Complete guide to email marketing for nonprofits

Email marketing offers a fantastic opportunity for charities and nonprofits to build a loyal following and maximise their resources by saving time and effort. From fundraising and donation drives to blogging, there are many routes that nonprofits can take to attract new supporters and keep existing supporters engaged.

Email marketing is an efficient option that builds those all-important relationships and provides an effective way to reach a wide audience and spread the message. In this guide, we'll explore why email marketing works so well for charities and how to utilise this platform to full effect.

Why email marketing is important for charities

Nonprofit organisations looking to raise awareness of their cause and build their supporter base should look to email marketing, because it offers several distinct advantages over other digital marketing avenues.

It's cost effective

Firstly, it's incredibly cost effective which is a huge benefit for charities who are often dealing with tight budgets and limited marketing spend. Email is affordable and easy to scale up without it impacting costs, but it also ensures positive results for a high return on investment.

You can build strong relationships

Email marketing is very personal – it helps you to build strong relationships with your supporters. It's the closest nonprofits can get to a one-to-one conversation from a digital perspective, providing the personal touch without stretching limited resources by reaching out to individuals one by one.

With the data collected from your email marketing platform, you can personalise your newsletters to really strike a chord with your supporters and provide relevant content that's more likely to have an impact.

We are a small charity and would much prefer to spend our money on helping others than on marketing. EmailOctopus is a lifeline for us to reach out regularly to our audience.

Sarah Floyd, No Panic

Email marketing tips for nonprofits

  1. Keep it varied

    As a nonprofit, your goal is to increase donations, so you may think that simply repeating this message is the best strategy. But this approach fails to take advantage of the opportunities that email marketing affords charity organisations, so mix things up and maintain your following with engaging content that's varied and interesting.

    Think accomplishments within the organisation, general news and event invitations, alongside those all-important donation requests. Throughout all of your emails, there should be a core message which highlights your organisation's values and mission, but the content surrounding that can still be engaging and creative to keep people reading.

  2. Avoid the spam folder

    A large proportion of the emails we receive wind up in the spam folder, so as a nonprofit, you need to be sure that the emails you're sending out are landing in the right folder. There are a few things organisations can do to prevent sending spam emails.

    The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations of 2003 states that every email address on your list must be permission-based, so your subscribers need to have an existing relationship with your organisation. Charities should also create emails that blend in with those from family, coworkers and friends, so that they're more likely to be opened.

  3. Take a patient approach

    You don't want to ask your subscribers for money straight away. It's off-putting and doesn't lend itself to building a long-term partnership between your nonprofit and your supporters.

    Take the time to build a relationship, educate them on your mission and why they should stay signed up to your email list, before asking for donations.

    An automated welcome series that's sent to new subscribers can help to pace out the content they receive before you start sending new emails.

  4. Follow design best practices

    The look of your emails is just as important as the content, and there are some design principles to follow to ensure your emails look their best.

    Firstly, ensure that the templates you use fit your organisation's style, and use images that convey the right message and are genuine – don't rely on stock photos.

    It's also important that the content is easy to read, using short paragraphs, subheadings and bullet points to keep things brief and concise, even on mobile.

  5. Use data to inform your content

    Tracking the performance of your email campaigns is critical to see what's working and where you need to refine your strategy. Check the key metrics to see where you can improve moving forward.

    Check open rates to see how many of your subscribers have opened the email, and click through rates to see how many engaged with the content.

  6. Focus on storytelling

    People want to see how they're contributing to positive change and the work that your organisation is doing, so incorporating storytelling in your email campaigns can showcase your messages in a real and engaging way, rather than focusing on statistics and numbers.

    Try to find ways to bring emotion to your emails and make it easy for people to say yes to your requests.

  7. Create content with purpose

    Your nonprofit is unique, and its mission and goals are bespoke to your organisation, so make this the focus of your emails.

    Share stories that reinforce your message, such as updates on how donations have helped, and connect the subscriber to your purpose.

  8. Use different forms of media

    Your email isn't just a platform for text and images. It's the perfect place to post dynamic videos that are engaging, easy for subscribers to respond to and get your message across faster.

    Most people respond quicker to visuals and a video with real people and a strong message has the potential to increase sign-ups and donations. Make sure that whatever media you use, it's high quality and consistent with your style.

  9. Help people take actions easily

    Open rates are important, but there's more to your email campaigns than that. Keeping your subscribers engaged requires more than just a bold subject line – find ways that you can encourage your readers to take actions without it causing them stress or difficulty.

    The more complicated you make it for them to take action, the less likely they are to do so, so keep it simple such as signing a petition.

