5 steps to a successful email fundraising campaign

Dodd Caldwell

Expert advice for getting more donations by email

If you’re one of Emma’s nonprofit customers, you’re no doubt passionate about furthering your mission. In many cases, all that’s needed to continue growing the awesome work you’re doing is… money. Sending donation appeals as part of your email marketing strategy can be a key to acquiring these much needed funds. But how do you tell your story to your donors in a way that empowers them and compels them to open their wallet (or more accurately, their credit card balance) and click your oh-so-prominent “Donate Now” button?

The team at MoonClerk has provided 5 steps to creating a successful email fundraising campaign in order to catapult your organization past its fundraising goals.


Step 1: Pre-preparation – Develop a story bank

The first step to any fundraising email is to have a compelling story that illustrates your impact. Having a selection of these “success stories” on hand is an invaluable tool. Your organization should be constantly on the lookout for those stories that tug at the heartstrings. Be sure the story captures:

  • Emotion

  • The importance of the work your organization is doing

  • How the main character’s life was impacted

Be sure to take a photo (preferably an action shot in the proper context/environment) and obtain a signed release allowing you to publish the story and photograph. Having a selection of testimonials on-hand that you can pick and choose from as the occasion arises will prove useful time and time again. 


Step 2: Identify the message

The key to successful fundraising emails is sending the right message. Each donation email you send needs to have a timely, unique and compelling message to share. While every program and activity your nonprofit undertakes is important and in need of funds; not all of them will help you get money in the door. Make a list of 3-4 potential topics. Once these have been identified, it’s time to decide which topic will be the best to focus on for an email donation letter. When developing your message, focus on a compelling story. Stories raise money – not statistics.


Step 3: Write your story

When writing your email, it’s important to be succinct, compelling and conversational. Empower your donors. Highlight how the donor is responsible for your success and how their gift will make more happy endings. Use “you” language (e.g. you can help keep a child off the street). Your appeal should have the same elements of any compelling story:

Hook: Get the reader’s attention in the beginning and give them a reason to care about the people and the story going forward. The first sentence has to capture the audience and set the scene. Make them care about what the rest of the email says.

Plot: In one or two short paragraphs, explain the circumstances and obstacle that had to be overcome. 

Transformation: What changed? How did your organization facilitate a change for the better?

Call to action: Have a specific call to action. “Make a donation today” is not good enough.  Show your donors how their contribution will help continue the story and help others facing the same or similar challenges (e.g. $20 will allow us to feed a family for a day, or $50 will provide educational materials for a classroom of children).

The Post Script: A P.S. can be an important tool to pull everything together. This is a great place to use a statistic quantifying the impact your organization is achieving (e.g. P.S. With the help of the generous contributions of our donors, ABC Youth Outreach was able to keep 5,000 youth off the streets last year).

Don’t get caught up in explaining all the details – include just enough information to allow the reader to engage with the story. Once you have the first draft of your appeal written, read it out-loud. Does it sound like a speech or does it sound like what you would say if you had time to talk over coffee with every donor? Re-work and edit until it looks and sounds right. 


Step 4: Design your email

Visual appeal is an important aspect of sending a successful fundraising email. Be sure to:

  • Find a template that fits with your overall marketing design

  • Use fonts consistent with your other materials, using no more than two separate typefaces

  • Use bold, underline, or italics sparingly

  • Include 1-2 pictures that match your story (one should be a picture of the subject of the story).

  • Make the donation link easy to find. Include a link in the body text of your email and a button outside of the body text. Don’t make donors hunt for a donation button or link.

With MoonClerk, you can choose to design a specialized donation page that matches the design and theme of your donation letter, or you can link to your standard donation page. Having a specialized form can increase continuity and simplicity. 


Step 5: Subject lines – It’s all for naught if the email doesn’t get opened 

Often, the most daunting step in completing donation letters by email is… the subject line. The subject line determines if your message will be opened or deleted. Be succinct. It has to capture your audience with the fewest words possible. Choose 3-6 words that capture the essence of your message and give the reader a compelling snapshot of what’s inside.


MoonClerk helps small businesses and nonprofits immediately accept recurring and one-time payments without any technical skills. And Emma's integration with Moonclerk makes it easy to automatically add donors or paying customers to your Emma audience. 

About the Author

Dodd Caldwell

Dodd Caldwell is the co-founder of MoonClerk. He is based out of Greenville, SC and enjoys writing mini-sagas (stories told in exactly 50 words) and curating his growing chewing gum collection.

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