages, and overall online giving experience.

About the author:

Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. At NextAfter, he focuses on business development and partnerships, content creation, and marketing. He's also a huge Liverpool FC fan. #YNWA

Set yourself up for online fundraising success this year-end with a free year-end fundraising course.LEARN MORE »

5 Ways to Improve Your Nonprofit Email Subject Lines

Published by Brady Josephson

5 Ways to Improve Your Nonprofit Email Subject LinesWhen it comes to online fundraising, email is one of, if not the, biggest drivers of online revenue. Here’s an example of one of our clients from 2017:

The majority of fundraising revenue from digital channels comes from email marketing.

When we do data audits, we see this time and time again for organizations working in different areas and of differing sizes. So email fundraising is valuable and should be core to your online fundraising efforts.

Today, I won’t go into all the things required for great email fundraising, like email acquisition, but rather focus on one thing: writing great subject lines. There are many reasons why people don’t read your emails and one of the biggest is that they don’t even open them. The subject line can play a crucial role in changing that.

The Subject Line

Before we dive into some subject line ideas based on our research, we first have to understand how people are using subject lines. The subject line, along with the preview text, sender line, reply email, and date, is a key element of the ‘email envelope’ — what you see before you actually open the email. It’s the email envelope that you and I use, even unknowingly, to triage our inboxes.

There are really two strategies to writing nonprofit email subject lines:

  1. You appeal to the topic
  2. You appeal to the conversation

It can be tough for many nonprofits to appeal to the topic as it requires you to know a lot about the person you are sending to so you can be extra relevant. This is also why tools can be hit and miss in helping you write subject lines. Also, often, the topic you want to discuss, like clean water in Africa, may not be the most top of mind for the recipient.

So instead I’ll focus on how you can appeal to the conversation. This method gives the reader the impression that the conversation itself is worth getting into without going into the topic very much at all — which relies on using conversational cues.

5 Key Levers to Write Great Nonprofit Email Subject Lines

1. Mystery

This leaves people wanting to know more and invokes their sense of curiosity. Let’s take a look at an experiment we ran using mystery where the first email is from the founder of the organization and a frequent sender of emails. In it, she’s trying to be kind of cute and establish a connection through moms.







The second is from another user on the site who hasn’t sent an email before. In it, she uses a personalized statement that doesn’t really say too much about what the email is.

An example of a subject line that appeals to the conversation.

The end result: the second email got 137% more opens.

Key Point: To activate the element of mystery, you need to leave just enough information out of the subject line concerning the topic.

2. Utility

This gives people a sense that they will benefit from your email and what you are offering. Take this experiment for example where the first email is trying to show what you get:

This example does not illustrate a benefit very clearly.

While the second email is much more clear with what you get (and when you can get it):

This subject line clearly communicates the benefit and encourages the reader to open the email.

The second email increased opens 71.6%.

Now if you’re asking for money, it may seem like you aren’t offering anything but rather taking. If that’s your view of giving then fundraising is going to be hard as giving is a great gift that makes people feel happy and makes some kind of difference in the world. So there are two benefits you could feature in a subject line: what they get in terms of happiness or what their gift does in terms of impact in the world.

Key point: To activate the element of utility, you need to imply that there is something useful to them or their special interest: a benefit, a gift, content that progresses them, or even a favor.

3. You

This is one of the most magical words in fundraising. Using ‘you’ has been a stable strategy for copywriting and particularly for direct mail for years. It’s a strategy that is still hugely useful for emails and subject lines.

Remember the example from above for mystery with the “You Amaze Me, Jeff” subject line? That experiment shows the power of ‘you’ as well as how ‘you’ can be used with mystery.

It can also be used with utility. In one experiment, we simply changed the subject line from ‘Time Is Running Out to Get Your Free CD’ (utility) to ‘Our Gift to Thank You – A Free CD’ (utility + ‘you’) and it increased opens 49%. Not sure who is using CD’s still…

Key point: To activate the element of you, you need to imply that this email was made specifically for them, either by using the word “you,” using their name, or writing it so it feels personally addressed.