  10. Coordinate with other content

    Your email list isn't a separate entity to the rest of your content and marketing efforts, so a supporter will be seeing more than just your emails – they'll also be seeing your social media posts and your logo popping up at local events.

    A cohesive marketing campaign will ensure that each of your channels works seamlessly together and helps improve brand recognition for your organisation.

    One way to achieve this is to repurpose content from blogs or imagery used in direct mail items, but tailoring each piece so it's unique to the channel.

  11. Create each email with the reader in mind

    Nothing is worse for a reader than opening an email, only to find nothing of value or relevance inside. As a nonprofit, you may feel like it's necessary to constantly email your subscribers to keep your organisation front of mind. But if you're not providing something of value and benefit to them, then your emails are likely to be ignored.

    With each email you put out into the world, make sure you're doing so with your ideal reader in mind, so you can provide content that enhances your readers life.

  12. Apply a mobile-first strategy

    Over 40% of all emails are opened on mobile devices, so any charity looking to gain support via email needs to take a mobile-first approach to their design and content. If a user can't read it on their mobile or tablet, they're likely to delete it almost immediately, so good design is about far more than just a beautiful looking email – it could cost or earn nonprofits a supporter.

    Keep your email newsletters responsive so they will adapt to differently sized devices – using email templates will make the process easy if you don't have an in-house designer.

Your email marketing roadmap

Creating an incredible nonprofit newsletter requires careful planning and the following steps.

Grab attention early with an engaging subject line

Subject lines can be hard to get right, but they make such a difference in how likely it is that a subscriber will click through. You want to use brief, catchy phrases that are authentic to the intent of the email, while also staying true to your organisation's tone of voice. There are several ways you can achieve this.

Urgency is an effective way to get your readers to take action, or you can include upcoming events to raise excitement with people. Timely subject lines that reference current events or a specific data point can also help encourage a higher open rate.

Whichever approach you choose, keep it short – nearly half of all email opens are on mobile, so a subject line with fewer than 50 characters will ensure your subscribers will be able to read the whole message.

Keep readers updated

Your nonprofit newsletter needs to showcase everything that your organisation stands for, from the stories of the people you're helping to the people working for the charity and the goals you've checked off the list. Use it as a platform to update your supporters on how the organisation is doing and let them behind the scenes of the running of things, so they feel part of the successes.

Show your thanks

Gratitude is incredibly important in a charity. After all, people are giving their time and money to a cause that's as important to them as it is to the people working for your nonprofit. So, when you're emailing them, make sure you let them know the impact their donations are having and the value of their support. It encourages people to keep contributing to the charity's efforts and helps them feel part of the successes.

End with a call-to-action

Call-to-actions (CTAs) encourage your readers to take a specific action, whether it's clicking through to a donation page, subscribing to the newsletter, or sharing a page to your connections to spread the word about the cause. The more enticing and attention-grabbing you can make the CTA messaging, the more likely it is that your readers will engage with them, so pay close attention to the text you use for these buttons. It will guide the next step of the journey they take.

The best email marketing software for nonprofits

Using professional email software for your nonprofit makes the process of delivering exceptional content to your subscribers that much easier and more efficient. There are various options on the market to suit different needs and budgets, depending on what you need from your email software.

Why EmailOctopus?

EmailOctopus's email marketing software provides a wide variety of features to grow your subscriber list and get bigger results for your charity organisation. It offers the ability to import existing subscribers and build from there, creating beautiful and impactful emails to help charities capture more subscribers and spread their message efficiently. Nonprofits can create their own designs from scratch or customise pre-designed templates that enable complete control over the aesthetics of each newsletter, making it ideally suited to smaller organisations who may not have the people power to design unique templates from the ground up.

We've helped many nonprofits

EmailOctopus saves companies, on average, over 60% in email marketing costs, but the platform also saves teams time. With easy onboarding for new subscribers and the ability to keep supporters engaged, nonprofits can automate their welcome emails to nurture relationships slowly yet effectively. Using insights and up to date data to segment audiences and deliver targeted emails, nonprofits can develop strong email marketing strategies to boost engagement. Providing more value for money than other alternative email marketing platforms, with all the features needed to publish personalised, high quality email campaigns, EmailOctopus makes email marketing easier than ever for charity organisations.

Psst! If you're a nonprofit, we want to support your mission – that's why all nonprofits using EmailOctopus get a 20% lifetime discount.

More engagement, more donations

Nonprofits can see great results from email marketing. So, whether you're just starting with this marketing approach or you're not seeing the results you want from your existing strategy, these tips will help you generate more interest in your charity organisation and increase donations and support.

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