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NextAfter’s Guide To Year-End Emails Your Donors Can’t Resist

Published by Nathan Hill

What to expect:

"A proven 9-step year-end email framework, plus a year-end campaign outline including 12 fundraising emails you can send during your next campaign!"

A proven 9-step framework for writing better year-end emails

There are many approaches you can take to writing a year-end fundraising email appeal. But the most effective year-end emails do 5 things very well:

  1. They thoroughly explain the problem at hand
  2. They illustrate the symptoms of that problem
  3. They present a credible solution to the problem 
  4. They demonstrate the tangible impact a donor can have
  5. They clearly call the donor to action by making a gift

At the core, these 4 areas of focus help donors understand your value proposition. In other words, they answer this core question: “Why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or at all?”

If we fail to answer this question effectively, donors will say “no” when we ask them to give. And the only way to truly know how to answer this question well is to a/b test.

We’ve conducted thousands of online fundraising experiments. And using learnings from those experiments, we’ve identified a simple and easy-to-follow template that you can use as a guide when you write your year-end fundraising email appeals.

Here’s a summary of the 9-step email fundraising template:

  1. Send your year-end fundraising email from a believable human. People give to people, so you should connect with your donors as a real person. Don’t send from the name of your organization.
  2. Add value and mystery to your subject line. Make sure your subject lines convey that there is something valuable in your email. But leave just enough mystery to spark curiosity.
  3. Don’t customize your preview text. Custom preview text tells your donor that your email is marketing. Let your preview text naturally pull in the first line of your email.
  4. Say hello and call your donor by name. Your email should be written in a conversational tone – like a message to a friend or coworker. Good conversations start with a warm greeting.
  5. Explain the problem at hand. If there’s no problem to be solved, there is no reason to donate. Explain what the problem is and the symptoms your donor experiences or could experience as a result.
  6. Propose a solution. Help your donor catch the vision for solving the problem at hand
  7. Articulate the donor’s impact. Help your donor connect their donation to meaningful impact. Be clear, articulate, and don’t be afraid to write a few paragraphs of copy.
  8. Add an incentive to give now. Incentives are not reasons to donate – but they can be reasons to donate now. Add in a matching opportunity, a clear goal and deadline, or a free gift with a donation.
  9. Provide a clear call-to-action to donateYour call-to-action needs to clearly ask for a donation. Don’t ask donors to “Stand with us” or “Give hope.” Ask them to donate.

Now let’s dive into the details so you can learn how to apply each step effectively.

Get tangible ideas, tested tactics, and a full suite of tools to help you build an effective year-end giving campaign with confidence.

1. Send your year-end fundraising email from a believable human

People give to people – not to faceless organizations.

When choosing who to send your year-end fundraising email from, plan to send from a real person at your organization. Not only that, choose someone who your donors can believe has the time to send and respond to emails.

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever send from your president, founder, or chair of the board. This can be powerful from time to time. But err on the side of sending from a more believable sender. This could include your:

  • Director of Development/Fundraising
  • Donor Communications Specialist(s)
  • Volunteer Coordinator(s)
  • Marketing and Communications Staff

Since you’re spending the time to learn how to write a better year-end fundraising email, the best sender is probably you.

In this email experiment, an organization changed their sender name from the name of the organization to an actual person. As a result, they also revamped the subject line and email coy to reflect the human-nature of the email. The result? A 330% increase in email opens and a 7x increase in conversions.


2. Add value and mystery to your subject line

There are plenty of tips, tricks, and tactics that can help you write more effective subject lines. In fact, there are 5 key levers you can use to craft a subject line – even if you’re not a copywriting expert.

Two tactics you should specifically consider for this email are:

  1. Implying there is value for your donor in the email
  2. Leaving just enough mystery to spark your donor’s curiosity

One simple example of this is to say something like: “An opportunity for you, [First Name]”

Value in the Subject Line

“An opportunity” is something of value. And in your email, you can go on to explain the opportunity to make an impact on something the donor cares deeply about. Whether it’s an “opportunity” or an “urgent reminder” – make sure your donor knows it’s worthwhile to open your email.

Mystery in the Subject Line

By not defining what the “opportunity” is in the subject line, you allow your donor’s mind to wander. They may open because they don’t want to miss out. They may open out of pure curiosity.

But if you specifically say “A donation opportunity”, you force your donor to decide whether or not to give before they’ve read any of your email. 

In the email subject line experiment below, a nonprofit wondered if adding more clarity and specificity to the subject line would lead to more opens. To their surprise, removing the mystery from the subject line actually decreased opens by 36%.


3. Don’t customize your preview text

Your preview text is the first glimpse a donor gets at the actual content of your email.
Many marketers and fundraisers customize this text to make it sound the most appealing. They often include the core details or summary of the email in this limited preview window.

