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October 17, 2022

Best Practice Tips to Drive Donor Engagement with Email Marketing

Hanna Middleton

Donor engagement, often viewed as the ability to develop and nurture your donor base, stems from the need to expand your nonprofit’s reach and ultimately drive more donations. Reports show that 75% of charities have seen a decline in at least one type of donation since the first quarter of 2020; the need to retain and rebuild donor engagement is of the utmost importance to most every nonprofit. 

Could email marketing be the missing piece in your nonprofit’s revenue generation and donor engagement strategy? A 2021 report from GivingTuesday shows that 76% of fundraisers credit email marketing as their greatest online fundraising effort.  

Whether you distribute one-off emails or run multiple personalized drip marketing campaigns, this email marketing guide filled with best practice tips can help every nonprofit enhance their donor engagement strategy. 

How Email Marketing Supports Nonprofit Organizations 

As many nonprofit employees wear multiple hats, email marketing may be a new concept for some. Still, almost anyone with an email address has likely seen an example of email marketing in their inbox. In the world of nonprofit email marketing, emails ask recipients to donate now, read about current programs and initiatives, or learn how donations have impacted the community.   

If you have any hesitation to starting or revamping your email marketing, keep in mind that email marketing is one of the highest producing of all marketing channels, earning you up to $42 back for each dollar invested. Underutilizing this channel limits the exposure of your organization’s mission and reduces the opportunity to fundraise. 

Mailchimp found that nonprofit marketing emails receive an open rate of 25.17% compared to all industries which have an average email open rate of 21.33%. This means that for every 4 marketing emails you deliver to a donor's inbox, 1 individual will open the email and be head-on with your messaging.  

No need to be discouraged if your email open rates are not yet at the industry benchmark. Read on to learn about the various email marketing types and top tips to make your emails stand out in donors' inboxes.  

Starting Email Marketing Campaigns: Creating Your Email Lists 

Before we look at the various types of email campaigns used by nonprofits, let’s consider to who you want to send each email. While each donor is unique in the ways and amounts that they give, there are often common characteristics that can help group donors together. This process of segmenting donors into grouped categories, or personas, helps to ensure that your email content resonates with the stage of the donor stewardship journey they are in.  

The Donor Stewardship Journey 

The Donor Stewardship Journey

Having a database that allows you to segment your donors, such as Andar/360, will ease your list creation process. As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to send emails that are personalized based on where a donor is in the donor stewardship journey. For example, the content you’re sending to a donor of 10+ years will vary greatly from a prospective donor. 

Email Marketing Campaigns Used by Nonprofits 

Below you will find a non-exhaustive list of email marketing campaigns that support donor engagement and relations.  

Welcome Emails 

Congratulations, you have received the email of someone who has expressed interest in your nonprofit! Whether you collect their email from your website or during an event, the best practice is to follow up with a welcome email.   

In this email, you get to introduce your organization's mission and thank the individual for expressing interest in your nonprofit. This message can be universal to all new folks, or you can personalize it based on the source from where you acquired their email.   

Say, for example, you gained a new email address from an in-person fundraising event. The welcome email could include a thank you for attending. Remember to segment emails collected from the event into their own list.   

Nurturing Campaigns 

A nurturing campaign (also called a drip marketing campaign) is a series of emails sent to a group with similar behavior, demographics, and/or stage in the donor stewardship journey. In other words, a collection of emails is sent periodically (usually over months) to share new information to influence the recipient to get to know your brand and mission and eventually donate.   

Do you currently use nurturing campaigns at your organization? If you said no, you’re not alone. When polling from 170+ of our current clients, 66% said that they currently only run batch email communications.  

The benefit of nurturing campaigns compared to batch emails is lifecycle value. With nurturing campaigns, you have the power to progressively move a non-donor who is unaware of your key mission to becoming aware of your solution and ideally providing enough persuasive and educational material over time to convert them to a donor.   

The example below highlights how you can tailor your key messages to fit each stage of the donor stewardship journey.    

Donor Stewardship Journey Example with Key Messages and Content Examples per Stage

Please note, nurturing campaigns don’t have to be tailored to non-donors only. Maintaining donor relations through nurturing campaigns is equally important.  


Running monthly or even weekly newsletters is standard practice in most nonprofits. While newsletters vary in length, intended reader (donors vs. non-donors) or distribution frequency, it is common practice to include content on upcoming events, donation opportunities, recent initiatives, community impact, and more. 

Newsletters also serve as brand recognition appearing in the inboxes of those who may not have interacted with your organization in many months.  

