How to reach your nonprofit constituents with email marketing

In a world where some traditional marketing channels are being phased out as technology advances, it’s more important than ever for nonprofits to take advantage of email marketing. When you rely so heavily on supporters and your overall audience, email is really a non-negotiable. And we know this can be an intimidating space to enter, but don’t worry. That’s why we’re here.

Why email marketing is essential for nonprofits

With 92% of adults using email, and another 57% of email subscribers saying they spend 10-60 minutes browsing through marketing emails throughout the week, this should be a no-brainer.

The facts don’t lie—47% of consumers rate email as their most preferred method of communication when it came down to messaging with brands and companies they follow.

Nonprofits can benefit from email marketing in several different ways, including:

  • Increased development of a loyal donor base

  • Expanded overall reach

  • Elevated efforts to drive more donations


Yes, email campaigns can do these things, and so much more, if done well.

Let’s talk nonprofit organizations email open rates.

One of the essential key performance indicators (KPIs) a marketing team should focus on is their average email open rates. If you're focused on sending out emails for users to act on, they need to be opened up before they can click a link.

In 2018 alone, the average email open rate across all industries fell around 18%. Believe it or not, that’s not too far off the average number of open rates for nonprofits.

In 2018 alone, the average email open rate across all industries fell around 18%. Believe it or not, that’s not too far off the average number of open rates for nonprofits.

Source: Statista

While Statista has the average email open rate for nonprofits rolling in at 16% in 2017, an update from Smart Insights in 2018 has nonprofits at an average email open rate at 24%. These numbers are encouraging for nonprofits because it shows that people do want to receive them.

While Statista has the average email open rate for nonprofits rolling in at 16% in 2017, an update from Smart Insights in 2018 has nonprofits at an average email open rate at 24%.

Source: Smart Insights

Getting that email opened is the first vital step in the email marketing process. So, how should nonprofits proceed?

Where nonprofits are different from most other industries is that they have such important stories to tell, and it’s those stories that compel the public to join their efforts and take action—whether that’s through volunteering, donating food, money, blood, items, or participating in the efforts in other ways. The better and more ways you can tell your story, the more powerful your marketing impact.

6 ways to utilize email marketing for nonprofits

Sending out mass emails in “mass blast” manner can quickly get your nonprofit tied up in the spam folder and blocked by email provides. So when it comes to email marketing for nonprofits, we have six key tips that we know will help get your emails not only seen but encourage reader engagement.

1. Understand your subscribers.

One common issue you may run into is the understandable attempt or belief that you have to cater to everyone in order to get the donors or donations you need. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Just like any other organization, to see the most return on your investments, your organization needs to narrow down your targeted audience.

Certain nonprofits attract certain types of individuals, so it’s vital to truly understand who you want to reach.

Certain nonprofits attract certain types of individuals, so it’s vital to truly understand who you want to reach.

Source: Campaign Monitor

Take this email from UNICEF. Right off the bat we can clearly tell that this email is targeting people with an interest or desire in helping to end the suffering of children around the world.

While the general public would like to believe that everyone cares about this issue, that doesn’t mean they are active participants or interested in receiving communications about this issue. That being said, sending a heart-wrenching email to someone who maybe has other concerns or different philanthropic interests doesn’t make a lot of sense. Not only will this email be ignored, but it could also end up in the trash—or worse—in spam.

Takeaway: Really hone in on who it is you want to reach and understand what will make them take action.  

2. Meet your audience where they are.

Building up your email list is a vital step to having a quality email campaign that will yield your nonprofit the results that it needs. You’ve likely heard it before, but it always rings true—the absolute best way to do this is to meet your audience where they’re at.

Sure, many nonprofits put their “join our newsletter” opt-in on their website—and that’s a great place to start—but it doesn’t always get you the quantity or quality subscribers that you’re looking to reach.

This is where it becomes vital to take full advantage of your social media pages.

This is where it becomes vital to take full advantage of your social media pages.

Source: Emma

One nonprofit took the time to share their secrets with us on how they brought in quality subscribers with social media and a text-to-join campaign that automatically subscribes new users to their email list.

By spreading the word of this campaign, Thistle Farms was able to grow their list with over 6,000 engaged subscribers.

With over half of Americans using Facebook, this is a brilliant way to spread the word of your campaigns and get new, quality users to sign up to be included on your email lists.

Takeaway: Use the power of social media to increase the quality and quantity of your ideal subscribers.

3. Storytelling is everything.

Did you know that telling a brand’s story can help increase the overall value of their goods by 20x’s? Here’s the secret why—people don’t want to be sold to. Or at least, they want to feel like their decision was their idea.

Being sold to and being informed are very different things, and the more your nonprofit starts to sound needy or salesy, the quicker your emails are going to land in trash or spam.

