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5 Donor Email Fails That Are Costing You Money

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Apr 2, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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Donor Email Mistakes

I’m always my own harshest critic. Every time I go back and read something I wrote, I always think “Dang, I could’ve worded that better” or “Gross, that sentence is too hard to read. What was I thinking?”

But nothing makes me cringe more than when I screw up an email.

Emails are written for an audience of one, and typically are sent when you’re asking something of the recipient.

And if you blow your chance at making that ask...ouch.

Sometimes it’s forgetting little details that sink your ask, other times it’s a bigger problem. Whichever it is, you’ve got to get them out of your email communications with donors!

Here are some common donor email communication mistakes.

Writing a Novel

I want you to think about the last 10 emails you read. Were they short, to-the-point messages? Or multi-paragraph epics covering a multitude of topics?

If you’re like most people, the second you open an email and see a wall of text, you immediately go into scan mode. You try to figure out what the point of it is as quickly as possible so you can get back to writing that grant.

If your emails consist of more than three short paragraphs, chance are the recipients (your potential donors) are scanning them, and probably missing the important information (your ask).

Your emails to donors should be about one topic. Keep it focused, short, and get to the point.

Not Having a Clear Action Plan

Readers of your email should have absolutely no question what action you want them to take. Make it painfully simple. You’re in a battle for people’s most valuable asset: their time and attention.

Do your emails consist of multiple stories or asks? If you give too many choices, your recipients will end up not taking any of them. Keep your message focused on one story, one ask, one action.

Ignoring the Subject Line

You should spend as much time just crafting the perfect subject line for your email as you do actually writing the body of the email.

The subject line is what will convince someone to open the message and read what you have to say in the first place. Many times, we get caught up writing the message, and the subject line is an afterthought.

A good subject line should inform your donors what the message is about, but it should also intrigue them enough to actually open it and read what you have to say.

President Obama’s reelection team was famous for being obsessive in their crafting of subject lines. They’d test multiple subject lines for the same email to find which worked best. His one word “hey” subject line garnered headlines for its effectiveness.

In one instance, Obama’s team found that the subject line “I will be outspent” raised 529% more funds than the subject line “The one thing the polls got right.” Just by changing the subject line!

Give them the attention they need!

Not Using a Strong Call-to-Action

The ask is the most important part of your email, but it’s typically the part we wimp out on the most.

It’s human nature to want to come off as polite, meek, and humble, especially when you’re asking for help. But psychology tells us those kind of appeals don’t work.

We respond best to strong calls-to-action that are specific in their asks. Rather than ending your email with a plea (“Please help us reach our goal!”), end it with a challenge (“Will you donate $50 today?”).

Social proof can also be a powerful motivator. Consider using your past donors to offer social proof to prospective donors. Try ending an email with a call-to-action like “Join 137 people who have donated today!” or “Big thanks to today’s donors Mary, John, and Edgar! Will you join them?”

Not Segmenting Your Email List

Your supporters are diverse, and they deserve unique messaging. In fact, donors are more likely to respond to personalized messages than a standardized mass email.

There are limitless ways you could segment your donor list to target your messaging. Some are more obvious than others: past donation size, age, geographic location, etc. But don’t feel limited to these basic identifiers!

Recently at a nonprofit Meet Up I organized, I learned about the most creative supporter segmentation I’ve ever heard. We had speakers from, an organization that engages young adults ages 13 - 25 in social good. One of their campaign managers mentioned that they were able to segment of members by One Direction fandom!

How crazy is that?! They took a news story that was very important to fans of the band, communicated with those fans who were on their contact list, and used it as an opportunity to engage them with a volunteer campaign. Expertly done!

The possibilities for segmentation are limitless, and your donors will be grateful they’ve received relevant messaging.

Don’t Let Fear of Failure Stall You From Action

While it’s important to avoid these mistakes in your email messaging, it’s also vital that you don’t let yourself become so worried about making a mistake that you avoid sending that latest appeal email altogether.

Making a few of these mistakes is not the end of the world. In fact, there are certain instances where it’s perfectly acceptable to go against this advice. It all comes down to looking at an email from the perspective of a donor and asking yourself: “Is this an email I would open and read? Would I take action after receiving this?”

If the answer it “no,” it’s time to reevaluate your message with these tips in mind.

What is the BEST email open rate you’ve ever received on an email campaign? Let us know in the comments!

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Image credit: Flickr user Nan Palmero, CC BY 2.0

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