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The Guide You Need to Send Successful Nonprofit Newsletters

TABLE OF CONTENTS

    As a nonprofit professional, fundraiser or not, you likely have to think about money pretty frequently.

    After all, money is what keeps your nonprofit organization afloat and allows you to progress towards achieving your mission.

    However…

    In order to raise money from people, they have to actually hear about you. And not just hear about you, but have you top of mind whenever they think about supporting a cause.

    So, how exactly do you achieve this?

    Let us present to you the very well known, yet so underestimated: nonprofit newsletters.

    Why email marketing matters for nonprofits

    An email newsletter is essentially a communication tool that a nonprofit organization can use to interact with its supporters.

    A nonprofit newsletter can help:

    • Drive traffic to your website
    • Bring in potential donors
    • Rally your volunteers and fundraisers
    • Keep your supporters engaged with your cause
    • Attract partnerships and sponsors
    • Position yourself as a thought leader in your field

    and so much more!

    There are many benefits to nonprofit email marketing. For one, nonprofit emails are affordable and relatively quick to send.

    Another big advantage of email marketing is that almost everyone uses email.

    In fact, 92% of online adults use email, with 61% using it on an average day. And more and more people are using it year-after-year. The number of email users in the US was projected to grow to 244.5 million 254.7 million by 2020. Source: Statista.

    Furthermore, email converts. In fact, email marketing has an ROI (returns on investment) of 4400%. Source: OptinMonster.

    Additionally, M+R’s 2020 Benchmarks Study has found audiences growing in email and social media platforms. They’ve also reported a slight year-over-year increase in email fundraising response rates overall, for the first time in years.

    Top nonprofit newsletter best practices and tips:

    1. Get permission to send them

    Sending out newsletters to individuals who haven’t given you the permission to do so is not only bad etiquette and ineffective, but also potentially illegal!

    Never add email addresses from business cards to your mailing list or buy email lists.

    Instead, do the groundwork of attracting people who will willingly opt in to hear from you.

    Image Credit: Nikita Boldyshev (Dribbble)

    If someone receives an email they didn’t sign up to receive, they will simply unsubscribe. Even worse, they might create a bad image about your organization.

    Pro tip: Make it easy for your subscribers to unsubscribe. Include your unsubscribe information in the footer of the email. Don’t be afraid to ask subscribers why they chose to stop receiving emails, but keep it to a single multiple-choice question.

    Image Credit: Anastasiya Panova (Dribbble)

    And don’t shed tears! The majority of people who unsubscribe from your list are likely unengaged contacts anyway. This means they’re probably dragging down your email performance because they aren’t opening or clicking on your emails.

    2. Send e-newsletters regularly

    When you send your email newsletters regularly, you make sure your supporters are informed, updated, and engaged.

    Image Credit: Campaign Monitor

    However, it can be tricky to determine how frequently to send email nonprofit newsletters. And the truth is that there isn’t a simple answer. On one hand, you shouldn’t let too much time pass between your newsletters, but on the other hand you should not send them too frequently either.

    If you wait too long, supporters might forget that they signed up in the first place and dismiss it as a “random” newsletter. Furthermore, if you don’t engage your donors on a regular basis, there is a risk that they will stop supporting your nonprofit. Your subscribers, after all, sign up for your newsletter because they want to hear from you.

    However, if you send your newsletters too frequently, your subscribers might feel like you’re spamming them.

    This can be a tricky balance to achieve, so stay attentive and pay attention to your unsubscribe rates.

    There’s no magic answer that’s right for every organization. Try sending a newsletter once per month and go from there. Regularly evaluate your success until you find the schedule that works best for your unique circumstances.

    Add the newsletter send dates to your editorial calendar. And if you don’t have one, now is the right time to create it!

    Pro tip: Immediately after your readers subscribe to your newsletter, send them a thank you email confirming their subscription and welcoming them. This should be an automated email you set up with your email marketing provider.

    2. Know why you’re sending the newsletter

    Yes, we said earlier that keeping in regular contact with your supporters is important. However, this is not to say that you should just send out newsletters without knowing why.

    It’s important to define a clear objective. Think… What are you hoping to achieve by sending a particular newsletter?

    Recruit volunteers?

    Raise funds for a specific campaign?

    Share your annual report?

    Once you’re clear on the objective, the objective will then inform the content and the format of your newsletter.

    For example, if your objective is to recruit volunteers, this will be your main call to action. In this case, you might decide for your newsletter content to include testimonials of past volunteers or to feature a photo of your volunteers at work.

    This is where you can also establish some KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). These are specific metrics that are going to help you measure your success and help you understand how well you achieved your objective.

    In addition to looking at general metrics such as email open rates and unsubscribe rates, you could also set specific metrics for each newsletter. In the previous example, you might want to measure the number of signups for your volunteering program.

    3. Know thy reader

    A key tenant of all successful marketing. First, check how well you know your current audience.

    Do you have access to data about your audience? If so, are these data organized? If they are organized, are they just sitting there or are they utilized to inform your marketing activities?

    Getting to know your audience is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to nonprofit fundraising. It’s also the first step to becoming a more data savvy nonprofit.

