Email marketing can do wonders for nonprofit organizations, from spreading awareness and building relationships with email subscribers to turning supporters into donors.
If you’ve never created and managed email campaigns for a nonprofit before, or you’ve run some but would like to ensure you’re doing it correctly, then you’re in the right place.
This article will help you understand email marketing for nonprofit organizations to help you start using this marketing channel to its fullest potential.
Below, we’ve gathered all the best practices, tips, and nonprofit email campaign ideas to inspire you.
Table Of Contents
- Why is email marketing crucial for nonprofits?
- Email marketing best practices for nonprofits and why they work
- Inspiring examples of nonprofit emails
- How to do email marketing in a nonprofit?
- Step 1. Build your email list
- Step 2. Get to know your audience
- Step 3. Write an interesting subject line
- Step 4. Build awareness about your cause
- Step 5. Keep your audience informed
- Step 6. Collect donations
- Step 7. Segment your audience
- Step 8. Make sure your content’s top level
- Step 9. Include CTA
- Step 10. Stay compliant
- Step 1. Build your email list
- 5 Types of emails nonprofits can send
- Back to you
Why is email marketing crucial for nonprofits?
Let’s start by reviewing the reasons why email marketing is valuable for nonprofits.
This article is a content collaboration between marketing experts at GetResponse – an email marketing platform and nonprofit organization tech consultants at TechSoup – a nonprofit tech marketplace.
1. Most of us have an email address
Email is one of the most widely-used channels of communication worldwide. It became universal because it’s cheap and accessible – almost everyone who uses the Internet has an email account and sends emails.
Whether your target audience lives in Asia, Europe, Africa, or America, you can use email to communicate effectively.
2. Email is personal
Email marketing allows nonprofit organizations to engage with their audience in a more personal way.
Nonprofits can segment their email list based on audience interests or preferences, then send personalized and targeted email campaigns that resonate with them.
Personalized emails with relevant content and calls to action can increase engagement and drive donations and other forms of support.
3. Email marketing is cost-effective
Most marketing channels are pay-per-click. Even if you’ve built an engaged audience on Facebook, the platform will limit your organic reach and force you to keep spending money on ads. This isn’t the case with email marketing.
If you’ve received someone’s permission to contact them via email, you’re almost guaranteed to reach their inbox, provided you follow standard email marketing best practices.
As a result, the only thing you need to pay for to run email campaigns is your email marketing service. Their price is usually based on the size of your email list, and the software comes with various built-in tools that’ll help you get your campaigns off the ground in moments.
Also, the number of emails you send does not impact the cost. This way, you can focus on building your list with people likely to become regular donors and run multiple campaigns to achieve that goal.
If you’re looking for a trusted solution, we suggest you check out GetResponse. Yes, that’s our tool, and here’s some good news. As a nonprofit, you are eligible for a 50% discount on email marketing services.
If you’d rather shop around, here’s a handy list of the best newsletter software, along with information on the features they offer.
4. Email provides a high return on investment
According to a recent study by DMA, the average email ROI is 38:1. For every dollar you invest in email marketing, you can expect 38 dollars in return. That makes a great email marketing strategy so essential because it can help you get maximum ROI from your limited resources.
And if you regularly run A/B tests on your emails, you can generate an even more impressive return on your investment.
That means you won’t have to worry about the price of email marketing software. Instead, you can calculate the return on investment from the tools included in your plan, e.g., webinars, landing pages, and automated emails.
5. Measurable results
Email marketing is a highly measurable marketing channel.
Most email marketing platforms provide nonprofits with critical data about their campaigns’ performance in their analytics dashboards. This includes metrics such as opens, clicks, conversion rates, and sales revenue.
Here’s an example of GetResponse’s email analytics dashboard.
Equipped with this data, your nonprofit can refine its messaging, identify key audience segments, and optimize its campaigns for better results.
Email marketing best practices for nonprofits and why they work
Below, you’ll find tried and tested ways to use emails and email series to turn contacts (your email readers) into regular donors. These ideas will help you tick off the most important aspects of email marketing for nonprofit organizations. Once you start, you can benchmark your email results against your previous campaigns and industry standards.
