An Ultimate Guide To Email Marketing For Nonprofits

An Ultimate Guide To Email Marketing For Nonprofits
18 February, 2022 • ... • 1558 views
Eugene Vasilev
by Eugene Vasilev

Unlike for-profit organizations, nonprofits can only rely on donations which are far from guaranteed. At the same time, they have to maintain a spotless reputation to keep donations coming. Granted, it’s not easy but thankfully, there’s a whole segment of marketing that helps — nonprofit email marketing.

In this article, we look at ways to make emails an effective tool for nonprofit organizations, warn nonprofits of potential challenges and suggest the best email marketing platforms to use.

Why is email marketing for nonprofits so important?

Email marketing is important for nonprofits because it’s one of the best ways to communicate. Through emails, nonprofits find new donors, speak with the current audience and raise awareness.

Email newsletters are a more comfortable way to follow a nonprofit activity than checking the news on a website. Newsletters come with the essential info people subscribe for. They are more personal than general information on a website.

Nonprofits use email marketing to achieve three major objectives:

  • Develop a loyal donor base. 4 billion people are email users – half the Earth population, – so emails are a logical choice to spread the word. Nonprofits send personalized reports and updates about who the fundraising campaign helped and how. Thus, they stay in touch with their donors and give timely feedback.
  • Expand their reach. By legally obtaining new contacts, nonprofits go beyond their audiences and reach new people. With more donors involved through email, a nonprofit should expect more donations.
  • Make the most of an ESP. With the help of ESPs (email service providers), nonprofits plan their campaigns more effectively. Various tools allow them to segment the audience, set up automated email sequences, and craft emails from a list of pre-set templates.

Types of emails to use in your non-profit email marketing campaign

We can think of at least eight ways a nonprofit can communicate with its donors through emails.

Welcome emails

Welcome emails are one of the most effective emails out there. With an open rate of 86%, a welcome email is a safe bet it will be at least opened by almost everyone.

Include the essential information about your campaign in this email: what you do, what values you share, who you helped and how. Let potential donors know you better by writing an informative email.

See how Save the Children do it in their welcome email. They say hi, define their goals, add stats and even a video. Notice the tone: friendly and unobtrusive.

Source: Really Good Emails
Source: Really Good Emails

Storytelling emails

Everything about nonprofits is driven by emotions. People work for nonprofits because something resonates with them about this particular topic. Likewise, people donate because a topic touches their soul. And what else if not a good story holds the emotional appeal and transmits it?

Stories have attracted people since time immemorial. They were one of the trends in digital media in 2021 and there’s no reason why it no longer is the case in 2022. They are magical for their cinematic effect because they create pictures in readers’ minds and pictures create emotions.

In storytelling emails, you can explore your creativity and go beyond the text. Make full use of visuals like photos, videos, graphs.

See how Help for Heroes works out the design of the email to tell a story.

Source: Really Good Emails
Source: Really Good Emails

Thank-you emails

A thank-you email is a way to show gratitude, so send them to your donors when they donate. A pro tip for thank-you emails is to include campaign updates. Donors love to see what kind of impact they made.

See how Baldwin Wallace University sent a thank-you email to thank its donors for supporting the students. They made it more informative by disclosing how much money was raised and who donated.

Source: Sumac
Source: Sumac

Number and statistic-based emails

Numbers attract people. Maybe it’s because numbers are facts that help us quickly assess the size of something and if so, that’s a useful thing for nonprofits.

Show your donors how much of an impact your (and their!) campaign is making. Let them study numbers: who donated, how much, how many people it helped and so on.

A pro tip is to incorporate numbers into subject lines. It’s a fact that the use of numbers in subject lines increases the open rate by 57%.

CARE Australia provides a full breakdown for their donors to see how their initiatives performed in a given year. It’s factual and informative.


Matching donation emails

A donation match is a practice when a donation is doubled: you give me $1, I add my $1 and together we donate $2.

Donation matches are a magnet for more donations. In one survey, 84% of respondents said that they’d donate if matching was offered. Try it if your nonprofit can afford it.

To involve donors you have to make the offer to match the central element of your message. Patagonia Action Works puts it forward and highlights it with a contrasting color which makes it impossible not to notice.


Question and survey emails

A survey is a way to learn more about donors. You can use new information and expand your campaigns.

To get more answers, give your readers reasons to spend their time on your survey because you take their time. Explain what it’s for and how it can help in the future.

Detailed questionnaires help you learn more about donors to plan more effective campaigns going ahead. You can try previewing your questionnaire as Malala Fund does it below. This will give your subscribers a sense of what’s in there so they can decide if they want to spend time on it.

