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Using a Personal Tone in Your Email Copy

Published by Jeff Giddens

Not only is it important what your email looks like, or how long the copy is, but also what your email copy says. And if it’s not using a personal tone, you might be alienating your donors and potential donors.

We held a live broadcast recently called People Give to People: Humanizing Your Online Fundraising. If you haven’t watched it yet, I encourage you to to do so because we dive deeper into the power of tone. We explore how a personal tone has a tremendous affect on your emails. Similar to design, the tone of an email can also be a giveaway to your donor that they’re reading a marketing email.

Let’s look at some experiments that show how we can use the tone of our copy to create personal connections with our donors, and drive greater email revenue.

How personal tone in a fundraising appeal affects donor conversion

Experiment #4171

Below is the original treatment that tested into for a CaringBridge email. We wanted to keep perfecting it, and wondered if we could take a different approach to the tone. The traditional appeal had a branded template and large call-to-action buttons. The email is centered around another family, unknown to the reader.

Personal Tone - Experiment 4171 - Control

We wanted to test a simple, clear ask. We created a new appeal, and changed the copy to create a more personal tone. Look at the difference between the control and the treatment in the first few lines of copy.

We wanted it to sound like a real person, so we added relevance to the ask. We moved all the branding down to the signature block. You can see all the nuances in the treatment copy. The call-to-action in this email is actually a link within the text. When we ask for something from a friend, we usually don’t drop a button into our email. We send a link.

Personal Tone - Experiment 4171 - Treatment

The treatment produced a 145.5% increase in conversion rate.

Key Learning
Tone can be one of the most impactful elements of our emails – even more than design, image placement, or sender lines. People must believe the email is coming from a real person. If they don’t, you more than likely won’t get them to click.

Through this experiment, CaringBridge learned that an email sent from Kelly – a member of the development team – was more successful than an email sent from the founder of the organization. Their audience was less likely to believe the founder would send them an email.

It’s easy to revert to an omniscient marketing voice when writing on behalf of a brand. But people give to people, and they respond more when they believe that a person is on the other side of the conversation.

How personal tone affects click-through rate

Experiment #3423

Let’s look at one more. This is an incredible appeal that dramatically changed the trajectory of this organization’s fundraising emails. This is an email from Jews for Jesus, a ministry in San Francisco.

Personal Tone - Experiment 3423 - Control

Adapted from a direct mail appeal, the copy starts with a strong statement that doesn’t address the reader. This is a declarative fact. In fact, I’m not sure people would write something like this in a personal email. The image positioned in the email seems to denote a template. We don’t often post right-aligned images like this in a personal email.

As you continue into the email, you see two calls-to-action. One is a link, the other a button. Which one do you click? This introduces decision friction.

Additionally, there’s a signature at end of the email. This kind of element is taken from direct mail marketing. People don’t physically sign emails. It’s non-native to this platform, and is typically a giveaway of a marketing email.

We decided to take this email in a different direction.

The development team of this organization informed us that their donor relationships were built on years of face-to-face friendships and personal interactions. They wanted their emails to convey that using a personal tone.

Personal Tone - Experiment 3423 - Treatment

We started by introducing a line that says, “I hope you and your family are well.” A simple, personal, and disarming line that lowers the shields of the reader. It makes a person feel known. We also included another powerful line: “Since I know you have a heart for the Jewish people, I wanted to send you a quick note about a burden that has been on my heart.”

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything magical about this email. We made two significant changes. First, we don’t start of with a strong statement. We start by communicating like a real person. We also start by insinuating that we know the reader and something about them.

The introduction paragraph gives context and qualification, and the statement at the end is presented as information rather than an action.

As you scroll down, the personalization is repeated. The development team decided to paste a raw link in the text to give it context within the copy. This is what a real person would do in an email to a friend. Personalization is repeated in their thank you, and the email signature is plain text.

The treatment produced a 109.2% increase in the click-through rate, and a 304.8% increase in donor conversion!

Key Learning
This lift in conversion was transformative for the ministry. They started to see multiple months of triple-digit growth in their email fundraising because they decided to work on the tone of their emails.

It’s not what you say, or how your email looks. It might not even be about who sends it. The most impactful element might be how you say it. When email copy addresses the recipient personally and gives context for both the communication and the ask, the click-through rate and the conversion rate may increase.

About the author:

Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.