1. Create newsletter templates
A well-designed newsletter template is extremely important for email marketing success. First, it allows you to establish and maintain consistency in your organization’s branding and messaging. This helps build trust and recognition among your stakeholders.
Besides this, newsletter templates let you reuse designs for multiple email campaigns, streamlining the email creation process and saving you time and resources.
The efficiency a template offers is invaluable for nonprofits considering most operate with limited resources.
Here’s a case study with TechSoup Polska that proves just how important newsletter templates are: a 1200% increase in order value from a newsletter over a year.
Take a look at the rules that TechSoup Polska follows while creating their newsletters:
Structure. We divide our content into sections to facilitate information comprehension.
Consistency. We always use brand colors and utilize similar graphic elements.
Clarity. We strive to keep our newsletters clean and not overloaded with content.
Adjusting messages to the target group. We direct specific content to selected recipient groups (e.g., we inform users of Google for Nonprofits about Google Ad Grants training).
Here are a few pieces of advice from Liza Nema, Project Coordinator at TechSoup Polska, on how to prepare a professional newsletter template:
- Think about what kind of content you’ll be sending to your recipients.
- Choose a template.
- Customize the template according to your needs – use an email editor to change the colors and add logos and other graphic elements to align the design with your brand identity.
- Add a call-to-action so your recipients can perform the desired action: donate money, sign up for an event, etc.
- Before sending your newsletter, check its preview for desktop and mobile devices. Make sure your campaigns both look and work great.
- Analyze statistics and modify your content based on that data. Check your best-performing campaigns and choose a benchmark email for further campaigns.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s good to refresh your templates every now and then but remember to maintain your fundamental brand graphic elements.
If you’re looking for in-depth information on how to design great email marketing templates, you’ll enjoy the Email Design Best Practices for 2023 article, where Michal covers all the elements of an email in detail.
2. Automate email marketing communication
Once your newsletter template is ready, you can start automating your communication. The goal is to use automation to build relationships with the people on your contact list and help them make the right decisions.
You can automate your email marketing communication accurately using customer data stored in your account.
Then with that, you can:
- Create automation events based on users’ behavior
- Take action based on selected conditions
- Use filters for even more precise targeting
You can use an automation template to split contacts after signup to test which email performs best.
Automation allows you to deliver personalized marketing experiences. You can track and rate customers’ actions to create custom segments based on specific data and criteria. This helps you send personalized and relevant emails to your audience.
Once you automate your communication, track performance, learn from your experience, and optimize the process.
Automation will help you save time and resources for other projects.
Here’s a great case study showing how an ecommerce selling artisanal coffee uses automation to educate new contacts: 54% of sales thanks to the educational campaign.
The campaign was carried out according to the Learn -> Like -> Trust -> Buy flow. As a non-profit, you can easily adapt this methodology and convert it to Learn -> Like -> Trust -> Donate.
3. Monitor your email deliverability
Email deliverability is one of the most important aspects of email marketing. You can’t reach your email campaign’s objective if your messages keep bouncing or getting moved to spam folders.
Therefore, you must constantly monitor and improve your email deliverability rate.
Here’s a formula you can use to calculate your deliverability rate.
[(# of emails delivered to the inbox/tabs/folders (excl.spam folder))/(# of sent emails – # of emails that generated a bounce)] * 100%
With higher deliverability, your nonprofit organization has a better chance of engaging your email list and fostering meaningful connections.
Your deliverability rate also affects your email sender reputation. A high deliverability rate will help you preserve your nonprofit’s credibility and trustworthiness with mailbox providers.
To boost your email deliverability, ensure you choose a trusted email marketing platform with a great email deliverability reputation. Such providers have established relationships with internet service providers (ISPs) and clients, raising the chances of your email being delivered and staying out o the spam folder. For instance, GetResponse has a 99% overall email deliverability rate.
Also, regularly clean your email list to remove invalid or inactive email addresses, and implement email authentication protocols to help ISPs recognize your emails as legitimate.
