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Email Is Not Dead

How to Write Effective Subject Lines for Your Nonprofit Email


Email Is Not Dead
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There have been dire warnings about the death of email recently because of the increasing use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

But it is way too early to declare the demise of our most effective online communication. After all, everyone with a computer, or even a mobile phone, uses email, while adoption of social media, while impressive, is not yet universal. Don't get rid of your email to donors and supporters. Just make it as effective as possible.

Three Essentials of Effective Email Subject Lines

There is no doubt that how you label your email to donors and supporters can make or break your communication. Want that email to be opened? Then pay most attention to the subject line.

John Arnold, author of E-Mail Marketing for Dummies, suggests that:

  1. Email subject lines should be short. Arnold says that readers are so time crunched that your subject line has to grab them with the first couple of words. For instance, Arnold transforms "10 places to play golf," to "Golf: 10 best places to play." The subject, golf, is the first word.

  2. Email subject lines should spell out an immediate benefit. Encourage the reader to open that email right then by including a time element. For instance, the subject line about golf could become, "Golf: this weekend's 10 best places to play."

  3. Email subject lines should provide a specific value proposition. What benefit will the reader get by opening your email? Arnold suggests that "Tee shots 20 yards longer - guaranteed" works better than "New titanium drivers on sale." Emphasize the benefit of your offer over the offer itself.

Sending a Newsletter? 6 Tips for Getting That Subject Line Right

Elizabeth Nielsen, Senior Interactive Consultant at Convio provides tips for subject lines for a nonprofit newsletter:

  1. The subject line should tell us what's inside, Nielsen says. Don't get cute, but rather pick your most compelling and valuable content for the subject line to capture the reader's interest in reading more.
  2. The subject line should be consistent. Use a subject line that includes a consistent element so that the reader knows who this message is from. The element could be the newsletter's name, but then vary the rest of the subject line from issue to issue so that the reader will not get bored.
  3. Keep the subject line short. Nielsen reminds us that different email platforms display subject lines differently and that we may have only 50-60 characters to work with. Take time to make those characters work.
  4. Forget the issue/version numbers in the subject line. These are irrelevant and take up valuable space.
  5. If your organization's name is in the "From" line, there is no reason to repeat it in your subject line. Likewise, don't bother with date references.
  6. Test. Use A/B tests to figure out what works and what doesn't.

One thing all the experts agree on is to avoid words such as "limited time," "free," "opportunity," and "only." These are spam words and, if not deleted by spam filters, will surely turn off your potential readers.

Writing that subject line turns out to be way too important to ignore or to dash off in just a moment. Take your time, try out various possibilities, follow the advice of the experts, and you may see your open rates go up.


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