The Three Essential Elements of Every Engaging Email

May 9, 2019

I recently saw a prank video on YouTube where a mom helped her daughter trick her dad with a seemingly innocent candy apple. The dad seemed a little confused as to why mom was filming but set his suspicions aside and took a bite. But there was no apple under all that caramel. Instead dad took a bite into an onion, hidden underneath layers of sticky goodness! His reaction was priceless, truly the stuff viral videos are made of.

But you don’t want your donors to open your emails and feel like the dad in that video. Yet, some nonprofits spend so much time on the details of their emails, but neglect the good stuff in the middle. You can use every trick in the book to get more opens, but if the content of your email is lacking, you won’t see the donations come in as expected.

Advanced strategies aside, your fundraising emails will struggle without the essential elements of every engaging email. Its time to get back to the basics and make sure you have a strong foundation before moving forward. Let’s start from the outside and work our way in.

A Better Subject Line

According to Convince and Convert, 35 percent of recipients decide whether to open an email based on the subject alone. Nonprofit emails are opened at a much higher rate than most other emails. If your organization can’t break through the average 15 to 18 percent open rate for nonprofits, your subject line might be to blame.

If you want to create more engaging emails, you need to think of your subject like the headline of an article. You need to write something that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read on to learn more. Subject lines like “Your Monthly Newsletter” or “Support our Latest Initiative” won’t cut it.

However, there are several minor tweaks you can make to get more opens. First, apply the elements of personalization by including a recipient’s name in the subject. Even “John, can we count on your support?” is a huge improvement. But 79 percent of nonprofits still don’t include a first or last name in their email subject, according to Nonprofit Source. This is one area where you can really get ahead of the competition.

Another way to increase the open rates of your nonprofit’s emails is to communicate a sense of urgency. This can be especially powerful as time-sensitive campaigns, like your end-of-year appeal, are ending. “John, there’s only 2 days left to make your mark this year,” let’s the donor know they are running out of time to support your mission.

Keep in mind, you want the entirety of your subject line to display in the user’s inbox. For this reason, don’t let your subject run beyond 70 characters. We find the sweet spot is between 40 and 60.

Also, consider who your audience is receiving the email from. An email from the organization itself feels like a generic message. Instead, use someone in your organization as the sender. But like your subject line, you want to keep it brief, so nothing gets cut off from the viewing pane. So, don’t include that person’s title in the sender information.

A CTA That Works

Engaging emails all have at least one thing in common. They drive users to an online donation page and inspire giving. Without a strong and obvious call-to-action, recipients could mistake your email appeal for another piece of educational information.

When it comes time to make the ask, you don’t want to leave anything to chance. You’ve spent so much time and effort getting to this point. Don’t miss out on the fruits of your labor by not using an effective CTA.

Whether you use a button, an in-text link, or preferably both, your call-to-action needs to be big, bright, front and center. Make sure it stands out from other text and images in your email. It should be clear what you want the donor to do. Consider placing a link to your giving page at the top and bottom of your email. Link the page to any and all images. Nearly every click should help the donor find their way to your online giving page.

Don’t Forget the Story

All of the elements we’ve discussed above can help make it easier for your audience to go from their inbox to your donation page. However, if you truly want to create more engaging emails, you will need something truly powerful to motivate your donor base.

Technical and strategic improvements are great. But they will not inspire giving on their own. You need to tell a story in your emails, especially when making an ask. The best stories will be relatable to your audience, feature a person close to the issue, demonstrate the impact of your nonprofit’s work, and evoke an emotional response that inspires giving.

For example, let’s say your organization is helping provide relief to an area recently devastated by a hurricane and flooding. Your story might feature someone who lost their home and was helped back on their feet by the organization’s work. Or, it could tell the story of a first responder who was able to save lives with the supplies purchased with money raised by a nonprofit. In either case, use people’s real names and powerful visuals before connecting the dots for the user and explaining how their support can help those who need it most.

Remember, telling a story doesn’t require a lengthy letter. Keep your story focused, to the point, and use visuals to support it. This is especially important for creating engaging emails for mobile users. When in doubt, less is more.

Content is King

You can spend hours making sure your emails are technically sound. You can go through your data with a fine-toothed comb and determine the best time to send your email to targeted audience segments. However, if you can’t encourage donors to give with the content of you email, you won’t bring in the donations, no matter how many opens you get.

There’s no shortage of quick fixes you can use to make the most of your email appeals. However, none of them can replace a lack of quality, engaging content. Painting over rust only hides what’s underneath. Your donors will quickly discover what is hiding below the surface.

Use a subject line grabs the reader and encourages them to learn more. Tell a story that builds an emotional connection with the reader and have a straightforward call-to-action to take the reader to the next step, your online donation page.

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