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To Steal or Not to Steal…That is the (Wrong) Question

Published by Jeff Giddens

Why does everyone say the same thing in their year-end campaign? People are asking themselves the question of “to steal or not to steal” when they should be asking how they can stand out from the crowd.

We took all of the subject lines from every email we received last December (17,263 to be exact) and fed it to a word cloud generator. When we looked at the result, a few words stuck out as the most commonly used.

To steal or not to steal, year end subject line word cluster

So why is there so little difference in messaging?

Two possibilities:
1. Nonprofits use these words because they have been proven to work.
2. Nonprofits use these words because other nonprofits use them.

Want your Year End campaign to stand out? Click here to get the full report and learn what words you should avoid if you want to stand out this year

If you want to cut through the inbox clutter, you MUST differentiate. And it doesn’t matter one bit to your donor if the words in your subject line are “best practices” or not.

How many times have you received an email from a particular sender or seen certain words in the subject line (“Make a gift” by chance?) and decided right then, without even opening, to delete it?

I do it all the time.

Even the best practice becomes the worst when its pattern is recognized.

Instead of thinking about best practices, think about your donor. The subject line is the introduction, the beginning of a conversation, not the entire funnel. Your goal for your subject line is to capture attention and pique your prospective donor’s interest NOT close the deal.

As you test, keep an eye on open rate (obviously). But don’t fixate on that metric alone. A good conversation starter can increase donor motivation, resulting in more gifts. Don’t accidentally take a higher open rate over higher revenue.

Use these simple prompts below (or come up with your own) to craft subject lines that stand out to your audience and start the conversation right:

If I am your ideal donor – your target audience for this email – what subject line would stand out to me?

  • What would I be surprised to see?
  • What would annoy me?
  • What would anger me?
  • What would look different than anything you have sent me before?

This year-end campaign, instead of thinking about whose messaging you’re going to imitate, think about how you can cut through the inbox clutter by using unique words. Choose words that will stand out to your ideal donor and start the conversation on the right foot.

Alter your tone and language and even the “envelope” settings like sender name, title, and email address to stand out in an inbox crammed with messages. Come up with a few ideas and test something different this year.

For more on this plus 4 more tips to slice through the year-end campaign clutter, download your copy of our new e-book here.


Published by Jeff Giddens

Jeff Giddens is President of NextAfter.