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Fundamentals of Email Marketing for Small Nonprofits

Are you utilizing the most effective direct marketing channel available for your organization?


The support and generosity of donors and volunteers forms the bedrock of any nonprofit organizations’ operations. Their support helps nonprofits thrive in the community and help further their cause. Since most nonprofits are usually strapped for time, resources and often times, budget, how can they get the best out of their donors and volunteers in a quick, cost-effective manner?


The answer to this question lies in the most affordable and effective direct marketing channel – email marketing. The mobile era has changed the way organizations converse with their stakeholders, and emails have remained one of the most efficient ways to maintain relationships.

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This article is part of our free 9-part course, Creating a Marketing Strategy for Community Nonprofits.

Email marketing has been proven to be the second most influential platform to draw in donors for a cause.


Just in 2016, a survey of 105 nonprofits groups revealed that more than 2.8 billion emails were sent to over 69 million subscribers. It is safe to say that any nonprofit that hopes to use the digital medium for fundraising and advocacy, must pay special attention to email marketing.


Why Do Nonprofits Need Email Marketing?



  • Unlike direct mail which takes a while to get to the recipient, or social media updates which are likely to get buried under the sheer volume of other updates, an email reaches the intended recipient almost at the instant sender sends it. The nature of emails is such that we are all used to sending and receiving them, making the


  • Emails open up a one-to-one connection between the sender and the recipient. For nonprofits, this personal connection opens a world of opportunities to engage and mobilize resources to drive action. Emails also help position and build your nonprofits with all stakeholders, without taking focus away from the main cause.


  • Ease of Use. Did you know that there are over 4.3 billion email inboxes were in existence last year? The target groups you want to reach out to WILL be among those, and will be familiar with email communication. Email service providers such as MailChimp and Constant Contact on the market today offer an easy to use, intuitive platform to create emails for your subscribers. What’s more, is that most of them also offer value for money plans specially for nonprofits, so you could get more bang for your buck!


  • Finally, one of best parts about emailing lists is that they are ever-growing. Over time, nonprofits have the ability to simply add more and more subscribers to an existing emailing list. Intelligent email marketing software’s also allow you to segment list based on subscriber activity, so you could garner even greater support and donations from your emailing list.


What Makes Good Email Marketing Campaigns


Great Language

Right from the captivating subject line, the preview text snippet that summarizes the email before it is opened, to the actual body of the email, the language of your email determines how your email will be received. Keep things simple and succinct, use an empowering and positive tone, and make sure your message is crystal clear and to the point (an average adult has an attention span of 8 seconds).

Great Design

Emails are one of the most important branding assets for nonprofits. Personalize your email with your logo and powerful imagery. Use an uncluttered layout that is easily available with most email service providers as pre-made templates, and keep it mobile-friendly (53% of emails are opened on mobile devices!). A professional looking and visually appealing email (just like any other branding element) will also lend credibility to any nonprofit organization.


For example, the below example from Charity: Water illustrates both great language, and design. The use of logo and a single powerful image makes for a simple and effective design, whereas the body of the email comprises of text that is to the point and emotive.

Clear Call To Action

Cramming several different messages into a single email is never a good idea. One of the most important aspects of a good email is a clear call to action that tells the recipient exactly what you want them to do. Using buttons for this purpose not only makes them stand out because they are recognizable, but email service providers can also record click activity that helps you gauge their effectiveness later on.


For example, the UNICEF emailer below wanted to mobilise resources for their campaign, while also keeping the email itself succinct and concise – so immediately after the problem statement in the email, they provided a ‘’ button that piques the recipients interest and encourages them to click on to read more.

A High-Quality, Segmented Subscriber List

It’s no secret that a high-quality emailing list will result in high levels of engagement, however keep in mind that you choose the way to cultivate this list. Always seek permission before adding any subscribers to your list, and always provide subscribers with an option to leave the list if they want to. Also remember to prioritize quality over quantity – it is better to have a small list with genuine supporters than to have a very large list who may not even care for your cause.


Segmenting your emailing lists (for example: potential donors, old donors, volunteers, VIP donors etc.) has proven to raise the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns. Segmentation allows for custom crafted messages for each of the different lists, allowing for a greater degree of personalization.


Keep a Schedule

Depending on the size of your emailing list, your capacity to develop emails and your communication goals, the number and frequency of emails sent out to subscribers will vary. It isn’t the greatest idea to send out a steady stream of emails and then go silent for a few months, which is where having a communication calendar greatly helps keep sight of email marketing strategy goals. A schedule should also have breathing room or flexibility for things like new campaigns or an urgent news story.


Optimizing email marketing strategy is an inexpensive way to engage with supporters, one with invaluable returns. Whether you are an established charity or are just starting up, it is never too early or late to pay attention to your organization’s email marketing strategy, and using some of the tips above to fine-tune it for greater outreach and online fundraising success.

About the Author

Anita started her professional career with a degree in computer science engineering, but over the last 8 years, has helped various corporate and nonprofit organisations develop their marketing strategy. She is passionate about conceptualising and implementing innovative campaigns that help build powerful brands. Anita has been a blogger and photographer for over a decade, and in her spare time can be found coding Tumblr themes, rereading Tolkien, journaling her adventures over at That’s So Annie or trying her hand at learning something new (right now, it’s baking)

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Emails You Should Be Sending

Discover the emails every nonprofit should be using to retain donor interest

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