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E-Newsletters That Make People Click Donate


E-Newsletters That Make People Click Donate: 10 Tips for Your Nonprofit
An emailed newsletter from Save the Children

This newsletter from Save the Children exhibits many of the hallmarks of good email communications.

Save the Children/Click on image to enlarge

How can you get people to click donate and get thousands of dollars just like the big nonprofits?

Is it their marketing budgets that get them donations? No. Don't worry if you have a tiny budget. Even GIANT billion dollar nonprofits really mess up their e-newsletters.

Is it their reputation? No. Reputation helps, but it won't make people give through an e-newsletter.

What's the secret? All you need to be able to do is to write well and communicate consistently.

That's it? That's what will make people give? Well, yes. It's deceptively simple, so let me explain.

If you read Measuring the Networked Nonprofit by Katie Paine and Beth Kanter, or Jumpstart Your Business Brain by Doug Hall, you'll learn about the AIDA formula. This means Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action.

In your nonprofit e-newsletter, you must move people through Awareness of your cause, Interest in what you are doing (perhaps with a poignant story), Desire to do something more for you, and Action, (That's Donate! Finally!).

But how can you do this all in one e-newsletter? Well, you can't. You need to be communicating every week, or at the very least, once a month to make people click donate in your e-newsletter. This is what I mean by communicating consistently.

Often, when people give as a result of your e-newsletter, they have been waiting for the right moment to give. I remember working at a small, rural domestic violence shelter, sending out our e-newsletter announcing our gala, and having a corporation email me back and say, “We'd like to sponsor your gala for $5,000.”

Of course, the corporation had already decided to give. But they needed the push that our e-newsletter provided. They needed to know who to talk with about the sponsorship package. Who knows how many of your donors are sitting out there right now, just waiting to be asked in the right way?

Here are your ten tips to get more donations in your e-newsletter this holiday season.

  1. Your subject line will make people either open your e-newsletter or not. Hard to make people donate if they don't see what's in it for them! Remember, everyone is always dialed into WII-FM (What's In It For Me?)!

    Do not say, for example, “Rosemary's Blog” in the subject line of your e-newsletter. Instead, say something like, “You Can Learn How the Leopard Got his Spots!” or “48 hours to go: Could you give $9 today?” I have a list of 10 words to put in your subject line here. Using variations on these words has helped me go from a 10% open rate to a 40% open rate for my own e-newsletter.

    Learn from people who have millions to spend on doing it right! I like to look at the most popular blog posts at the Gates Foundation, or look at the Smithsonian's e-newsletters. Subscribe to those and put them in a special folder to use as your “swipe file” when you write your e-newsletter.

  2. Your e-newsletter headlines need to draw them in. Your reader will donate if they're learning, if you're giving them new information, if you take them on a journey.

    An example that inspired me recently came from the Smithsonian Magazine e-newsletter. Their headlines said, for example:

    • “Scientists Make Progress Toward a Male Contraceptive Pill”
    • “These Rainbow-colored Transparent Ants Are What They Eat”
    • “Brain Science: 10 New Studies That Get Inside Your Head”

    I know there are lots of different headlines, and you don't have the millions that the Smithsonian does to throw at your e-newsletters. But you can keep track of news in your field, whether it's immigrant worker's rights or pesticide reduction, and provide new information to your donors in each e-newsletter. I like to use RSS feeds to keep up on the latest news in the sector.

  3. Your donors will donate IF they’re aware of the consequences if they don't give. The donor needs to believe that “Someone might be hurt if they don't get my money.” This may sound like “being negative” or “desperate,” but hear me out. People will give to stop something bad happening more often than they will give to start something good happening.

    Why is this? It's about what creates a story. It's not an outline. It's not a main character. It's CONFLICT. Conflict plain and simple. CONFLICT grabs your donor's attention. CONFLICT from the first sentence draws them in and keeps them reading your entire letter. This sets you up perfectly to make your donor the protagonist in the story, the person who can change the sad story into a happy one. There's an excellent example of a good compelling story full of conflict in this article on SOFII.

