Seven types of non-profit emails

One great way to bore your audience is to repeatedly send the same email over and over again. (“Too many asks” is probably the number one reason your donors unsubscribe). But this is an easy problem to fix by developing different types of emails for different purposes. Here are seven email types you’ll want to have in your fundraising arsenal:

A keep in touch email for donors

Call it a newsletter if you must, but this is just an email to keep in touch with your donors. You don’t need to cram it full of articles but you do need to show your organization’s impact. We suggest keeping it very simple:

  • A few sentences about what you accomplished this month
  • A picture
  • What’s coming up
  • If you’re having trouble coming up with content here, start with what you’ve shared on social media or think about what you’d talk about in a donor meeting if someone asked for an update.

Why it’s worth the effort: it keeps you “top of mind” with your community of donors but also makes the case for renewing donations.


Thank you emails

Bad news, the automatic email from your online donation form is not a thank you. It should say thank you, but this email is a donation receipt. It’s a “thanks – we got it!” email. A real thank you email can also be automated but should be a heartfelt email thanking the donor for the gift and telling them they can expect a report on their impact. Some organizations choose to send these via snail mail, which is a good choice if you can get them out fast. (We like to do an email and a handwritten thank you).

We suggest the following elements for your thank you email:

  • Sent from an individual person at the organization (for example, this email should come from Yolanda Jameson, not “The Children’s Museum”)
  • Automatically sent to new donors within 24 hours of their donation
  • Contain links to stories on your website
  • Include at least one great picture
  • Tell the donor what to expect “We’ll send you an update on this project” or “We’ll keep you updated on our success!”

Why it’s worth the effort: Data shows us that a powerful thank you is the main thing that drives donor retention.


A welcome series for new donors

The first time someone donates, what do you do? Add them to your email list and just include them the next time you send an email? What if you get someone’s email on December 1? Will their first interaction with you be a series of fundraising emails because it’s the end of the year?

A welcome series introduces new donors to your cause and gives them ways to be involved. The basic formula for a welcome series is three emails:

  • The first email says thanks for signing up and might give an introduction to the organization and how to get involved by volunteering, donating, or sharing information with their social networks.
  • The next email follows one day later and might give a little more information about a specific win. This is a great time to ask the person to give a little more information about themselves. What type of information do they want? Why did they want to get involved? This is actually a good time to mention any monthly giving program you have.
  • The final email is about two days after that and gives your new subscribers something to do or look forward to.

Why it’s worth it: when someone makes their first donation it’s when they are the most excited and curious about you so it’s important to ignite their newfound passion. If you start aggressively asking them for money, you’ll lose them. If you don’t say anything to them, they’ll think you don’t care.


Emergency fundraising appeal

If we learned anything in 2020, it was that responding quickly to a crisis gets amazing results. We were inspired by many amazing non-profits pivot programs quickly to serve people in need. Your fundraising should be able to pivot as fast. An emergency fundraising appeal is for times when your organization has an increase in services, is responding to a local or national crisis, or might need last-minute help. While you can plan for the reason for needing an emergency appeal, you can plan ahead to be prepared when you do need one:

  • Make sure your donor and email lists are regularly updated.
  • Create an email outline using the prompt “I’m writing with an urgent request.”
  • Draft a few subject lines to give you a starting point when you need to move fast.
  • Create an emergency fundraising landing page for your website. Keep it simple so all you have to do is to update the language.

Why it’s worth the effort: Doing even a little bit of work now will help save you time when you need to move fast. Think about this as doing a favor for “future you.”



Donation series

We have seen many organizations double the amount of money they are raising just by moving from singular email campaigns into email series. The bottom line is if you send more emails, you’ll raise more money. So if your goal is to raise money at the end of the year, don’t just send an email that mimics your snail mail donation letter, spread your message out over a few weeks and deliver it in small chunks to your subscribers. Try to see if you can explore different reasons to give by brainstorming different types of ask in your next campaign:

  • A storytelling email that tells a story of a person you’ve helped
  • An impact email that highlights the data and stats of your organization
  • A social proof email that highlights the support of others in a way that encourages someone to join in.
  • A “bare minimum” email that sums everything with just a picture and a sentence.
  • A text-only email from leadership that makes an ask directly and urgently.

Why it’s worth it: One, not everyone will see your first email. Two, sometimes people have to see something a bunch of times before they are persuaded. Three, people give for different reasons, and a series allows you to make your pitch from a variety of different angles.



Re-Engagement Email

Every so often, you may want to pull a list of people that haven’t opened your emails lately (like in the last year or the last 6 months). For this group, it may be time to set them free. But before you and remove them from your list, do the following steps:

  • Look at the list to see if there are any major donors, volunteers, or board members on there. These engaged folks might not be receiving your emails, so it’s good to check in with them.
  • Send this list a “re-engagement email” letting them know of some special things to get involved in. Maybe it’s a special invitation, a triple $ match, a newsworthy story, or an incredible story.
  • For the ones that don’t interact with that email, send them one more email telling them (nicely) that since you haven’t heard from them, you are going to take them off your list. Unless that is, they want to stay on it, in which case they should let you know by clicking a button.

Why it’s worth it: keeping your list tidy, with people that want to hear from you will improve your success. Would you rather have a list of 10,000 with a 6% conversion rate? Or a list of 30,000 with a 2% conversion rate? It’s the same number of donors, but if you’re being charged by your email provider for the number of email addresses you have, it’s cheaper to carry 10,000.




A list-building email

An information source from your non-profit designed to attract new people to your email list.

Some examples might include: a health newsletter about caring for yourself or loved ones with a specific disease, a news email with top headlines in your issue area, an advocacy newsletter with action items for activists, a resource about “ten things to know before you adopt a dog,” or even information about public events for families. Think about what information you can give your audience that no one else can.

Why it’s worth it: adding new and interested people to your email list is the first step in building a relationship with them. This group of people can become your next group of dedicated volunteers, event attendees, and even donors.