4. Recency

This involves using time reliance and things like days of the week, time-based salutations, and words like ‘yesterday’, ‘today, and ‘tomorrow’. This helps increase the sense of urgency someone feels because it is time-based and when done right helps with relevance.

Many emails you send are time reliant in one way or another — when you’re sending, what the content is about, when they need to respond, etc. — so just by adding in that fact can increase your open rate.

Key Point: To activate the element of recency, you need to use a word that implies your email covers something recent and/or newsworthy.

5. Authenticity

This is a hugely important factor as one of the main goals for your fundraising is to come across like a human talking to humans – not an email marketing machine. So when you get too ‘salesy’ or aggressive it can turn people off, not because you are being sales-y necessarily, but because it seems inauthentic.

Here’s an example experiment where adding in the more urgent and sales focused copy, ‘Don’t wait another minute’, decreased opens 28%:

This example does not use urgent, sales-y messaging and stays true to the organization's voice.

This email's subject line performed worse than the other, because it features off-brand messaging.

Key point: To activate the element of authenticity, you need to avoid phrases or word pairs that come off as opportunistic.


Subject Line HeuristicIf you want to send better emails and raise more money from them, you have to first get people to open your email. The subject line plays a critical role in that. By taking a conversational approach and using those 5 key levers, you have a better chance of standing out in a crowded inbox, having your donors engage with your content, and, possibly, going on to make a donation.

You can download the free Subject Line Heuristic guide here that outlines these 5 levers and gives you some tips on what key words and phrases to use for each one.

Want to go deeper with nonprofit email subject lines, email envelopes, and more? Check out this free course on email fundraising.

Originally published at on April 11, 2018.

Optimize Your Email Fundraising

Subject lines, although incredibly powerful and influential, are only one small piece of a successful email. To make a big impact on your email fundraising effectiveness, you need to know how to optimize every element of your email. The free Email Fundraising Optimization course will walk you through each element of an email, show you what we’ve learned works through testing and optimization, and help you craft emails that will grow your online fundraising revenue.

About the author:

Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. At NextAfter, he focuses on business development and partnerships, content creation, and marketing. He's also a huge Liverpool FC fan. #YNWA

Set yourself up for online fundraising success this year-end with a free year-end fundraising course.LEARN MORE »

It’s time to bust a myth about email list rentals

Published by Eric Josephsen

“Email list rentals don’t work.”

At conference after conference, and in meeting after meeting, nonprofit marketers repeat this maxim to me time and time again.

And every time they do, my heart breaks because I’m watching talented and motivated marketers give the proverbial stiff-arm to the rocket fuel that could launch their programs to new heights.

The time has come to bust this myth about email list rentals. The time has come, to paraphrase Tim Kachuriak, to “punch conventional wisdom in the face.”

Friends, I’m here with good news. Great news, in fact! Email list rentals don’t just work — they have the potential to transform the way you identify supporters and raise money, and to do it all faster and more efficiently than you ever thought possible.

Still skeptical? That’s ok. All are welcome on this journey into the wonderful world of email. When we get where we’re going, I’m confident that you’ll look at this misunderstood medium with a new curiosity… and maybe even dip your toe into the water.

Why should I even consider email?

Before we tackle the myth, let’s make sure we all understand why this discussion is so important. We’ll start with an illustration from history.

Legendary bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks.

His reply: “Because that’s where the money is.”

As a nonprofit marketer, you know that your organization’s email list is your most reliable and readily accessible channel for generating activism, volunteers, and funds. And that means that the bigger and more engaged your email list is, the more effective you can be as an organization.

So as you’re looking to grow your email list, where are you going to focus your efforts to find new subscribers?

If you’re like most nonprofits, your answer is probably Facebook, or maybe paid search.


If you’re looking for a prime ribeye steak, would you go to McDonald’s? Would you charter an offshore fishing boat to hunt deer?

Then why would you go to social sites or search engines to try to find engaged email users, when you could reach a pool of known, verified email users right from the start?

I’m not trying to diminish the value of Facebook or paid search as tools for acquisition. On the contrary, they are highly effective and minimally risky laboratories for optimization. And once you’re ready to scale up, they can bring in a good number of names that don’t exist in the large, but finite, email rental universe.