  4. Make Your Donor the Hero. For every e-newsletter, ask yourself, "Is this likely to make the donor feel good (or bad)?" Talk about “you” and “thanks to you.” Don't ignore your donor by talking about “we” and “us.” Each section of your e-newsletter should have the word "you" in it. People's eyes stop scanning with that word, and it's less annoying than saying their name all of the time.

    There is an incredible example of making the donor the hero in this simple package by Amnesty International. It talks about the story of a pen. Although this example is from direct mail, it's got imagination. How could you make your donor feel the responsibility and the power of their donation?

  5. Don't make readers click off to a PDF. Are you guilty of this e-newsletter sin? Don't say click here to download our e-newsletter as a pdf. No, they need to be able to preview your e-newsletter on your website, or read the archives on your website as well.

    I once saw a nonprofit website where there was a front page and then every link was a downloadable pdf. It was insane. Who has time to wait for each pdf? Who would take this nonprofit seriously? When people have to wait to learn about your cause by downloading something, you are going to lose potential donors. People are in a hurry, they're skimming, they're impatient. Any little delay is a major roadblock.

  6. Do not include a letter from the director. That's not going to make people give. It's actually pretty boring in just about every e-newsletter or annual report I've ever read, . Unless it's a powerful tear-jerker story. I once read a story on Wayne Pacell's blog about saying goodbye to a faithful dog. Pacell is the CEO of The Humane Society of the USA, and his post literally had me in tears, ready to give.


  7. Personalize the email with the recipient's name. If you don't know how to do this or if your e-newsletter software can't do this, then learn, or get new e-newsletter software. MailChimp, for example, is free and lets you personalize your e-newsletter.


  8. Design your donate button to be irresistible. Don't just have a text link to donate. Have links throughout your text, but also have a big donate button at the bottom. Don't make it easy to overlook. Do these things with your donate button:


    • Make your donate button a different color.
    • Surround it by white space.
    • Put an arrow on or next to the donate button.
    • You could even put a drop-shadow on the donate button to subtly cue your readers that this is something to interact with.
    • You can also put credit card logos below the donate button, to help your subscribers gain trust that this transaction will be safe and easy.
  9. Break up the text. How do you make people keep reading your e-newsletter long enough to be convinced to give? Don't make text blocks any longer than 500 characters. You can even have teasers that leave people with a cliffhanger and allow people to click through to your website to finish the story.

    If you need help creating a cliffhanger, re-read one of your favorite stories. After the first paragraph, what makes you keep reading? How can you recreate that for your nonprofit to hook people in and get them to finish the story on your website?

  10. Segment your list. Don't just have one big list all squished together. You will get people complaining about your e-newsletters, and unsubscribing. When you can target your message to a specific group of people, you will be much more successful in getting them to click that button and give. This means that you need to send different emails to, for example:


    • Former clients or people who know someone helped by your nonprofit. Talk about the people your nonprofit helps and the heroic families around them. Help them see they can help "someone like me."
    • People who just come to your events. Talk about how much fun the events are, how doing good and having fun are what you're all about, just like them.
    • Monthly givers. Show them what you've been doing with their money for the past year, tell them you couldn't have done it without them, make them the hero.
    • Major donors. For these valuable supporters, consider communicating by phone or with personal email.
    • People who have never given to your nonprofit before. Introduce them to the compelling reasons to give now, (remember the conflict!) Then remind them about how THEY are the hope of your nonprofit.
    • Volunteers. Ask them to remember their volunteer experience. Maybe tell a volunteer's story, making the volunteer the hero. And then ask them to donate.
    • Media contacts. Don't send them an email asking them to donate, but perhaps a newsworthy story to potentially report on.

    If you don't know your list, then go through and start attaching emails to names in your database. You can also start by looking people up and calling them. That's a place to start. If you can simply do one email to people who have donated in the last 18 months, versus people who have never donated, start there.

Guest author Mazarine Treyz is the guru-in-chief of Wild Woman Fundraising. She has an e-newsletter with more great tips.

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