    The principle is simple: The more you know your audience, the easier it gets to create relevant content that engages them and resonates with them. When the content engages them, they’re more likely to support your organization by donating, volunteering, fundraising, and more.

    Pro tip: Instead of trying to have as many subscribers as you can on your mailing list, try to get the right subscribers to join and to engage the ones that are already subscribed.

    4. Design matters

    Humans are visual creatures. We respond strongly to visual content as visuals are much more interesting to our brains than blocks of text.

    Therefore, how your nonprofit newsletter looks is important.

    Image Credit: Charity: Water

    If you don’t have it already, now is the moment to create your nonprofit brand guidelines. These brand guidelines ensure that your communications are consistent across the board. 

    In addition to regularity, consistency is the other secret ingredient to the magic sauce of engagement.

    Your nonprofit newsletters should be consistent in format, color, and style (overall).

    If you use an email marketing service to send out your newsletters, develop a template that you’re going to use moving forward.

    Here are some top tips for sprucing up your newsletter design:

    • Keep it short and focused. Your readers don’t want to know what’s happening at every stage of every program or what were the outcomes of your last meeting.
    • Break your content into several separate sections to make it easier to read. While you’re at this, name the sections (e.g. “Donate” or “Save the date”).
    • Break up chunks of text into paragraphs and bullet points.
    • Use consistent colors and email header.
    • Use plenty of white space. Cluttered newsletters overwhelm readers. Furthermore, when there is a lot of white space, the important messages stand out more.
    • Choose standard fonts like Calibri or Ariel. And don’t go overboard on fonts. Use one or maximum two fonts. Make sure the body font size is 12px or larger.
    • Make sure your newsletter looks good without images too. Some smartphones turn off email images by default.
    • Use smaller images to reduce load time.

    5…. But copy might matter more?

    Great design is crucial, but great copy might matter even more.

    The consensus isn’t there in the marketing and fundraising community, but even so… Copy is definitely an incredibly important part of your newsletter.

    Image Credit: Charity: Water

    Maybe as a response to overly polished content we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years, at GiveForms we’ve also noticed a tendency of some readers to prefer simple content where good copy shines, or even text-only newsletters.

    Ultimately, the only way to know is if you A/B test.

    “A/B testing, in the context of email, is the process of sending one variation of your campaign to a subset of your subscribers and a different variation to another subset of subscribers, with the ultimate goal of working out which variation of the campaign garners the best results.” — Campaign Monitor

    Here are some tips for writing good nonprofit newsletter copy:

    • Keep it crisp. Remove any extraneous wording, leaving plenty of “air” around the words.
    • Avoid using too many buzzwords.
    • Skip the professional jargon.
    • Use a lot of “you” instead of “I” and “We”, highlighting the donor.
    • Keep the language human, you don’t want to sound like a robot.
    • Skip using “help” and “reminder” – MailChimp warns that these words (along with “percent off”) can trigger spam filters or cause subscribers to simply ignore your email.
    • Make sure your language isn’t too institutional and rigid. People give to and support nonprofits for highly personal reasons.

    Pro tip: Pay attention to your sender name. If your nonprofit is well-known (like PETA or Red Cross.), you can probably get away with just using your nonprofit name as your sender name. Even then, we still recommend taking a personal approach and including the name of a real person from your organization (e.g. “Matt from PETA”).

    6. Choose a compelling subject line

    Subject lines are key to successful nonprofit newsletters. However good your copy or magnificent your design, they won’t matter unless your readers actually open your email.

    This is why subject lines matter.

    Does “Newsletter 57 – Updates and Reminders” sound appealing to you? We didn’t think so.

    A subject line should be interesting, inciting the reader sufficiently to open the email.

    Image Credit: MailerLite

    However, it shouldn’t be deceiving in any way. Never clickbait your readers. Be honest about the contents of your newsletters and stay away from sensationalism.

    Here are some tips for how to write good nonprofit newsletter subject lines:

    • Make sure it fits on a mobile device.
    • Ask a question to pique to intrigue your readers. People are curious by nature.
    • Use engaging action verbs.
    • Get creative. Capitalize on current events, holidays, or pop culture references (if this is part of your brand voice). Something like “What do Christmas trees and our volunteers have in common?”

    Pro tip: Coming up with good subject lines is a craft, so don’t worry if you’re struggling at the start. Try brainstorming by yourself or with a team to get ideas flowing. You could also note down every time you get an email and you open it immediately. Ask yourself what about that email’s subject line got you to open the email? Learn from this process.

    7. Focus on one call to action

    Now, we know this one might be challenging as you probably want to invite your audience to do all sorts of things: donate, read your blog post, volunteer, book a ticket for a gala dinner.

    However, that might not necessarily be the smartest move. If you do this, your audience’s attention might disperse so much that they end up doing nothing.

    Come back to the previously determined objective of your newsletter and then choose a call to action that will best accomplish that objective.

    Image Credit: Campaign Monitor

    Here are a few ideas for calls to action you can include in your nonprofit email newsletter:

    • Donate to a specific campaign
    • Volunteer at an event
    • Purchase a ticket to an upcoming event
    • Attend a silent auction
    • Tell a friend

    Include specific calls to action and links that make following through as simple as possible.

