The 7 Deadly Sins of Fundraising Emails
I get a lot of fundraising email. Probably 5 or 6 emails a day. Some of it is great but a lot of it really isn't.
I've noticed 7 easy-to-fix problems in these emails - fix them and your emails will work better and raise you more money.
In no particular order:
- No personalization. By this I mean there is no "Dear Glenn" at the beginning. This is the basic minimum of personalization you should be doing. Unless you've got a really good reason – and it better be a really, really good reason. It's good manners, and will almost certainly increase your response rates.
Here are links to information on exactly how to add personalization to your emails for some of the email services you may use:
Of course, personalization can go way beyond simply using my name in an email. You might refer to my last gift, or the last action I took, or some preference of mine. There are all sorts of possibilities.
- You write about you more than you write about me. You might think I'm just being self-centred here, but I do have a real point. Your fundraising appeals will work better if you focus on the person who is reading the appeal. What will giving to your organization do for them? How will it make them feel? What will they have accomplished?
As an example, I often read emails that say something like "Please donate to us so that we can take action to end the suffering of animals on fur farms." You could rewrite it like this: "Donate now and take action to end the suffering of animals on fur farms." Now the reader is included in the action and the ask is more compelling. Long-time fundraiser and copywriter Harvey McKinnon (who I happen to work for) says that the "you"s in a letter should outnumber the "we"s and "our"s. And his letters have raised millions of dollars for all kinds of charities. For some nice copywriting tips, check out this article on SOFII.
- Hiding or neglecting the ask.
The "ask" is a bit of jargon that means the part of the letter where you ask me for money. Something like "please donate now."
Sometimes I get fundraising emails that I know are intended to raise money, but for some reason the writer never asked me for money. Or, if she did, it was ever so soft, as if she was embarrassed and didn't want to bother me too much. Do you ever do that? Worry so much that you are going to offend your donors by asking them for money that you avoid it?
Instead, ask for money at the beginning of the email. Have a donation button, but still ask me to make a donation in the text of the email. Then repeat it later on. Make it nice and include urgency, but make sure it's there.
- You give me too much information. I understand that there are about three hundred reasons why I should get out my credit card and make a donation right this second to your organization. But if you tell me all three hundred chances are I won't make that donation. And it's not just me. There's something about the human brain that can't handle choice or complexity very well. And by bombarding my poor brain with so many reasons you've simply overwhelmed it and I've clicked "delete."
The book Switch includes a lot of information about how our brains make decisions and what you can do to change behaviour. Like my delete-clicking instead of donating.
- There is no story and no emotion. You might not think this is important, and you wouldn't be alone. There are some people out there who feel that nothing is as convincing as a good rational argument and that facts (a nice steady stream of them) are of primary importance. Unfortunately, most people aren't like that. And by most people I mean most of the people out there who are reading your email. If you really hope to engage them and inspire them to make a gift, use a compelling story that affects them emotionally.
There is quite a bit of information about this in Switch, but you might also want to take a look at "Nicholas Kristoff's Advice for Saving the World" – an excellent article that examines how we respond to the stories of single individuals versus groups.
- There is no personal connection. As fundraiser Alan Sharpe says, (I'm paraphrasing) an fundraising email is a communication from one person to another person. One individual to one individual. It is not a piece of institutional mail.
It is ok to refer to yourself. I want to know that there's a real person on the other side speaking to me.
- The email isn't signed, or it's signed by a group. This is sort of a continuation of the last point, but if you're taking the time to write to me, at least add your name at the bottom. And if you are writing in the first person, sign with one name. I really don't believe that the whole organization wrote the email.
I'm really only talking here about particular emails. How often you send emails and how you track them and learn from your results are also factors that will affect how well they do. If you have fantastic subject lines but send almost the same email out every time, your open and response rates are likely to be terrible.
As always, I might be wrong. Have you tested any of these and found that your results contradict what I've said? Please let me know!