Some of these protocols include SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance).
4. Observe the results of your email marketing campaigns
Multiple factors contribute to effective email marketing communication. You must pay attention to your online marketing statistics and use data to make better decisions.
When it comes to individual emails, pay attention to engagement – a measure of how people interact with your emails. The most popular engagement metrics are:
- Open Rate: the percentage of contacts opening a specific email out of your total subscribers.
- Click-through rate: the percentage of contacts who clicked on a hyperlink, CTA, or image within a particular email.
- Conversion rate: the percentage of contacts who complete a goal expressed by the call to action.
- Unsubscribe rate: the percentage of contacts who have opted out from the mailing list after an email campaign.
Engagement is also critical to email deliverability. ISPs often consider recipient engagement when determining email placement. Therefore, the higher your recipient engagement level, the higher the chances of your email being delivered.
Check out GetResponse’s Email Marketing Benchmarks report if you’d like to compare your results against industry benchmarks. The report offers loads of useful insights into emails, marketing automation, landing pages, and webinars.
5. Find bottlenecks and improve email marketing performance
It’s not possible to create a perfect email marketing program or campaign right out of the box. There’s always room for improvement. That’s why you’ll see some great, average, and rather poor results in your career. And it’s perfectly OK as long as you keep learning from your experience and continue testing new ideas.
The most common issues you observe at the beginning are;
Slow email list growth: Building a list organically takes time. But it doesn’t mean that you should sit and wait. You can do various things to speed up the list-building process. You can:
- Add a pop-up form to your website: Pop-up forms are hard to miss, and if you explain why joining your email list is a good idea, you can expect a high conversion rate.
- Run a competition: Competition can be both a sign-up incentive and an idea to engage with your audience.
- Write a blog post: Write about your organization, highlighting one of your key projects. Then, add a sign-up form or a link to your sign-up page from the blog post.
- Add an opt-in link to your email signature: I’m sure you send many emails every month. Make sure your recipients know they can sign-up for a newsletter.
- Find partnerships: Find people and organizations with a similar target audience and offer them guest posts and joint email campaigns. A strong network of partnerships is incredibly valuable.
- Run a webinar: Webinars are a great way to build a solid contact list. Do the research and choose an interesting topic for your target audience. Run promotional campaigns and invite people to register. Webinars are also perfect for content partnerships—team up with other organizations to get in front of their audience.
The following three KPIs might relate to contact engagement. The key to a high engagement rate is relevance. That’s why segmentation is so important. If you group contacts based on their information needs and preferences, you’ll be able to plan and send communication they will engage with.
Low open rate. People are likely to open emails with the information they find valuable. Make sure that the three elements visible in the inbox before opening an email represent the contents of the message. The three elements are:
- Sender: Ensure people know the email comes from a reputable sender – you.
- Subject line: Spark interest, draw attention but refer to the contents of the email.
- Preheader: Use this extra space to explain or expand on the subject line.
Low click-through rate. Make sure your emails are mobile-friendly. Your call to action should be clear and easy to follow. You can run A/B tests to determine what content and messaging engages your audience most.
Low conversion rate. If you notice people open your emails and click the provided links but don’t do the action you were hoping for (e.g., don’t register for live events, don’t donate), take a step back and look carefully at your value proposition and audience.
In summary, clearly explain the goals of your organization and the ways you’re going to achieve them. Then put your message in front of the right crowd – look for people likely to support your fundraising campaigns. Send the right message to the right people and simplify the donation process, making it quick and easy.
Note: You’ll also want to ensure your email list is hygienic and well-maintained. To learn more about this, read our email list management guide.
Inspiring examples of nonprofit emails
There’s no better source of inspiration than a great email from your industry. And boy, are there many great emails sent by nonprofit organizations!
Once again, we teamed up with Liza to show you a few inspiring examples from our inboxes:
Nonprofit email marketing example 1: Kiva
What is this email campaign about?
Kiva is a nonprofit organization that lets you easily loan money to people that cannot get a loan from a bank.