    For example, if the call to action is to donate, link to your donation page.

    And don’t forget about social sharing!

    After analyzing a handful of organizations, M+R associates found that email subscribers may donate up to two or three times more online revenue through non-email channels (through search, social media, or the nonprofit’s website).

    Pro tip: Your nonprofit newsletter can and doesn’t have to be an appeal for funds. You shouldn’t shy away from asking for gifts – just don’t let it be the only time you send out a newsletter to your subscribers.

    8. Shine a spotlight on your donors

    Whenever possible, your nonprofit newsletters should focus on how your donors helped you achieve whatever it is you have achieved.

    Current supporters want to read about how their involvement made a difference. Prospective supporters want to see the potential of their donation.

    Focus on telling the stories of the people you are helping, highlighting exactly what how donors helped accomplish this (e.g. “With your support of our “Clean Water for Everyone Campaign”, we managed to build 30 wells in Ethiopia”)

    • You made this possible!
    • Your support helped 10 stray animals last month.
    • Look what you made happen!
    • Thank you for being Den’s hero.

    Share a brief but impactful “before & after” story that shows what life was like for the beneficiary before your organization’s actions (powered by donors) and what their life is like now, highlighting the change. Include compelling images, ideally of a single beneficiary (and make the photographs positive).

    Image Credit: Campaign Monitor

    Remember, people give, among other things, because they want to feel good. The act of giving creates a warm glow. But, sadly, this glow doesn’t last long. So, you need to remind donors how great giving feels if you want them to keep giving.

    9. Use an email newsletter provider

    To send out your email newsletters, use an email marketing service. These services can automate many of the processes you shouldn’t be wasting time on, including newsletter design, as well as managing subscribes, unsubscribes, and bounces.

    They also help you comply with the double opt-in procedures and offer great tracking tools that would be nearly impossible for you to implement on your own. Essentially, the cost of using an email newsletter service is minimal and the benefits are huge.

    Using an e-newsletter service also automatically optimizes your newsletter for mobile, which is incredibly important.

    Most email service providers also include email marketing automation features that make it really easy to send bulk emails that are still personalized and targeted.

    Even if the case, always take a moment to view a test newsletter on your phone before you send it out to your subscribers.

    We recommend checking out Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

    Pro tip: Build audience segments and send each segment customized newsletters. While we can’t realistically send a custom newsletter to each reader, we can send a custom newsletter to each segment -- which is the next best thing. For example, donors who have volunteered with your nonprofit in the past and your major donors potentially have different interests and want to receive different information.

    10. Make the newsletters interesting and helpful

    Even the word newsletter has a bit of a bad rep, making many of us think of boring long publications filled with endless internal updates and details we don’t care about.

    Instead of thinking about creating a newsletter, think about how you can create “short stories.” Whatever your mission, as a nonprofit, you likely have many interesting, emotionally compelling stories to tell.

    It’s just that, usually, you either don’t tell them, don’t gather them, don’t store them, or don’t know how to tell them. It’s time for you to learn. Make it a priority to tell and collect stories across your entire organization. Get a storytelling training if need be.

    Finally, share information that your audience might find helpful. Add value to their lives.

    Image Credit: Charity: Water

    For example, if you’re an animal charity you could share tips on “How to Keep Your Pet Safe at Home.” If you’re a children’s nonprofit, you could share “How to Spot Signs of ADHD,” or “Tips to Reduce Children’s Screen Time,” and so forth.

    This way, you increase the chances your audience engages with your content and opens your future newsletters.

    11. Keep learning from the past

    You can't improve if you don’t know what’s working. And you can’t know what isn’t working if you don't measure. 

    Take a look at KPIs you defined earlier and check how well your newsletters are performing.

    Identify parts of the email marketing funnel that need help. Are your emails getting opened? If not, maybe you need to do more A/B testing to choose the right subject lines. 

    If your emails are getting opened, but no one is clicking your donate button, how could you change that? Maybe you need to tell different stories.

    Start recording your metrics so you can determine your benchmarks. At the start, you can use industry benchmarks.

    According to MailerLite, here are the nonprofit industry benchmarks for 2019:

    • Open rates: 27.56%
    • Click-through rates: 5.13%
    • Unsubscribe rates: 0.18%

    Over to you

    Email marketing can be an incredible tool fueling your nonprofit organization's growth and fundraising activities. Email newsletters can help you build strong, long-lasting relationships with your donors, and it can also help you raise funds.

    Let your newsletters be informative, engaging, and authentic. When you do ask for donations, lead your supporters over to your donation page.

    GiveForms can take over at this stage and help you raise funds by letting you seamlessly accept donations online. Your supporters can donate using a credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, or bank transfers. With a focus on intuitive, human-centered design, GiveForms goal is to help you increase your online donations.

    When you use GiveForms, you gain access to a plethora of nonprofit-specific benefits:

    • A customizable donation page optimized for mobile
    • Embeddable donation forms directly on your website
    • Donor dashboard to help you search, view and export your donations

    Get up and running in only 15 minutes!

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