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Your Email Templates Might Be Costing You Time and Donations

Published by Jeff Giddens

Email templates can serve a great purpose in nonprofits. With limited resources, fundraisers are always looking for ways to save time and bring in more donations. In theory, email templates should save you time by allowing you to easily plug in images, text, links, and any other elements you want. And they should help you get more donations because they’re built using “best practices.”

Research continues to show that using an HTML email template can actually hinder the success of our emails.

Imagine sitting down to write an email to your spouse, parent, kid, or friend. Most likely, you’re not going to pull up your email template with fancy buttons and images and start typing. It’s too impersonal, and it’s unnecessary. If we wouldn’t use a template in that context, then why would we use it to communicate with our donors? In many ways, skipping the email template can make the process much easier, and be much more effective.

Let’s look at examples of how templates help or hurt us.

How the design of fundraising emails affects click-through rate

Experiment #4174

This is a fundraising email for CaringBridge. The email was sent from a member on the advisory council, Rick. He was unknown to the audience.

Email Templates - Experiment 4174 - Control

The templated email is intended to give context to the ask and to reinforce the brand. The images give context to the donation ask. We placed the CaringBridge logo at the top, and included an image that talked about how Rick’s family was helped by the campaign. There’s also a pre-header at the top of the page that gives away the email’s intent: marketing.

Now, the email template is not inherently bad. It’s intended to reinforce the brand and give context to the ask. But we wondered what would happen if we took out all the branding and the template itself. We created a more personal feel using the same copy and call-to-action button to make it feel less templated or designed.

Email Templates - Experiment 4174 - Treatment

The treatment produced an 80.3% increase in click-through rate, and an increase in the donor conversion rate because people trusted this email.

The Truth About Email Templates

Email templates may reinforce the brand and increase the authority of an email, but they also indicate to the recipient that they are looking at a marketing email. Thus, fewer people take the intended action and click.

Templates tell the recipient our plan, and communicate that it’s a mass email sent to a lot of other people. Mass emails are efficient and effective for nonprofits because they help reach a lot of people at once. But we need to make sure that those people don’t feel like they’re being marketed to. When donors sense they’re being marketed to, shields go up, and anxiety is increased because they feel like we want something from them.

We can decrease that feeling by removing the template entirely. While email templates increase the speed of our ability to create emails, they may also be incentivizing fewer people to take action and click.

About the author:

Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.