Email marketing can do wonders for nonprofit organizations.
From spreading awareness and building relationships with subscribers to turning supporters into donors. Email marketing can help you achieve all these goals.
If you’ve never run email campaigns before, or you’ve done some but would like to ensure you’re doing it correctly, you’re in the right place.
Through this article, we’d like to help your nonprofit organization start using email marketing to its fullest potential.
Below, we’ve gathered all the best practices, tips, and nonprofit email campaign ideas to inspire your own campaigns.
Let’s start by reviewing the reasons why email marketing is valuable for nonprofits.
Table Of Contents
This article is a content collaboration between marketing experts at GetResponse – an email marketing platform and nonprofit organization tech consultants at TechSoup – a nonprofit tech marketplace.
Why is email marketing essential for nonprofit organizations?
1. Most of us have an email address
Email is easily the most popular channel of communication worldwide. It became universal because it’s cheap and accessible – almost everyone who uses the Internet has an email account and sends emails. Whether you live in Asia, Europe, Africa, or America – you can use email to communicate electronically.
2. Email is personal
Email marketing allows nonprofits to engage with their audience in a more personal way.
Nonprofits can segment their email list based on the interests and preferences of their audience and send targeted email campaigns that resonate with them.
Personalized emails with relevant content and calls-to-action can increase engagement and drive donations and other forms of support.
3. Email marketing is cost-effective
Most marketing channels are pay-to-play. Even if you’ve built an engaged audience on Facebook, the platform will limit your organic reach and force you to keep spending money on ads. This isn’t the case with email marketing.
If you’ve received someone’s permission to contact them via email, you’re almost guaranteed to reach their inbox, provided that you follow email marketing best practices.
As a result, the only thing you need to pay to run email campaigns is your email marketing service. Their price is usually based on the size of your email list, and they come with many built-in tools that’ll help you get your campaigns off the ground in moments.
Also, the number of emails you send does not impact the cost. This way, you can focus on building your list with people who are likely to become regular donors and run multiple campaigns to achieve that goal.
If you’d rather shop around, here’s a handy list of the best newsletter software, along with information on the features they offer.
4. Email provides a high return on investment
According to a recent study by DMA, the average email ROI is 38:1. This means that for every dollar you invest in email marketing, you can expect 38 dollars in return. And if you regularly run A/B tests on your emails, you can generate an even more impressive return on your investment.
That means you won’t have to worry about the price of email marketing software. Instead, you’ll be able to calculate the return on investment from the tools included in your plan, e.g., webinars, landing pages, and automated emails.
5. Measurable results
Email marketing is a highly measurable marketing channel.
In their analytics dashboards, email marketing platforms provide nonprofits with key data about their campaigns’ performance. This includes metrics such as opens, clicks, conversion rates, and sales revenue.
Equipped with this data, nonprofits can refine their messaging, identify key audience segments, and optimize their campaigns for better results.
Most important email marketing tools for non-profits
The key email marketing tools that help nonprofits plan and implement their email marketing strategy are:
Email marketing platform
Professional email newsletter software tools empower your marketing team to build relationships with supporters and grow your donor base. Marketers can create great-looking emails with an intuitive drag-and-drop editor and even AI-generative tools.
Collect valuable information about subscribers and create contact segments using tags and custom fields. For example, by dividing the contact list into separate email segments like subscribers, supporters, one-off donors, and regular donors, you can turn your email marketing tool into a donor management platform.
Email marketing platforms also provide a high delivery rate and make sure that your campaigns avoid the spam folder.
Forms and popups
A subscription form is a form located on a website or blog where the users can fill in the fields with their data to receive emails on topics related to your nonprofit. The primary goal of the subscription form is opting-in supporters to your mailing list.
You can either use an embedded signup form – a form that’s part of your website’s layout – or a popup – a small window that appears on top of your page.
A landing page is a simple website with a clear call to action. You can use drag and drop editor to create effective fundraising landing pages. Give people a reason to donate by demonstrating the impact of their contributions.
You can also use landing pages to share stories of real people impacted by your projects with different audiences. Add subscription forms to these pages and grow your potential donor base. Always present the benefits of signing up for your newsletter, e.g., that you’ll inform donors how their money is spent and what impact it has on the cause.
Webinars are definitely among the most effective email marketing tools. You can use webinars to get new email subscribers by discussing interesting topics or donors by running live fundraising events. Webinars should be a part of your email strategy: once potential donors register for your webinar, you can send them email sequences before and after the event.
A handy feature you should consider are on-demand webinars. You can record live events and turn them into pre-recorded events people can watch at their convenience.
Facebook Ads and Google Ads can greatly support email marketing for nonprofits. You can allocate budget to get in front of new audiences, build your email list, and find new donors. Also, if you connect your Facebook Pixel with email marketing software, you can run retargeting ads to bring subscribers back to your page.
Having a dedicated website for your nonprofit organization can really set things in motion. A website provides a true base of operations for all of your online endeavors. If you’re looking for a nonprofit website builder, try GetResponse’s Website Builder. It’s absolutely free to get started, and we provide a 50% discount on paid plans for organizations that require more capabilities.
How to start with email marketing in a non-profit?
Great email results start with great planning. Write down your goals and develop a nonprofit email marketing strategy that will use emails to send the right information to the right people at the right time. And what’s even more important, ensure your audience knows what to do with the information they receive.
Follow these steps to prepare your nonprofit email marketing strategy for success.
Step 1. Build your email list
Inform your target audience about the benefits of joining your email list. Again, focus on action: will they be able to review the results of completed projects, share their opinion on key topics, donate money, or support your cause in a different way? Make sure people know why they should subscribe.