But we must always remember that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. And generally speaking, that means that you’re going to have some amount of difficulty turning someone who interacts with you on Facebook into someone who reads and responds to your email regularly.

On the other hand, subscribers acquired via email list rentals have measurably higher engagement rates, and consequently, much higher lifetime values to your organization.

For example, last year, we took a deep dive into the list of one of our clients with the expressed purpose of determining their highest value channel for acquisitions. After 12 months on the email list, we found that names acquired through email list rentals had double the open rate of names acquired via Facebook, as well as double the click-through rate. Even before we get to the donation page, names acquired via email list rentals have four times the value of Facebook acquisitions!

For a bank robber like Willie Sutton, it was perfectly natural to rob banks because that’s where the money is.

For us, as marketers, it should be just as natural (though infinitely more wholesome!) to conclude that the most engaged, most valuable email subscribers are going to come from lists of verified, engaged email subscribers. We’d be foolish to write off the entire medium.

Why do you believe what you believe?

Every time someone tells me that email list rentals “don’t work,” my response is a simple question: “Why do you believe that?”

Their stories are all unique in their own way, but almost without exception, they boil down to one of two central themes:

  1. A friend or an advisor somewhere along the way has told them that email list rentals don’t work, and they took that advice as gospel truth.
  2. They have tried email list rentals themselves, and couldn’t get them to work.

The rebuttal to both of these stories is the same:

Your (or someone else’s) failure to make an acquisition channel work does not have the final say on whether or not that channel works.

That might seem a little harsh at first glance, but it should really be encouraging. Why? Because here’s the implication: Even if you haven’t been able to make email rentals work for your organization, I assure you that there is someone out there who can. That is great news!

Need proof? Open your email inbox. Chances are you’re subscribed to a few lists that get rented periodically. You see the organizations that are renting those lists time and time again? They’re making email list rentals work. They’re not throwing good money after bad. They keep mailing because they’re seeing success. And if they’re seeing success, so can you.

So you have me convinced. Now what?

The best place to start is by setting appropriate benchmarks for email success. When you’re doing this, remember that email and Facebook are two completely different animals, and they should be treated as such. If you pay $.50 per acquisition on Facebook and expect to meet or beat that on email, you’re going to be disappointed every time. But remember — in the analysis I mentioned above, we found that subscribers acquired via email were up to four times as likely to engage with regular emails as Facebook-acquired subscribers. Watch the long-term performance of your email acquisition folks, and you will likely see a similar trend. If you do, it’s entirely justifiable to pay more for more engaged subscribers.

Don’t have the budget to rent? There are many creative pricing models that have become commonplace in the space, which will mitigate your risk as you dip your toe into the water. Consider trying a cost-per-acquisition arrangement, a no-risk rental, or a cost-per-donation. These arrangements are not scalable beyond a certain point, but they are low-risk ways to determine if you have a hot offer on your hands.

Still don’t have the budget? Try arranging a list swap with another organization in your space. The fairest way to arrange this is to exchange the equivalent number of openers, as gross list sizes can be deceiving.

Consider bringing in the advice of experienced players in the space. The accumulated knowledge of an email marketing firm is immensely valuable. They have years of historical data on thousands of creative/list combinations and will put that knowledge to work to get you the best results possible.

Consider talking to a big data firm that has an email product available. Several of the larger data firms have begun making inroads into email by constructing audiences around certain issue areas or constructing modeled audiences to match your current supporters on an array of data points. This latest phase of targeted email marketing is in its infancy, but it offers some very sophisticated ways to target like-minded prospects for your organization.

As always, test, optimize, and test your creative again.

And learn from your failures. When you find that winning formula, email list rentals have the potential to scale your program like nothing else can.

About the author:

Eric Josephsen

Eric Josephsen

Eric Josephsen is the Director of Client Strategy at ActiveEngagement in Leesburg, VA, where he oversees strategic direction and email acquisition for a broad range of political, issue advocacy, and charitable clients.