Customizing your preview text, however, tells donors that your email is not intended to be a personal communication. Instead, custom preview text tells donors that you are marketing to them. And people don’t want to be marketed to – they want to be communicated with in a personal way.

Let your preview text show the first line or two of your actual email. This will appear in their inbox just like any other email from a friend, family member, or colleague.

In this preview text experiment, we wondered if customizing the preview text to showcase the core content of the email would lead to more opens. But the opposite happened.

Customizing the preview text led to a 9% decrease in opens.


4. Say hello and call your donor by name

Begin your email copy by saying hello and calling your donor by name. This might sound overly simplistic, but the implications are profound.

If people give to people, then you’ll want to start your email off like a conversation. You might use a warm greeting or conversational language such as:

  • Hope you’re doing well.
  • I wanted to share something with you this morning.
  • Something came up that I thought you should know about.

This can lower your donor’s defenses and will set a personal tone for the rest of your year-end fundraising email.

In this email salutation experiment, this nonprofit wondered what impact it would have if they called simply said “Hi” and called their donor by their name to start the email.

This simple tactic led to a 270% increase in people clicking through to the landing page.


5. Explain the problem at hand

After your greeting, you’ll want to clearly lay out the reason for sending your email. The primary way to do so is to explain the problem at hand.

Generally speaking, this is the core reason your organization exists. It’s the reason you’re asking for funds in the first place. It’s the overarching reason why donors give to you, and why your email subscribers follow you.

If there is no problem to solve, there is no reason to give.

Spend as much time as you need help donors understand the problem at hand. You might need 2-3 paragraphs to do this well.

Here’s a powerful example from Oxfam where they lay out a very clear and thought-provoking problem:


6. Propose a solution

Now that you’ve articulated the problem, what is the solution? Use the next section of your email to cast the vision for a solution.

If you have a very far-reaching or broad cause, you may have a very bold and big solution. It’s possible you’ll need significant copy to explain your solution and how it will make a difference.

If your cause is simpler in nature, you might need just a sentence or two to explain what can be done to solve the problem at hand.

In this email messaging experiment, this nonprofit wondered if taking more of a direct approach to their fundraising email appeal would lead to greater giving. They present a clear problem & solution. And they position the donor’s voice as the clear solution.

The result? The direct appeal outperformed the soft-donation ask and increased donations by 246%.

an a/b test showing how proposing a solution in an email appeal increases donor conversion

7. Articulate the donor’s impact

This section is one of the most critical. To see significant donations and conversions from your year-end fundraising email, your donor needs to understand how they can make a meaningful impact.

How does a $100 donor impact the problem and solution when your year-end goal is $1 Million?

Use plenty of copy to help answer key questions your donors may have:

    • Who will my donation impact?
    • What will it do for them?
    • What kinds of programs or services does my gift fund?
    • How quickly will my donation be put to use?

    You may consider using “gift handles” to explain what certain dollar amounts will accomplish. For example: $50 feeds a family for a month; $100 feeds a family for 2 months; $600 feeds a family for half a year; etc.

    In this experiment on how to illustrate the impact of a donation, a nonprofit tested using a story-driven approach. Instead of simply stating the need and a call-to-action, they used a series of stories to illustrate the impact a donation would make.

    The result? This story-driven approach led to a 52% increase in donations.

    an a/b test showing how sharing a story of impact in a email appeal can increase donations

    8. Add an incentive to give now

    At this point, you should have thoroughly answered the core question: “Why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or at all?”

    As you transition to your call-to-action, consider adding an incentive. An incentive is something that gives donors a reason to give now instead of later.

    Some examples of incentives you may consider are:

    • A matching opportunity (i.e. give today and a generous donor will match your gift)
    • A free gift when you donate today
    • A threshold-driven premium (Get a free gift when you give $50 or more today)
    • A clear and urgent deadline and goal

    A note on tax-deduction as an incentive:

    While the tax-deadline at year-end is certainly a factor in the heightened motivation of donors, it’s not a very strong additional incentive to give. Every 501c3 organization can claim that “your gift is tax-deductible.” And if everyone can claim the same incentive, then it’s not very exclusive or appealing.

    Try to find a unique and exclusive incentive beyond the tax-deductibility of a donation.

    In this experiment on donation incentives, this nonprofit wondered if additional clarity about a matching incentive would lead to an increase in donations.

    This experiment takes place on a donation page, but illustrates the impact a match can have on the likelihood of someone giving.

    By making the matching incentive abundantly clear, they saw a 24% increase in donations.


    9. Provide a clear call-to-action

    Finally, you need to clearly ask your donors to give.

    You’ve likely seen and received many year-end fundraising emails that ask you to:

    • “Stand with us”
    • “Stand up for your principles”
    • “Give the gift of hope”

    These types of calls-to-action are not clear. What does it mean to “stand”?” Do you want me to volunteer? Should I call someone? Do you want me to vote differently?