Nonprofits have the edge in this area is when they focus of everything they do is truly about helping others, not themselves—this is what will make your storytelling come naturally and feel genuine. (Hint: because it is!)

Nonprofits have the edge in this area is when they focus of everything they do is truly about helping others, not themselves—this is what will make your storytelling come naturally and feel genuine. (Hint: because it is!)

Source: Really Good Emails

The example by Charity Water does an excellent job of telling their story, even through their header: “A milestone seven years in the making.”

It draws readers in instantly and then goes on to tell the story of their partnerships and goals. They end it by inviting readers to join them in their efforts to finally hit their most significant milestone yet.

Instead of feeling like they’re only a donation, or have an obligation to give, the reader is encouraged to feel more as if they get to be a part of something big—which may lead to them donating.

Takeaway: Appeal to your audience by using your story instead of pressuring them through a sales campaign.  

4. Humanize your message with design.

Many nonprofits rely on tactics that attempt to relate to their readers—and while it can be easy to humanize your email copy with a compelling story, many marketing teams neglect the rest of their email components.

Remember, an email says a lot about an organization and its brand. Having a sloppy piece with broken links and corrupt images may lead readers to believe that this organization isn’t legit or worth investing in. On the flip side, an organization that takes the time to put together a clean, user-friendly design gives readers the belief that the organization is legitimate and trustworthy.

When it comes to trying to humanize your email design, keep these tips in mind:

  • Have a clear template: This shows users that you’ve thought the design through and, if done right, kept the reader in mind.

  • Have a compelling subject line and headline within the email: These are your greatest assets considering most people only spend around 15 seconds reading your email. A good subject line will get them to open the email while a good headline will compel them to keep reading.

  • Keep your lists and subheadings organized: The simpler the message, the better, and that applies to the layout of your email as well. Seventy nine percent of readers simply scan the contents of their emails, so proper organization is critical.

  • Have a clear call to action button: And make sure it works! This way users know precisely where they need to look to take the desired action you are asking of them.

When it comes to trying to humanize your email design, keep these tips in mind:

Source: Really Good Emails

In the example above from the Canadian Cross, it’s clear to readers not only who they are, but they get right to the point of their message. However, they do so in a way that entices the reader to keep scrolling and reading through the text.

They didn’t include an overwhelming amount of unnecessary text, nor did they add a bunch of images that could slow the email’s loading speed down. They even have a very clear call to action for readers to click on to make their donations.

Takeaway: Make your email design user-friendly.

5. Take advantage of your welcome email campaign.

Take full advantage of your welcome email campaign by making your readers feel not only welcomed but that they valued.

This is where you’ll want to personalize your emails and make good use of list segmentation. Once you’ve welcomed them, allow them the opportunity to tell you what it is they’re looking for as far as subscriber experience.

Doing this allows you to gather more important information about them, learn their wants and their needs, and segment them according to their goals with your nonprofit.

Most importantly, you want them to feel valued and that they’re part of your email list for a reason.

Most importantly, you want them to feel valued and that they’re part of your email list for a reason.

Source: Really Good Campaigns

Be My Eyes does a great job of drawing the reader in, making them feel welcomed and then sharing more of their story with them. Finally, they allow the user to share their story with their friends and families before thanking them one final time for joining their efforts.

Takeaway: Make your subscribers feel not only welcome but relevant to your organization.

6. Monitor the performance of your campaigns.

This is something all nonprofits need to be doing. It’s critical to continually monitor what is working and what isn’t when it comes to their email campaigns and their return on investment.

Monitoring key performance indicators are the only way to really know if your email is going to reap the rewards you are looking for.

Monitoring key performance indicators are the only way to really know if your email is going to reap the rewards you are looking for.

Source: Emma

Some KPIs to monitor include:

  • Open rates

  • Click-through rates

  • Click-to-open rates

  • Subscribe/Unsubscribe rates

  • Bounce rates

Takeaway: Keep a close eye on your KPIs to see what is working and what isn’t. Analyze, optimize and iterate from there.

Wrap up

Email marketing for nonprofits don’t always follow the same guidelines that more traditional brands do, but it’s still very much worth the investment—in fact, it’s super essential to your industry.

Keep these essential tips in mind to work to see the results you want:

  • Understand your audience

  • Tell your story, don’t sell to readers

  • Humanize your message and keep readers in mind

  • Monitor your campaign’s progress

Emma has all the tools to help nonprofits get their email campaigns off the ground running and seeing the results they want. Contact Emma’s team today to get started.

About the Author

Emma Email

Emma is an email marketing platform that gives you all the tools you need to send campaigns that really connect with your subscribers. Unlike other email providers, Emma puts their customers first. It's email marketing that works for you.

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