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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

64.56% Increase to Conversions

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

129.88% Increase to Clicks

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

270.07% Increase to Clicks

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

34.69% Increase to Conversions

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

27.61% Increase to Clicks

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:


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.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.

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We’re celebrating a huge milestone this week…we’ve officially logged 1000 experiments in our online fundraising research library. But the number itself is not what we’re most excited about.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible to be able to say to someone that we’ve documented 1000 experiments that are decoding what works to inspire more donations and increase generosity.

Ultimately though, it’s the learnings those 1000 experiments represent that get us jumping up and down.

Before I go any further, let’s just all take a moment to celebrate, because you’re an essential part of this too (more on that in a minute).

1000 Experiments Confetti

All right. Now that we’ve gotten that out of our system, let’s look at the experiment that put us over the edge.

The 1000th Experiment

The 1000th online fundraising experiment was conducted with Boys Town – an organization working to change how the world cares for children, families, and communities by helping those suffering from abuse, addiction, abandonment and violence to reach their potential.

In this experiment, Boys Town was running a Facebook advertising campaign to try and acquire new email addresses and grow their file. They were offering a free 5-week email series to help parents learn how to handle toddler tantrums.

The original ad used copy that we would consider organizational-centric. By that, I mean that the copy was focused around organizational goals, rather than the goals of the end user.

Here’s the ad:

Boys Town Control Ad

We created a new Facebook ad to test. This time, the copy was more donor-centric. Rather than say things like “We’ve pulled together…”, the copy used words like “you” and “your.” The value presented was focused on what the recipient would get out of it – not the organization.

Here’s the treatment:

Boys Town Treatment Ad

The goal of this experiment was to drive more traffic to the landing page where someone could sign up for the email series. To validate this experiment, we looked at clicks.

After running the experiment for 2 weeks, we compared the difference. The treatment ad (the one with donor-centric copy) saw a 27.7% increase in clicks to the landing page. The treatment was a clear winner, but what did we learn?

Empathy, Marketing, and Online Fundraising Go Hand-in-Hand

Whenever we run an experiment like this, we’re always looking for the larger principle. Every single experiment that we add to our library helps define and refine a bigger picture of what makes donors give.

This experiment points towards the idea of empathetic marketing. Let’s define empathy really quick:

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. –

When we try to understand and share the feelings of our donors and potential donors, we start to see our copy, our messaging, our advertising, and every other marketing and fundraising channel differently.

In this case, by putting ourselves in the shoes of the people seeing the ad for the free email series, we realized that there wasn’t much value being communicated about why this offer was important and relevant to the end user.

By tweaking our messaging to be more empathetic, we saw a significant improvement in our results.

Empathetic Marketing - Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll of Markempa was the first person to introduce me to the term empathetic marketing, and he gave a talk on it at the 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit.

If you want to dig deeper, you can watch his whole talk for free.

This idea of empathetic marketing applies well beyond advertising. Over the course of 1000 experiments, we’ve seen this concept play out on donation pages, email fundraising, and more.

Lessons We’ve Learned from 1000 Experiments

Empathy is at the heart of nearly every major learning and breakthrough that we’ve found throughout 1000 online fundraising experiments.

Everything from crafting a more effective value proposition, to designing a higher converting donation page, to lifting revenue from your email appeals all points back to this central idea of having empathy for your donors.

I think you’ll see this trend if we look at some of the most significant learnings from these 1000 experiments:

Never Assume that Someone Understands Why They Should Give to You

The most significant factor in influencing some to click, sign-up, register, or donate is always the value proposition. If your donor doesn’t know why their gift matters, they’re not going to donate.

We’ve seen this play out in countless experiments, but let’s look at one that illustrates this very clearly…

In experiment #6623 with Illinois Policy Institute, their original donation page had virtually no copy on it. There was nothing to answer the donor’s fundamental question: Why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or maybe not at all?

When our donation pages have no copy, we’re essentially assuming that the potential donor is already fully convinced that they should donate. But if your donation page conversion rate is anything less than 100%, this assumption can’t be true.

We tested this original donation page against a new one that clearly explained why a donor should give. The new page saw a 150% increase in donations.

