How to Get Fundraising Emails Opened
You spend a lot of time, I hope, crafting your gifts of content. You think, plan, prepare and execute. Then, when you’ve gotten the perfect content to share with your friends, what do you do?
Do you wrap it up in a beautiful box so your recipient can hardly wait to open up the gift? Or, do you put it in a mysterious-looking brown bag that, at best, causes the recipient to put it aside for later or, at worst, actively raises his or her suspicions?
You, no doubt, see the problem.
We can all stand to spend a bit more time on the wrapping of our gifts of content!
I must confess that I’m the kind of gal who wraps my gifts in newspaper because "it’s what’s inside that matters" and why waste resources? And too often I applied this same misguided philosophy to sending out fundraising emails. I just didn’t spend much time on the subject line. I didn’t spend much time tracking open rates either. I just hoped for the best, and was happy with my results. But I also left a lot of money on the table. We were really pretty naive back when email fundraising was young. Please don’t make these dumb mistakes.
I’ve got another metaphor just for you. The job interview. Do you think how you craft your resume doesn’t contribute to whether or not you’ll get your foot in the door? Do you think that how you dress and how you stride into the room doesn’t affect your interviewer’s perception of you?
First Impressions Matter
They matter a lot. You can either inspire, excite, alarm, intrigue or otherwise capture your recipient’s attention—or you can slip by completely unnoticed.
Even if your answer to "What superpower would you most like to have?" is “An invisibility cloak”—now is not the time. You want your readers to see your message—and your subject line is a window into your email.
Still think I’m making a mountain of a mole hill? Check out the data about email deliverability and opens, including the fact that:
- 35 percent of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone
- 21 percent of email recipients report email as spam, even if they know it isn’t
- 69 percent of email recipients report email as spam based solely on the subject line
Make Your Email Subject Lines Sing!
Recently the folks at Co-Schedule put together a great little primer on how to write better email subject lines to get more opens.
This stuff is so useful, and so user-friendly, that I’m simply compelled to share the highlights with you, because I truly don’t want to see the content you’ve slaved over go to waste. You need to use every ace up your sleeve to get your emails opened.
There’s a lot of competition these days in folks’ inboxes. People simply will not pay your emails much heed unless you do something to make them sit up and take notice, so it's time to do something about it!
Nine Key Elements
Co-Schedule has come up with "Nine Best Practices for Writing Email Subject Lines."
I encourage you to read the full rationales for each of these practices on Co-Schedule's blog.
Perhaps my favorite is the admonition to use action verbs that communicate what you want your constituents to do after they’ve read your content. Consider some of these:
- "Donate." (good for all fundraising appeals)
- "Join us." (good for events)
- "Enroll." (good for monthly giving; legacy or other giving society)
- "Share." (good for peer-to-peer; crowdfunding; social media advocacy)
- "Tell us." (good to solicit feedback)
- "Learn." (good to amplify on what they already know from a previous email)
- "Double your impact." (good for matching challenges)
I also like the admonition to "write clearly." Don’t get so clever that folks have trouble understanding your meaning. And don’t ever use jargon or acronyms.
Co-Schedule has built upon what government researchers studying the roots of languages had done in the '60s and '70s. The findings revealed that emotional language creates a very predictable response. If you haven’t yet discovered the "Headline Analyzer," I highly recommend you give it a try. Personally, I have it bookmarked, and my articles don’t leave home without it!
Before you let your email out the door, ask "What will this make my reader feel?" Remember, if you want gifts, you must give them. I talk about this most often as it relates to donor acknowledgements and stewardship, but it also applies to all of your content marketing and fundraising.
Are you offering something that gives folks a reason to click "open"? Does your email appear to be something that will make their lives better, keep them more informed, give them a chuckle, make them feel like they’re involved in something meaningful or otherwise stimulate them? Are you making them feel connected to something larger than themselves—a special club, a family, a community, a movement, a cause? Is it instantly clear how they can help resolve a crisis, contribute in an emergency, meet a deadline or put a campaign over its goal?
Here are some specific examples of ways to key into various emotions, such as how to:
- Tell users to take action. "Children’s lives need saving" differs from "Save children’s lives."
- Create urgency. "Double your donation" differs from "Double your donation before our challenge expires."
- Get readers curious. "You won’t believe this!" differs from "Do you know how many people are hungry in our community?" Don’t overpromise and then deliver up something that’s not all that incredible. No one likes to feel duped into clicking.
- Kick up excitement. "Our 100th anniversary is this Saturday" differs from "Join us Saturday for the celebration!"
- Inspire happiness. "Thanks for giving" differs from "Thanks for giving, and double your money today."
- Ask a good question. "What worries you most about homeless kids?" differs from "What’s the biggest problem homeless kids face?" Open-ended questions work well for face-to-face asks, when you want to get your donor talking. For email subject lines, close-ended questions (that imply you’ll offer the answer inside) work better because they don’t require your donor to think too much—which can cause them to hit "delete."
- Sound human. "Your help is needed" differs from "Could you help Jimmy out?"
- Be more concise. “Announcing your chance to buy raffle tickets for our 10th anniversary gala” differs from “Anniversary gala: Buy your raffle tickets now”
Co-Schedule also offers some easy subject-line templates you can use as guidelines.
Once you have options, it’s time to consider some testing. The easiest is the A/B test. The key is to try only one variable per test, otherwise you won’t know which one caused the difference in behavior. In other words, test the subject lines only; don’t test the graphics or internal copy or who the email comes from at the same time. Then see how opens, click-throughs and conversions (i.e., responses to your calls to action, such as attending an event, signing a petition, sharing your email, making a donation, etc.) compare.
When you’re coming up with your A and B options, Co-Schedule suggests five different approaches to give you the biggest bang for your testing buck:
- Test different value propositions. Perhaps your email shows readers the value of giving to leverage a challenge grant and the value of giving to feed a homeless person. Write a headline that focuses separately on each value. Then, see which performs best. If they perform equally well, you can use them both for a series of emails within a consolidated campaign.
- Target different emotions. There are many different emotions that trigger giving. Despair. Hope. Intrigue. Urgency. Surprise. Fun. Opportunity. Fear. Guilt. Your audience might respond better to one than another. Try targeting different emotions and see what drives a better response.
- Test subject line length. Subject lines with fewer than 50 characters have open rates 12.5 percent higher than those with 50 or more, and click-through rates are 75 percent higher. Be cognizant of the fact that different email clients and devices cut off your subject line in different places—another good reason to keep them brief so that nothing gets missed. The exception proves the rule however, and your results may differ. So experiment with shorter versus longer lengths.
- Test questions vs. statements. Questions create curiosity. Statements can express authority. See what your audience responds to best. "What happens when a 5-year-old is homeless?" vs. "A 5-year-old homeless child suffers from malnutrition."
- Test using stats. Despite the fact that the best fundraising offers are stories, not statistics, data can drive email opens—especially when the numbers are difficult to believe. If your email content includes incredible statistics, try working them into one subject line option. Then, compare it to another data-less option.
Go Get Your Emails Opened!
It may be easier to slap your subject line together at the last minute. But that’s penny-wise and pound-foolish. As advertising guru David Ogilvy wrote: "Five times as many read the headline as the body copy. When you’ve written your headline, you’ve spent 80 cents of your $1."
Take the time to craft a thoughtful subject line. Use tools like the Co-Schedule Headline Analyzer. Test. If you do, you’ll win a lot more "opens" and give your email content a fighting chance!
Note: I tested 13 subject lines before publishing this article. I came up with a lot I thought were more compelling or clever, but that’s not the point, right?
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.