This campaign provides a summary of their campaigns in 2020, highlighting how many people supported them, how much money they’ve donated, and how many loans they’ve made.
What’s so go about this email campaign?
After getting the recipients excited about how much impact they’re making, the email leads you to a single CTA, letting you lend money immediately.
This amazing tactic can help nonprofit organizations engage their audience better and gather more donations from their supporters.
Nonprofit email marketing example 2: Kiva
What is this email campaign about?
This email campaign tells the story of one of many people whose life changed after they received a loan from Kiva.
What’s so go about this email campaign?
Sometimes it’s hard to get donors engaged in your cause. What can help is sharing a relatable story that shows the real impact a single donation can make.
In this email campaign, Kiva not only shows an example of a person whose life changed after they received a loan but also suggests which loans are about to expire.
This great tactic can drive fast responses from people who may otherwise hesitate to take action.
Nonprofit email marketing example 3: Movember
What is this email campaign about?
Movember is the leading charity changing the face of men’s health globally. It focuses on mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer.
This email campaign shares the mission and progresses the Movember Foundation made so far before World Cancer Day.
What’s so go about this email campaign?
With this email, Movember drives awareness among people who might not otherwise know the brand’s mission. What’s worth noting is that they’re doing this around World Cancer Day, which takes place in February rather than November, that’s typically associated with the charity.
Nonprofit email marketing example 4: Movember
What is this email campaign about?
This email shows a summary of all the groundbreaking research and health projects that were funded by people supporting the Movember cause.
What’s so go about this email campaign?
There’s no better way to engage your supporters and donors than to show them they’re making a real impact by joining your cause. This email does it so well. Not only is it informative, but also very well-designed.
In addition, the email ends with one primary CTA – make a $50 donation – that’s hard to miss or ignore.
How to do email marketing in a nonprofit?
Great email results start with great planning. Write down your goals and develop a solid email marketing strategy to send the right information to the right people at the right time. And what’s even more important, ensure your audience knows what to do with the information they receive.
Follow these steps to prepare your nonprofit email marketing strategy for success.
Step 1. Build your email list
Inform your target audience about the benefits of joining your email list.
Again, focus on action: will they be able to review the results of completed projects, share their opinion on key topics, donate money, or support your cause differently? Make sure people know why they should subscribe.
Step 2. Get to know your audience
Email is not only about providing your contacts with information. For quite some time now, it allows you to get to know the people on your list.
You can design two-way communication and ask your contacts for their information needs and preferences. When you know what your audience is about, you can create content they’ll engage with.
Step 3. Write an interesting subject line
Your email subject line is the first text your email recipients will see. Therefore, it must be interesting enough to get their attention and compel them to open your email.
Here are some tips for writing an interesting subject line:
- Keep it brief and concise: Aim for around 5-7 words to ensure your subject line is easily scannable and also doesn’t get cut off on mobile devices.
- Use personalization: Insert your recipient’s first name or any other relevant information to make them feel the email was written specifically for them. This will make your email recipients feel valued and curious to know more.
- Create a sense of urgency: Humans generally don’t like missing out on things, which is why leveraging that on your subject lines will boost your email open rates and encourage immediate action. Some of the action-oriented phrases you can use include “Limited Time,” “Don’t Miss Out,” or “Last Chance.” But don’t overuse this.
- Pose a question: Asking a question in your subject line will pique recipients’ curiosity and encourage them to open the email to find the answer.
Remember to use an email subject line that aligns with your email content. Deceptive subject lines can easily damage your credibility, leading to an increase in your unsubscribe rate.
Step 4. Build awareness about your cause
Share your mission, goals, and projects with the target audience. Make sure everybody knows what your organization is about and how to join the cause.
Step 5. Keep your audience informed
Lead by example. If you call for action, show that you’re all about action yourself. How? Share project statuses and provide a summary with key information once they’re completed. Being transparent about your projects provides context for great content ideas and helps your organization gain credibility.