Donor Thank You Emails 

Whether you receive a donation of $5 or a pledge of $50,000, each donor deserves to be thanked. Setting up automated email thank you letters following the act of giving shows recognition and appreciation for each and every donation.  

Take your thank you emails to the next level by adding personalization. Include the donation amount, the donor's name, and how their donation will impact your mission. 

By tailoring the messaging to the individual, your emails will strengthen the relationship with the individual and build trust. A 2021 McKinsey study shows that 61% of consumers expect brands to celebrate their milestones and 59% want timely communications tied to key moments. The same study explains that consumers believe email personalization showcases a brand's investment in the relationship and view the email as less of a transaction.  

Tips to Enhance Your Email Engagement 

How to Boost Your Email Open Rate

The biggest obstacle all marketers face is getting their email recipients to open their emails. Open rate, or the percentage of email recipients who open your email in their inbox, is consistently being challenged by changing privacy laws and regulations such as Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection.  

To increase email open rates, get in the practice of writing strong, captivating, and personalized subject lines, adding preheader text, and sending emails at the right time. Let’s look at each factor in detail. 

  1. Write Strong and Personalized Subject Lines 
  • 7-41 characters is the optimal length for a subject line. 
  • Add personalization such as first name or company name. 
  • Stand out with numbers such as donation statistics or averages. 
  • Use persuasive eye-magnet words and phrases. Try out these: because, discover, easy, secret, guarantee, donors like you, new. 
  1. Add Preheader Text 
  • Preheader text is 40-80 characters displayed below the subject line. 
  • If the subject line is short, continue your story in the preheader text. Be sure to make it cohesive with your subject line. 
  • Test out your preheader text to see how it looks across all browsers and devices, as not all display your preheader text. Here is a resource to test the look of your preheader text across all email networks and on multiple devices. 
  • Note, not all email distribution platforms allow you to add a preheader text to your emails. 
  1. Send Your Emails at the Right Time of Day 
  • TEST various times and days with each of your segmented audiences. 
  • Studies show that 10:00 am is a peak time for opening emails. 
  • Optimize send times for each recipients’ time zone.  

Increase Your Email Click Rate 

If you’ve followed the steps above, chances are you’ll have more eyes reading your emails. In order to have the recipient click on your call to action (CTA), your emails need to counter readers’ 8-second attention span. 

  1. Check Your Email Content 
  • Use short sentences.  
  • Include specific benefits that align with your subject line. Readers clicked on the email based on the subject line, be sure to deliver the benefit. 
  • Have clear CTAs and only one CTA per email. 
  • Use buttons to reinforce the CTA. Use actionable words for your button label such as: ‘Download Now’ and ‘Watch Video’. 
  1. Create Visually Appealing Emails 
  • Use plenty of white space. 
  • Use a clean, beautiful, and responsive email template.  
  • Ensure your templates are mobile friendly.  

Download the free email engagement checklist:

How the Right CRM Helps Donor Engagement 

Ask, can my CRM Segment my Donors and Distribute my Emails? 

There is no need to spend hundreds of hours each year scrubbing and cleaning email marketing lists and data. Imagine a CRM that easily collects and organizes donor data while helping you manage donor relationships. Look no further than Andar/360, your all-in-one nonprofit CRM software.  

With Andar/360 your organization can deploy marketing messages, including newsletters, community announcements, event invitations, alerts, community impact results, success stories, campaign results, and more. Easily create and sort contacts into segmented lists based on demographics and tags. You can even include individuals’ contact data in your marketing messages to increase personalization.  

With integrations to Mailchimp and Constant Contact, your team can quickly launch email marketing initiatives while seamlessly syncing contact information and email metrics back to Andar/360. Rich data from your email marketing, such as your bounce and open rates, automatically sync back into the CRM, giving your entire team access to all email marketing performance data. Those team members in a relationship management role can leverage individuals' email engagement metrics to gauge their willingness to donate.    

Driving Donor Engagement Summed Up

Getting your organization’s message into the minds of your prospective or current donors is not a one-time effort. As you have learned, email acts as a channel to reach out with the right type of messaging that resonates with their stage in the donor stewardship journey. Applied with tips to enhance your email engagement, you should be set up for success. And remember that email marketing can be used to connect with all your constituents – don't forget to engage your volunteers and partners too.  

If you are looking for a CRM to host donor data, process pledge data, and connect with our integrated email platforms, contact our team today

Blog Article by Hanna Middleton, Marketing Manager, Andar Software