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When you open your emails, it probably looks a lot like this:

Work. News. Spam. Offers. Spam. Invites. Discounts. Spam. More spam.

In fact, the average office worker receives 121 emails every single day. Safe to say, it’s a noisy, crowded and extremely competitive platform.

And yet, email marketing is such an important tool for fundraisers. So how do you stand out from the crowd? What do you do to ensure your emails are opened, and action is taken?

Before we share our top 5 tips, let’s take a look at industry benchmarks for open and click-through rates.

Non-profit Email Benchmarks

A 2018 study by M&R Strategic Services of 154 non-profits found the following:

For fundraising emails (that asked for a donation):

  • Average open rate was 15%
  • Average click-through was 0.42%
  • Average response rate was 0.06%

For advocacy emails (that asked people to sign a petition, email a decision-maker or something similar):

  • Average open rate was 15%
  • Average click-through rate was 2.5%
  • Average response rate was 2.2%
If you read that and think, ‘Hmm, we’re lagging a bit’, never fear! Here are our top 5 tips to boost your email marketing.

Be mindful of your subject lines

First up, you need to know that in 2018 over 60% of emails were viewed on mobile devices. That’s up from 27% in 2011, and it’s projected to rise further still.

Why is this important?

Because if your subject line is too long, it will appear ‘broken’ when someone views it from their mobile.

So what’s the subject line sweet spot?

According to data from Marketo, it’s just 41 characters – or seven words. Some say even shorter.

An article by Campaign Monitor said it best: brevity creates an air of mystery.

For example:

The subject line “Are you available to meet today at 11?” (38 characters) doesn’t have quite the same impact as “Meeting at 11?” (14 characters).

Load ’em up

When it comes to fundraising emails, make sure the first few words are what we call ‘loaded’ – information-carrying words that tell the reader what to expect. They should be clear and action-orientated. For example: Donate. Volunteer. Register. Invitation.

BUT …don’t be spammy

Be mindful of the words you choose because no one wants to end up in a spam folder. If that happens, you’ve wasted a valuable opportunity for click-throughs and donations.

Spam filters pick up on CAPS, exclamation marks and words like ‘free’. In fact, for a comprehensive list of trigger words to avoid, check out Automational.

Use emojis

This isn’t a green light to use five emojis in one subject line, but the odd insert can be an easy and expressive way to stand out.

Research suggests, in some cases, that little heart or smiley face or sushi or rainbow can lead to higher response rates than text-only subject lines. Plus, it can help your subject lines to fit on mobile devices.

Remeber, your aim is to cut through the clutter.

You want people to open your email and do something, whether that’s sign a petition, donate, volunteer or register for an event. That means creating an email your supporters want to receive.


Write for scanners 

11.1 seconds.

That’s the average time people spend reading an email.

The best way to maximise this time is to write for scanners. That means:

  • Short, punchy headlines that tell readers exactly what the article is about.
  • Bulleted lists wherever possible. The first two words – 11 characters – should be loaded. If they aren’t info-based, readers will move on.
  • Simple words. Short paragraphs. It’s much easier to read small, bite-sized chunks than text that’s been heaped on you and never ends.

Why utilise longer words when diminutive expressions succeed just as effectively?

Why use long words when small ones work just as well?

  • Key-word rich hyperlinks. Not ‘click here’ but ‘download catalogue’ or ‘register now’.


Design for scanners

Design should work hand-in-hand with copy to visually compliment what you’re trying to say. Done right, and it’s a fantastic way to draw the reader to the most important information.

For example:

  • Bold text for headers grabs attention and makes for easy scanning.
  • White space gives you ‘breathing room’. It also increases legibility, which is key when viewing on a mobile device.
  • Buttons or coloured links for the call to action makes it stand out.
  • ‘Read more’ links are a great tool to shorten long articles.
  • Group content into smaller sections using dividers, borders or boxes.

Consistency is key

There’s no point adhering to the above if you have a rainbow of colours, images, borders and font sizes. It’s far too messy on the eye, and a sure way to switch someone off.

Instead, choose one or two colour themes and stick to it. Limit your font choices. And use a larger font for readability – at least 14pt for the body copy.


Make your emails mobile-friendly

People often delete or unsubscribe from emails that aren’t mobile-friendly.

If it’s too hard to read, too hard to navigate and too hard to scroll through, they’re gone.

Ideally, your content should fit a layout of 600px wide for best viewing and different device responsiveness.



Test, test, test! 

We can’t stress this enough: testing is key!

Start by sending your email to a test list before it ends up to the masses.

Ask them to test if your links are working correctly, if the content is displaying properly on different devices, if it’s engaging and easy to read. Their feedback is invaluable because it allows you to tweak your email to perfection.

Testing is a slow process, purely because there are so many things you can compare and check:

  • Subject line length and copy
  • From line (an organisation or a person?)
  • Layout, colour and format
  • Length
  • Inclusion of videos
  • The best time to send your email
  • Use of buttons or no buttons


Time to re-cap

There’s no doubt that email marketing is an important tool for fundraisers. But don’t despair if your eDM’s aren’t hitting the mark. Sometimes all it takes is a few tweaks to ramp up engagement, click-throughs and retention.
  1. Check your subject lines
  2. Choose simple words and short paragraphs
  3. Use simple, consistent design
  4. Think about how your email is being viewed
  5. Test!

Anything else you’d add to this list? Let us know.