Source: J Campbel Social Marketing
Source: J Campbel Social Marketing

Success story emails

Tell your subscribers about the success of your nonprofit: what social changes followed, who benefited from it and why it mattered. These stories are further proof that a campaign took place.

Write a long read in an email or tease subscribers with a short copy leading to a website. Here are examples of both.

Source: Really Good Emails
Source: Really Good Emails

The challenges to be ready for

Nonprofit email marketing may be a bit tough even if your email strategy is top-notch. Nonprofits may face up to the following challenges when planning campaigns:

  • Small marketing budgets. The management of nonprofits tends to put as much funds as possible into the cause they support. However, fundraising can also be unpredictable which makes planning a campaign more difficult. That’s why many ESP providers give nonprofits a discount — more on this later.
  • Low engagement of the audience. Most likely, supporting someone else is not a priority for many people who already have enough on their plates. In addition, not everyone can donate regularly. A well-planned campaign counters this at least partially as it starts to involve the audience.
  • Irregular workers. Nonprofits often rely on volunteers and volunteers tend to be irregular workers. It doesn’t help that nonprofits sometimes have to settle for whoever is available. This may include inexperienced workers which damages a campaign. To combat this problem, nonprofits can request ESP providers for specialists to lead their campaigns.

Nonprofit email marketing best practices

Build a healthy email list

The first rule of good email marketing is this: build a healthy list. This is also one of the biggest struggles for email marketers.

Building a healthy list can be tricky. First, make sure your contacts are legally obtained. We repeat: make sure your contacts are legally obtained. Emails no one asked for are bad taste and emails asking for a donation no one asked for are like being approached by a stranger who wants to bum a fiver off you.

In some way, make it difficult for people to subscribe to your donation campaign. For example, consider obtaining contacts at offline events. People who attend them are those interested in your campaign the most, they actually go the extra mile to get to know you. Prioritize the quality of the list over quantity.

To avoid any potential pitfalls, check our free foolproof guide on email list building. To avoid any issues with the law, read our article on what to do to stay legal in email marketing.

Don’t ask for donations right away

Think again about a stranger who wants a buck off you. At the very least, it’s impolite.

As this picture from David Ogilvy’s timeless classic On Advertising says: “I don’t know you, I don’t know your company, I don’t know your company’s product, I don’t know what your company stands for…what was it you wanted to sell me?”

Source: David Ogilvy, On Advertising
Source: David Ogilvy, On Advertising

“I don’t know who you are and what you stand for, what do you want to sell me?” is bad enough. “I don’t know you and what you stand for, what do you want to take my money for?” is just tragic. Do not make this mistake. Instead, let people know you at first.

Look at this pic above again and try to answer those questions: who are you, what do you stand for, what’s your record? Tell this to potential donors in a sequence of automated welcome emails.

Even when people get to know you, give them a reason why they should contribute. In a famous Harvard research about queue jumpers, 94% of those standing in a queue agreed to give up their place to the jumper — a simple “because I’m in a rush” was a good enough reason. Only 60% agreed when the jumper didn’t give a reason.

To sum up this part: don’t ask for donations right away. Let your readers know you first and always give them the reason why you ask for donations.

An example is this email from Deki: it explains what happens after a person donates, who it helps and how.


Focus on improving the deliverability rates

An average deliverability rate is 89%. To keep the number high, make the following steps:

  • Set up email authentication. Authentication is a 99.8% guarantee subscribers receive your emails. It only takes a couple of minutes to get verified. In the article on deliverability rate, we show how to do it.
  • Make sure your emails comply with the law. This means you made sure subscribers gave their consent to receive your emails. Double opt-in is a good option because it confirms your subscribers made an extra step to start hearing from you.
  • Clean the contact list of inactive contacts. If you run a re-engagement campaign and some users just won’t come back — so be it. Quality over quantity, remember?
  • Give your all in terms of copy and personalization. This is to improve the quality of your emails so that subscribers have no reason to send your messages to spam, thus damaging your deliverability.

If you’ve tried these steps and the deliverability is below average, consider switching your ESP.

A delivery rate is 99% while an average deliverability rate is 88,9%. What’s the difference? See in our article on email deliverability.

Use real photos of your work

Will you believe me if I tell you that’s me working on this very article?

Source: Unsplash
Source: Unsplash

Now, will you believe me if I tell you that is me working on this very article?



Real photos shine with life and a good photographer will do wonders. Even a bad snap like mine is more real and emotional than a stock photo.

