From Inbox to Impact: The Psychology of Email Fundraising

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Imagine you’re one of your nonprofit’s email subscribers, sifting through the hundreds of emails you receive weekly. The subject lines all implore the reader to click through, but it isn’t anything new to you, so you toss them in the abyss of your spam folder without a second thought.

As a nonprofit marketer, your job isn’t finished when you secure an email subscription. It’s up to you to break through the noise of cluttered inboxes and forge a connection with your subscribers as soon as they lay eyes on your fundraising email. A complete understanding of your donor’s psychological responses to fundraising appeals can boost your reach and click-through rate. Let’s explore how you can activate your subscribers to give your emails a bigger impact

1. Pull on your subscribers’ heartstrings.

Perhaps the most effective way to attract supporters is by appealing to their emotions. By targeting what drives your donors to give, you can motivate them to be part of the solution and create a positive impact. 

Here are some ways you can quickly appeal to your subscribers’ emotions:

  • Use beneficiary testimonials. It’s one thing for your staff to ask for donations—your subscribers expect that. Surprise them by telling stories from your beneficiaries to draw them in. Not only are these testimonials a breath of fresh air, but they put a face to your cause and connect your subscribers with the people they’d be supporting.
  • Use impact-forward language. While jargon and long-winded sentences are hard for subscribers to follow, accessible language that establishes urgency can compel them to get involved. Catch their attention and stress the magnitude of the cause by using action-focused language. For instance, “donate now to save a life” establishes the significance of your campaign in simple, comprehensible words.
  • Share your successes. To inspire support from your subscribers, you need to demonstrate that your nonprofit is putting gifts to good use. Consider sending an impact report email in which you highlight the results of past campaigns. Remember to contextualize monetary value by highlighting items gifts funded, such as a new computer lab or 3,000 meals.

Remember that in order to boost your email open rate, these strategies must be used early on in the email, such as in the subject line and near the top of the fold of your email.

2. Build relatability and a sense of belonging.

Cultivating a sense of relatability with your subscribers is essential for making them feel valued and welcome in your nonprofit community. After all, it’s unlikely that alienated supporters will want to continue interacting with your organization. It might seem difficult to do that through a screen, but you can easily foster community and belonging through email by:

  • Featuring real supporters. Ask a respected donor or volunteer known in your nonprofit community to share how supporting your cause has impacted their life. This helps subscribers imagine themselves in their shoes. Don’t forget to include the supporter’s individual impact on your cause to inspire your subscribers. 
  • Segmenting your newsletter. Chances are your supporters that exclusively volunteer would relate better to a volunteer coordinator than a major donor, and vice versa. As explained in Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit marketing, this idea is why subscriber segmentation is the most effective tactic for email campaigns. Create different versions of your newsletter that appeal to specific segments of your subscriber base. In addition to supporter type, you could also segment them by campaigns supported or the length of time spent supporting your organization. 
  • Using approachable language. Make your subscribers feel comfortable with your nonprofit by using casual and friendly language. Similarly, avoid a pessimistic attitude and instead focus on your hopeful vision for the future. When appropriate, you can even use slang and emojis to make your message feel friendly. 

Ultimately, your nonprofit is here to bring people together in pursuit of a better future. Forge these connections with your subscribers by celebrating your shared care for your cause.

3. Foster immediate action through urgency.

Your supporters power your progress, and showing them how much you need them makes them more likely to renew their support. Demonstrate the importance of action via email by:

  • Creating calls to action. This foundational part of your nonprofit marketing plan works well in an email format. Ask your supporters to take action in a certain timeframe by stressing the urgency of your cause. For instance, if you’re trying to hit a fundraising goal by the following midnight, a great call to action could be “Help us provide 3000 meals by donating before midnight!”
  • Presenting limited-time offers. Encourage immediate action by highlighting limited-time offers. For example, you could offer custom merchandise for donations given within a certain timeframe. This can also work for encouraging subscribers to join your monthly giving club or converting volunteers into monetary donors.
  • Promoting a campaign-end matching gift campaign. Up the ante by working with a matching gift partner to match all donations within a certain timeframe. According to Double the Donation’s list of matching gift statistics, 84% of donors are more likely to give if their contribution is matched, so a last-minute matching gift push is a great way to cross the campaign’s finish line. 

The most effective way to stress urgency via email is by leveraging the subject line. Make your subject line eye-catching and intriguing so your subscribers instantly know the timeline, what’s at stake, and, if applicable, what they can gain from giving.

The Bottom Line

Email can be either a digital marketing essential or a pitfall for nonprofits. But done right, you can drive the results you need for your campaigns and initiatives. Remember to track your results as you try different techniques so you can better understand which psychological tactics work the best for your unique subscriber base. With these strategies, you’ll never end up in the spam folder abyss again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Want to learn some more tips for improving your online presence? Follow along on social!