    And asking someone to “give hope” is something most any organization could ask of their donors.

    Instead of using a vague call-to-action, be abundantly clear about the next step. You’re not asking donors to “end world hunger”, you’re asking them to give.

    Your call-to-action should say something like:

    Would you consider supporting [insert impact here] with your donation today? You can make your donation here: [insert donation page URL].”


    In this call-to-action experiment, you can see how important clarity of your call-to-action is. In this case, the call-to-action was in the website navigation. Version A said “Donate”, but they wondered if the more personal phrase “You Can Help” would lead to greater donations.

    The result? The lack of clarity in the call-to-action decreased donations by 59%. So make sure your calls-to-action are clear.

    Now that we’ve reviewed some research-proven year-end email tactics, let’s take a closer look at some examples of year-end emails you can send to make your end of year campaign a success!

    12 Year-End Fundraising Email Examples to Add to Your Campaign

    There is no perfect number of emails to send during the year-end fundraising season. But these 12 year-end fundraising email examples give you plenty of options to use as you craft your campaign.

    You’ll find email examples that help you cultivate donors, remind the of the year-end deadline, and ultimately ask for a donation.

    There are a lot of nuances that go into writing an effective year-end fundraising email appeal. We won’t touch on all the details in the examples below but instead will look at the various themes and angles you can use to engage your donors all season.

    Let’s dive in!

    Example #1 – The Thanksgiving Email

    Category: Cultivation

    When to Send it: Thanksgiving Day (or the day before)

    Summary: The goal of this email is not to get a donation – it’s to build the relationship.

    You’ll be tempted to ask for a donation directly in this email. Don’t do it!

    Instead let your donors and email subscribers know how grateful you are for them. You could share a thank-you video, link to an article illustrating the impact of their gift or share a testimonial of how their support has impacted your cause.

    Whatever you do, do not ask them for money. Investing in the relationship now will lead to greater return on your donation appeals later on.


    Example #2 – The Pre-Giving Tuesday Email

    Category: Fundraising Appeal

    When to Send it: The Sunday Before Giving Tuesday

    Summary: Giving Tuesday isn’t just for organizations with a massive social media following. Any organization can activate their donors and subscribers on this international giving day.

    Use the “pre-Giving Tuesday” email to:

    • Explain what Giving Tuesday is and why it’s important
    • Explain why a donation is valuable and impactful
    • Ask them to give right away

    You may be tempted to ask donors to simply “mark their calendar,” but experimentation shows that this is not most effective.

    In fact, one nonprofit that asked their donors to “mark your calendar” for a giving day saw a 29% decrease in giving. Never ask donors to delay their giving if they are ready to donate now.

    A year-end fundraising email example of a pre-giving Tuesday email

    Example #3 – The Giving Tuesday Morning Email

    Category: Cultivation

    When to Send it: The Morning of Giving Tuesday

    Summary: Giving Tuesday is all about giving. So why not give to your donors first? Use the email on the morning of Giving Tuesday to share a free resource with your donors and subscribers.

    This could be a free eBook, a free video series, a free course, or even a survey that gives them a voice. The key is that they must fill out a form on a landing page in order to access the free resource.

    After they activate their free resource, you can show them what we call an instant donation page.

    This instant donation page replaces a traditional “confirmation page”, and instead presents an opportunity to give—an online donor acquisition model that you can replicate throughout the year.


    Example #4 – The Giving Tuesday Afternoon/Evening Email

    Category: Fundraising Appeal

    When to Send it: The Afternoon of Giving Tuesday

    Summary: Now that you’ve given to your donors first (using the previous email example), you can ask them directly to donate. If you have a specific matching challenge, goal, or incentive – make sure you clearly explain it in your email.

    Plan to send this email out in the afternoon of Giving Tuesday – giving enough time for donors to have received your first email of the day and taken an action.

    Don’t forget the basics:

    • Send your email from a real person
    • Call your donor by their name
    • Explain why someone should give
    • Give them a clear call-to-action
    A year-end fundraising email example of a Giving Tuesday afternoon appeal

    Example #5 – The Year-End Overview Email

    Category: Fundraising Appeal

    When to Send it: A week after Giving Tuesday

    Summary: This year-end fundraising email example is one of the most important. It’s a chance for you to clearly convey what is at stake heading into the new year. And then you can clearly ask donors to give and to make a meaningful impact. 