Photos are also proof of your work. It’s absolutely crucial for nonprofits to show things as they are. Donors want to donate to real causes, not frauds. It takes one person to notice a fake photo and thus ruin the reputation.

Test every aspect of the email

The best way to say something works better or worse is to run an A/B test. Split your contact list in half and send them different emails. Even seemingly minor tweaks like different subject lines or preheaders may affect campaign results. Test your send time, email copy, imagery, CTA buttons design, too. Anything about your email can and should be tested.

A/B tests prevent you from guessing and you will always have the documented knowledge of which practices yield better results.

Keep the call to action simple

Write the button text depending on your goal and make sure the button is easy to recognize. Usually, nonprofits write simple messages like ‘Donate’, ‘Donate Now’, ‘Give Today’, ‘Support the Team’, ‘Join Us’, and so on.


Nothing stops you from being a bit unusual if it fits the context. Check the email from Charity: Water. The CTA button text ‘Huh?’ is an expected reaction to saying that the best gift is wrapped in concrete, filled with sand and runs on bacteria.

Source: Really Good Emails
Source: Really Good Emails

Monitor your performance

Check your email campaign for open, click-through, unsubscribe and spam rates. Use the latest benchmarks to see if your campaign does well.

Source: GetReponse
Source: GetReponse

However, the best way to monitor your performance is through donations. That’s the real indicator of your campaign success.

Ensure it’s mobile-friendly

Mobile is now the king of media and it also rules the email game with 44,7% of emails opened on mobile, more than anywhere else.

To keep emails running smoothly on mobile, consider making shorter menus or replacing a desktop menu with a collapsible menu for the mobile.

Make sure you don’t have too small details in an email so subscribers don’t have to make unnecessary efforts just to click a button or a link. Keep the call to action button large enough.

Keep your subject line and preheader short, preferably if they’re no longer than 50 characters — that is roughly 8-10 words. The same applies to your copy: consider making it shorter to avoid a wall of text on a screen smaller than that of a desktop.

Best email marketing platforms for nonprofits

Below are the five services nonprofits can use to plan their fundraising campaigns. Mostly it’s about discounts because that’s what really matters for nonprofits with their resources being tight. There are, however, small benefits in using each particular service: quick automation, pre-set templates, integration with social media or an overall good experience.

So, here is our list of ESPs to use.


Discount. Selzy has a special offer for nonprofits — 50% off. All you need is to leave your email and we’ll guide you through the rest.

Extra benefits. Selzy’s email builder is simple in use and many clients can confirm that. You can contact us for help if you need assistance with the service or tips on how to run your campaigns in general — our support team are available 24/7 via chat, phone and email.


Discount. Mailchimp gives a 15% discount to all nonprofits and 25% to those who authorize their accounts.

Extra benefits. Mailchimp is famed for its automation. This ESP allows you to target by behavior and preferences, and also to send emails at the same time for different time zones.

Campaign Monitor

Discount. Campaign Monitor gives a 15% discount to all nonprofits.

Extra benefits. Every nonprofit has access to all of Campaign Monitor’s tools for an email campaign: hundreds of templates, a drag-and-drop email builder, the option to customize customer journeys, and so on.


Discount. GetResponse gives all nonprofits a generous 50% discount.

Extra benefits. GetResponse boasts a large database of email templates. Users can also upload contact lists to the ESP and GetResponse is easy to integrate with popular social media platforms.


Discount. VerticalResponse give nonprofits 10,000 free emails per month. Above that, the discount is 15%.

Extra benefits. You can plan an event through VerticalResponse. For this, you create a website, send email invitations and integrate with social media platforms. The ESP gives nonprofits a 15% discount on this.

In conclusion

Nonprofit email marketing is challenging for many reasons. For starters, your aim as a nonprofit is to persuade people to donate money for nothing in return. Emails are a great channel to raise donations and develop a loyal donor base.

There are different email types that update donors on a campaign they feel strong about:

  • Welcome and thank-you emails set the tone of the conversation.
  • Stat-based, storytelling and success story emails update donors on your campaign performance.
  • Matching donation emails help raise donations.
  • Question-based emails let you know more about your audience and ways to expand a campaign.

To make life easier for nonprofits, virtually all ESPs give them special offers. Typically, this includes a discount (up to 50%) and a bunch of tools that make using bulk emails a pleasant experience.

18 February, 2022
Article by
Eugene Vasilev
Content writer on all things email marketing at Selzy. Writing, editing and illustrating over the last 5 or so years. I create simple texts with examples to inform or entertain readers. In love with the semicolon. Boring language merchant. Egg came first. My favorite bands will never come to my city. Let's play beach volleyball.
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