Here’s a quick video breaking down the experiment:

Do you see how empathy comes into play on a donation page? We have to craft our page keeping in mind how the donor is perceiving it.

People Give to People, Not Email Machines

This is the golden rule we live by when it comes to email fundraising.

Just think about your own email habits. When you wake up in the morning and check your email on your phone, which emails do you actually want to open? The vast majority of the time, you’re going to open emails from real human beings that you know and trust.

Now, you might be saying, “Nathan, I live a healthy lifestyle and don’t immediately stare at my phone when I wake up.”

For that, I applaud you.

But the same concept applies when you get to work. Are you more inclined to open the email from your colleague, or the email that looks like it’s from a salesperson wanting you to buy a new tool or service?

People Give to PeopleThere are a ton of factors that go into the psychology of deciding which emails to open and which ones to delete. While we don’t have the time or space in this post to go into detail, Jeff Giddens held a webinar on humanizing your email appeals that’s really helpful in understanding how to break-through in the inbox, get your emails opened and read by motivated donors, and grow your revenue.

You can watch the whole webinar here.

If you don’t have time to watch the webinar, here are some tips to keep in mind next time you write a fundraising email. I’ve linked a blog post about each tip if you want to read more.

  • Build trust with your donors by using a personal sender name. Read more
  • Use personalization to help build a real relationship. Read more
  • Write enough copy to thoroughly explain your value proposition. Read more
  • Only use images if they’re going to strengthen the value of your appeal. Read more
  • Delete all of your fancy email templates. You wouldn’t send it to your friend, so don’t send it to your donor. Read more
  • Talk like a real human being, not a marketing robot. Read more

Are you seeing the trend? Email fundraising is about relationships. And healthy relationships require empathy.

No One Goes Online to Give. They Go Online to Get.

Some people really don’t like hearing this claim. Here’s what a fundraiser had to say when I made this claim in a Facebook ad:

Facebook comment

Obviously, people donate online. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job. So please hear me out before you rake me over the coals like this fundraiser….

The general reason people go online, particularly on Facebook, is to get something for themselves. This includes updates on family and friends, articles, blogs, news (fake and real), games, tools, resources, etc.

People don’t get on Facebook with the purpose of giving away their money.

As a result, using a channel like Facebook to try and convince someone to donate to your organization directly is most often going to be fruitless.

We have to put ourselves in the shoes of the user; we have to have empathy. Since a Facebook user is looking to get something, we can offer them something of value for free in exchange for an email address.

By doing so, we can get the user out of the Facebook timeline and create an opportunity to make a donation ask that won’t fall on deaf ears.

We’ve spent $3 million on Facebook advertising over the past 4 years, and conducted 300+ Facebook fundraising experiments to craft this donor acquisition strategy. And every single step is outlined in a free 11-session course called Turning Facebook Likes Into Donors.

This course so far has helped over 1800 fundraisers learn how to effectively acquire new revenue using Facebook and other similar channels. And none of this would be possible without the power of optimization, testing, and experimentation.

1000 Experiments is Great. But It’s Only a Starting Place.

NIO Summit Shirt“Adequacy is the enemy of excellence.” – Peter Drucker

We live by this quote at NextAfter. So much so that we put it on a t-shirt we gave away at the 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit (You should come to this, by the way).

1000 experiments is a great number, but we can’t stop here. There’s so much more to be learned. And in order to keep pressing forward and discovering what makes donors give, we need other fundraisers to embrace optimization.

The real power of 1000 experiments is not in the number itself. And it’s not just in the learnings. The power is in the people that it represents, day in and day out, who are testing and optimizing to discover what works.

And when nonprofits work hard to discover what works, the revenue growth that follows has the power to provide food to children around the world who are starving. It has the power to provide training and support to families that are trapped in a cycle of poverty. It has the power to provide health services and medication to people in desperate health crises.

Optimization has the power to change the world. And 1000 experiments is only the very beginning.

About the author:

Nathan Hill

Nathan is the Optimization Evangelist for NextAfter. He spends every day working to help nonprofit organizations discover how testing and optimization can transform their marketing and fundraising, leading to greater impact and organizational growth. He is also a giant Star Wars nerd.