Step 6. Collect donations
Invite contacts to support your nonprofit financially. You can A/B test campaigns for one-off and recurring donations and quickly discover the most effective messaging and incentives.
Step 7. Segment your audience
Collect information about your contacts and group them based on their interests (e.g., favorite projects, events, content), email engagement, and their position in the funnel (contact, one-time donor, regular donor, etc.)
Proper contact list segmentation has a huge impact on all performance metrics of your email marketing. Emails tailored to individual contact segments have several times higher open and click-through rates compared to email blasts sent to everyone on the list.
Step 8. Make sure your content’s top level
Ensure your content bridges the gap between your organizational goals and your audience’s information needs. Figure out what information people need to support your organization actively. Create guidelines for your content to maintain quality over time.
Step 9. Include CTA
A call-to-action guides your email readers toward your desired action. This could be reading more about a particular story, donating to your cause, etc.
Ensure your email CTA text clearly tells readers what to do, leaving no room for ambiguity. Use clear, action-oriented words like “Donate Today” or “Sign Up Here.”
You can also go a step ahead and highlight the key benefits or the value recipients will gain by clicking on the CTA. So, for instance, instead of using “Donate,” you can say, “Donate A Gift,” “Support The Team,” etc.
You also want your CTA to stand out from the rest of the email content, so you must ensure it’s visually distinct. Use a contrasting color, white spaces, and button design to draw the recipient’s eye to your CTA, like the example below does.
In addition, you can use visual elements like arrows, icons, or images to draw recipients’ attention toward your CTA.
The CTA’s placement is also vital. One of the most effective positions is near the top of the email so that it’s visible without scrolling. However, depending on your email design and content flow, you can include multiple CTAs throughout your email.
Read other industry guides:
Step 10. Stay compliant
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is Europe’s current privacy law. Adopted in April 2016, it replaces the 1995 Data Protection Directive – and marks the biggest change in data protection in 20 years.
You need to comply with the GDPR when:
- your organization is based in the European Union (EU),
- you process the personal data of individuals in the EU.
If you use GetResponse, your organization can rest easy knowing that your – and your contact’s – data is safe, secure, and actively protected.
For more information regarding GDPR compliance, read the GetResponse Earns Official Declaration of GDPR Compliance blog.
5 Types of emails nonprofits can send
Now that you have a solid understanding of email marketing best practices let’s explore the types of emails your nonprofit can send to engage its stakeholders and further your mission.
1. Onboarding email
Onboarding emails play a crucial role in introducing new subscribers or users to your nonprofit organization and its mission.
These emails build a foundation of a positive and engaging relationship with your new supporter from the very beginning, encouraging them to be active advocates for your cause.
Your onboarding series should kick off with a warm welcome email. Remember, your relationship with your new supporters is still very delicate and could end easily.
So ensure your welcome emails make a great first impression. One of the best ways to do this is to personalize your email and keep it very light and positive. You can include a brief introduction of your nonprofit’s mission.
Here’s a great example of a welcome email for a nonprofit.
In the next email of your welcome series, you can delve further into your mission, the specific issues you’re tackling, and active programs. Ensure you show recipients your organization’s commitment to the cause. Then go ahead and introduce them to the impact you have had so far.
You can conclude your onboarding series by showing them how they can get involved, like making a donation. Also, encourage them to engage you on different platforms, from your social media pages to your website.
Engagement emails facilitate meaningful interactions, deepen relationships, and keep supporters engaged and connected to your organization’s mission. However, they are also a way of keeping your supporters updated on what’s happening.
These emails can take various forms, including
- Surveys or feedback requests: Such emails help you engage recipients by asking for their feedback or input. Their responses will help you improve your organization or email communication.
- Event invites: These emails encourage supporters to engage by promoting upcoming events. Your invitation emails can be for any event, from fundraisers to educational webinars.
- Impact updates: Show your email subscribers the tangible impact you are having. This will encourage them to continue to support your work, whether it’s through donations or volunteering. You can share success stories, case studies, or photos and videos of certain social moments.
- Educational content: Here, you’ll share content that educates your email recipients about the issue you’re addressing.
