South African NPOs: Six things to avoid in fundraising emails

Gabrielle Ritchie | Director, The Change Room | 26th May 2017

Last night I participated in Gail Perry’s Fired-Up Fundraising webinar, How a Smart Fundraising Plan Can Transform Your Fundraising AND Save Your Butt. It was a brilliant reminder of some of the basics, the fundamentals, that organisations need to put in place for successful fundraising.  It also reminded me of some of the technical issues around fundraising communications, with particular reference to emails.

While Gail shared with us that last year’s US-based Giving Tuesday’s email campaigns saw 34% of mails ending up in spam, it is still a key mechanism for building support for non-profit causes, and for communicating fundraising messages.  So we really need to get it right.  I recently received two very horrible fundraising emails which reminded me not only how easy it is to get it wrong, but how many organisations are still getting it wrong.  With the unprecedented level of easy-to-access online resources, this should not be happening.  So I have a list, based on the two examples I referred to, on what to AVOID:

  1. Subject line – your subject header is your first and last opportunity to grab your readers’ attention, so make it work!  If you must include something like “[organisation’s name] fundraising event” then …. no, just kidding. Don’t use that subject line. Ever. Unless its an internal organisational event-planning email intended only for your colleagues.  Use that tiny window of opportunity (ie.the subject header) to communicate your key message – eg. Support [xxxx cause] – join us on [date]; or Join us in rocking to [xxx band] – and support [xxx cause]; or something unrelated to the event or to the fact that your support is needed. If it is an event, try something fun: How to spend your Saturday night having the most fun ever! Or if you are appealing for direct donation, try “Ten ways to support old people in your community”. Anything but ploddy and blunt – “Fundraising event” or “Appeal for donation” are designed to put people right off.
  2. Greeting – avoid a dead line such as “Good day” or “Good Afternoon Sir/ Madam” – with no personalisation. It is the coldest, most off-putting, most “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care, but I want your money” kind of opening. And it puts mail recipients off just like that, in the opening line.  Ensure you include the recipient’s name, or title and surname. And get it right.  With the mail management software available, there is no excuse. If you really aren’t able to include names, at least start with something warm and friendly, like “Dear Friends”.
  3. Attachments – don’t include attachments. Just don’t. This is not what fudnraising emails are for. If you are mailing out to a predominantly cold list, an attachment will put people right off. I, like most others, don’t open mails with attachments from people I don’t know.  If you are mailing to a group of existing supporters, don’t make them do the work by now having to download and open an attachment!  If you need to space in an attachment, to include all your information, you are doing something wrong.
  4. Images – if you need to embed images in your mail, make them small!  As a fundraiser, you want to be keeping things as simple, easy and uncumbersome as possible. And you want images to come up right away – because if they are not included to grab attention (only a few seconds to do that!), then why did you include them?
  5. Content – you need to include encouraging text, that takes the mail recipient by the hand and (very quickly) leads them to an emotion.  No emotion = no point of contact.  Don’t bore readers with technical details about your organisation (eg. “:We are a registered NPO” – because if you aren’t, then get out of my mail box you hoaxer! That kind of info belongs in small print as part of your signature). Do not use the precious “real estate” of the readers screen for boring and unnecessary text. You want the reader to be excited about supporting you, whether that sense of heightened awareness is based on sympathy, empathy, self-interest, outrage, justice – it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that however your message makes them feel, it galvanises them to go to and participate in your Call to Action!
  6. Call to Action – this is absolutely critical in a fundraising email.  The purpose of the mail is to share an immediate, direct Call to Action that your recipients can reasonably achieve while they are reading your mail – for example “Go to our Donate page”, with a big DONATE button; or a big button saying “Get Involved – here’s HOW” (which must link to your website where there would be information on the multiple ways a prospective donor can support your work); include a “Get your tickets here” button, which takes the reader to a ticket-purchase page.  You get the idea. Bear in mind that people are not supporting your “fundraising”, they are supporting your “work” and the cause you are involved with – so use that effectively in your Call to Action!

Those are some basics – now go and craft the best fundraising mail ever! You (and your board and beneficiaries) will be so glad you did!

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