    Here’s a brief outline to follow as you write this year-end fundraising email: 

    • Say hello and call your donor by name
    • Explain what is at stake in the new year (i.e. goals, challenges, opportunities, etc.)
    • Share evidence of the impact your organization has made to help build trust
    • Announce a matching opportunity, incentives, and the year-end deadline
    • Clearly ask them to donate

    Example #6 – The Testimonial Pass-Along Email

    Category: Fundraising Appeal

    When to Send it: Mid-December

    Summary: The testimonial pass-along email is an opportunity to share a story of impact with your donors. Rather than you telling your donors how great it is to give, you can show them just how impactful their support is with a real and compelling story.

    If possible, you could even send this email from the person who has been impacted. The more you can do to build credibility and trust the better.

    Finally, close this email by asking your donors to make this type of an impact with their donation.


    Example #7 – The Accomplishments Email

    Category: Cultivation

    When to Send: Mid-December

    Summary: The goal of the accomplishments email is to show donors just how much they have been able to do with their generosity. This is not about how wonderful your organization is – but rather how much impact a donation can make. 

    Show your donors a list of major accomplishments from the past year that have been made possible by their generosity. 

    Thank your donors for all they have done to make these accomplishments possible. Give them the credit! 

    And finally, do not ask for money. You could put a soft donation ask in a P.S. But don’t make the donation ask the center point of the email.


    Example #8 – The December Holiday Email

    Category: Cultivation

    When to Send: On or near your preferred holiday (see the notes below for more detail)

    Summary: Every organization will have a different approach with the December Holiday Email.

    If most of you donors celebrate Hanukkah, you’ll want to send this email around Hanukkah as a way to touch base, build your relationship, and cultivate them. If most of your donors celebrate Christmas, try sending this email on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. And if your donors celebrate a mix of holidays, send a more generic holiday email.

    Regardless of which holiday(s) you recognize in the email, this is a chance for you connect with your donors around your shared values. They may be religious and faith-based values. Or you could simply wish your donors joy and peace during a busy holiday season.

    The point is this: connect with your donors without asking for money, remind them of your shared values, and wish them a happy holiday.


    Example #9 – The Only Days Left Email

    Category: Fundraising Appeal

    When to Send: Last week of the year

    Summary: At last, we’ve reached the last week of the year. There are lots of ways you can maximize donations during the last week of the year. 

    And they all revolve around creating urgency.

    Ideally, you’ve been explaining why a donation is critical and impactful all season long. The last week of the year is the time to remind donors of the deadline and incentivize them to give now.

    Use the email to recap and summarize the most important challenges and opportunities at stake in the year ahead. Commit to tackling these challenges and making an important impact. And then clearly ask your donors to give, reminding them of the deadline.


    Example #10 – The December 30th Email

    Category: Fundraising Appeal

    When to Send: Morning of December 30th

    Summary: Time is running out to give. Remind your donors of this on the morning of December 30th. If you have any new incentives, now is the time to let your donors know.

    Can their gift be doubled if they give today? How about tripled?

    Has a generous donor offered to cover all overhead costs so their gift can go straight to the cause?

    Maybe there’s even a free resource, tool, or special gift your donor can receive if they give before the deadline.

    Whatever your best, new incentive is – now is the time to let your donors know and ask them to give before the deadline.


    Example #11 – The December 31st Morning Email

    Category: Fundraising Appeal

    When to Send: Morning of December 31st

    Summary: By the time December 31st comes around, you’re just about out of time to fully explain why someone should give. 

    Keep this email short and to the point. Remind donors of the deadline. Show them how close they are to helping reach your fundraising goal. Urgency is the name of the game with this year-end fundraising email. 

    And don’t forget to clearly ask for a donation. Don’t say “Stand with us” or “Give hope.” Instead, say “You can make your donation here: [INSERT URL]”


    Example #12 – The December 31st Evening Email

    Category: Fundraising Appeal

    When to Send: Evening of December 31st

    Summary: Let’s assume the best of our donors with this email: they likely intended to give, but something came up and they haven’t had a chance yet.

    Use this email as a simple reminder of the deadline. In fact, you may set it up to look like a forwarded version of the email you sent in the morning – just like a reminder email you might receive from a colleague.

    Say something human and authentic like:

    “Hi [First Name], Wanted to check-in to see if you got my email this morning. Will you consider giving before midnight tonight in order help [insert impact here].

    You can make your donation before the deadline here: [INSERT URL]”


    Bonus Email Example – The Thank You Email

    Category: Cultivation

    When to Send: First week of the new year

    Summary: After you’ve crushed your fundraising goal by using all these year-end fundraising email examples, don’t forget to reach back out to your donors and thank them.

    Don’t ask for an additional donation. Just briefly let donors know the impact their gift is going to make this year and thank them for their generosity and support.

    With the end of year fundraising tactics reviewed in section one, combined with the campaign framework outlined in section 2, you now have everything you need to plan your a successful year-end fundraising campaign with confidence and set yourself up to make a huge impact in the coming year!

    Published by Nathan Hill

    Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.