- Volunteer opportunities: These emails are direct engagement emails because they include details on how recipients can support your cause by volunteering their time and skills.
Remember that the key to successful engagement emails is relevance and personalization. So segment your email list to deliver content that aligns with each recipient’s interests and past interactions with your nonprofit.
Nonprofits rely on donations. Therefore, appeal emails are critical to any nonprofit email marketing campaign. They aim to persuade recipients to take action by donating.
You want to keep your appeal emails as personal as possible to create a connection that encourages recipients to take your desired action. So start by using the recipient’s name. Next, craft a strong and emotionally resonant introduction. Clearly state the problem your nonprofit is addressing and explain why it needs urgent action.
Ensure stories are at the center of your nonprofit email marketing strategy, as shown in the Help for Heroes example below. Why? Because stories draw in email readers emotionally, encouraging them to give. Back your story up with testimonials, quotes, and statistics for more credibility.
Besides this, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. So include eye-catching visuals, such as images or videos, that support your narrative. Ensure the visuals include actual human beings if you run a humanitarian nonprofit organization. This will help humanize your cause.
Similarly, if you have a nonprofit that targets animals, including some relevant visuals can help give your emails that personal touch.
Lastly, always follow up on your initial appeal emails with reminder emails since some supporters may need more than one email to make a decision.
4. Thank supporters
Once you receive a donation, it’s easy to overlook sending a thank-you email. This would be a huge mistake. You want donors to feel seen and appreciated, which might even encourage them to make another donation in the future.
Personalize your thank-you emails with the donor’s name and, if possible, reference the specific campaign or cause they supported. Doing this will prove to them that you really value their contribution. Also, ensure you offer sincere appreciation and sign off with an individual’s name.
It might be tempting to include another cause you want your recipients to contribute towards in your thank-you email. Don’t do that. You’ll only come off as ungrateful.
So in case you have another cause that requires donations or want to encourage recipients to make another donation, just send another appeal email later on.
You can, however, invite the donor to connect with you on social media to stay updated in your thank-you emails. Check out how Be My Eyes does this with their thank-you email to new volunteers.
If your donor is a company, remember to include a donation receipt that includes the necessary information they require to claim deductions.
Finally, you can follow up on your thank-you emails with updates that show donors the tangible results of their contributions and how they’ve made an impact. This will encourage them to get more involved in your mission.
5. Elevate your mission
Occasionally send emails that highlight your nonprofit’s broader core values, vision, and long-term goals. Such emails inspire your audience to be part of a bigger movement for positive change.
You can do this through visionary messaging, which is basically reminding them of your nonprofit’s vision for a better future. Describe what the world will look like if your mission is fully realized. By doing this, you’ll inspire recipients to envision and aspire to that future. This will encourage them to take action.
Also, send emails sharing stories of individuals or communities whose lives you have transformed through your nonprofit’s efforts. Highlight the entire journey from when the issue was still a challenge to when it became a success, with an emphasis on the role your supporters have played throughout.
Check out how CARE Australia does this in the email example below.
Finally, you can elevate your mission by sharing emails that position your nonprofit as a thought leader. For example, you can share some of the major recognitions and accolades your nonprofit has received.
Doing this will help you boost your credibility and gain your email subscribers’ trust. This will make it easier for you to gain their support for your cause.
Back to you
Email marketing can be a powerful tool for nonprofit organizations seekings to reach their target audience, promote their mission, and drive donations. By following the best practices outlined in this article, you can create effective email campaigns that resonate with your subscribers and achieve your organization’s goals.
You’ve also learned of some key types of emails to send to your email contact list to strengthen your relationship. They include onboarding, engagement, appeals, and thank-you emails.
Remember to keep your emails personalized, engaging, and visually appealing. Don’t forget to track your metrics to optimize your campaigns continually.
Finally, keep in mind that building a strong email list takes time and effort, so be patient and persistent in your email marketing efforts. With a great strategy and the right email marketing tools, email marketing can be a valuable asset for your nonprofit organization.