Step 2. Get to know your audience
Email is not only about providing your contacts with information. For quite some time now, it allows you to get to know the people on your list. You can design two-way communication and ask your contacts for their information needs and preferences. When you know what your audience is about, you can create content they’ll engage with.
Step 3. Build awareness about your cause
Share your mission, goals, and projects with the target audience. Make sure everybody knows what your organization is about and how to join the cause.
Step 4. Keep your audience informed
lead by example. If you call for action, show that you’re all about action yourself. Share project statuses and provide a summary with key information once they’re completed. Being transparent about your projects provides context for great content ideas and helps your organization gain credibility.
Step 5. Collect donations
invite contacts to support your non-profit financially. You can A/B test campaigns for one-off and recurring donations and quickly discover the most effective messaging and incentives.
Step 6. Segment your audience
collect information about your contacts and group them based on their interests (e.g., favorite projects, events, content), email engagement, and their position in the funnel (contact, one-time donor, regular donor, etc.)
Proper contact list segmentation has a huge impact on all performance metrics of your email marketing. Emails tailored to individual contact segments have several times higher open and click-through rates compared to email blasts send to everyone on the list.
Step 7. Make sure your content’s top level
Ensure your content bridges the gap between your organizational goals and your audience’s information needs. Figure out what information people need to support your organization actively. Create guidelines for your content so that you can maintain quality over time.
Step 8. Stay compliant
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is Europe’s current privacy law. Adopted in April 2016, it replaces the 1995 Data Protection Directive – and marks the biggest change in data protection in 20 years.
You need to comply with the GDPR when:
- your organization is based in the European Union (EU),
- you process the personal data of individuals in the EU.
If you use GetResponse, your organization can rest easy knowing that your – and your contact’s – data is safe, secure, and actively protected.
For more information regarding GDPR compliance, read the GetResponse Earns Official Declaration of GDPR Compliance blog.
Email marketing best practices for non-profits
Below you’ll find tried and tested ways to use emails and email series to turn contacts (your email readers) into regular donors. These ideas will help you kick off the most important aspects of email marketing. Once you start, you can benchmark email results against your previous experience and improve with both the tools and messages.
1. Create newsletter templates
A well-designed newsletter template is extremely important for email marketing success, and here’s a case study with TechSoup Polska that proves it: 1200% increase of orders value from a newsletter over a year.
There are many aspects to take under consideration when designing email templates. If you are thinking about designing your first email, it’s a good idea to use one of the pre-designed templates and customize it to your needs.
Take a look at the rules that TechSoup Polska follows while creating their newsletters:
Structure. We divide our content into sections to facilitate information comprehension.
Consistency. We always use brand colors and utilize similar graphic elements.
Clarity. We strive to keep our newsletters clean and not overloaded with content.
Adjusting messages to the target group. We direct specific content to selected recipient groups (e.g. we inform users of Google for Nonprofits about Google Ad Grants training).
Here are a few pieces of advice from Liza Nema, Project Coordinator at TechSoup Polska, on how to prepare a professional newsletter template:
- Think about what kind of content you’ll be sending to your recipients.
- Choose a template.
- Customize the template according to your needs – use email editor to change the colors to be in line with your brand, add logos and other graphic elements.
- Add a call-to-action so that your recipients can perform the desired action: donate money, sign up for an event, etc.
- Before you send your newsletter, check its preview for desktop and mobile devices. Make sure your campaigns both look and work great.
- Analyze statistics and modify your content based on that data. Check your best-performing campaigns and choose a benchmark email for further campaigns.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s good to refresh your templates every now and then and remember to maintain your fundamental brand graphic elements.
If you’re looking for in-depth information on how to design great email marketing templates, you’ll enjoy the Email Design Best Practices for 2022 article, where Michael covers all the elements of an email in detail.
2. Automate email marketing communication
Once your newsletter template is ready, you can start automating your communication. You can use conditions, filters, and actions to build automation workflows – automated communication flows.
The goal is to use automation to build relationships with the people on your contact list and help them make the right decisions. You can communicate with your audience with great precision using data stored in your account. You can:
- Create automation events based on users’ behavior
- Take action based on selected conditions
- Use filters for even more precise targeting
Automation allows you to deliver personalized marketing experiences. You can track and rate customers’ actions to create custom segments based on specific data and criteria. This way, you can send personalized and relevant emails to your audience.
Once you automate your communication, you can track performance, learn from your experience and optimize the process. And most importantly, you save time and resources for other projects.
Here’s a great case study showing how an ecommerce selling artisanal coffee uses automation to educate new contacts: 54% of sales thanks to the educational campaign.
The campaign was carried out according to the Learn -> Like -> Trust -> Buy flow. As a non-profit, you can easily adapt this methodology and convert it to Learn -> Like -> Trust -> Donate.
3. Observe the results of your email marketing campaigns
There are multiple factors that contribute to effective email marketing communication. Pay attention to your online marketing statistics and use data to make better decisions.
When it comes to individual emails, pay attention to engagement – a measure of how people interact with your emails. The most popular engagement metrics are:
- Open Rate: the percentage of contacts who open a specific email out of your total number of subscribers.
- Click-through rate: the percentage of contacts who clicked on a hyperlink, CTA, or image within a particular email.
- Conversion rate: the percentage of contacts who complete a goal expressed by the call to action.
- Unsubscribe rate: the percentage of contacts who have opted out from the mailing list after an email campaign.
Engagement is also critical to deliverability – the ability to deliver emails to subscribers’ inboxes. That’s another reason to constantly search for the best possible content for your audience. And data can help you with that.
If you’d like to compare your results against industry benchmarks, here’s the Email Marketing Benchmarks report offering loads of useful insights into emails, marketing automation, landing pages, and webinars.
4. Find bottlenecks and improve email marketing performance
It’s not possible to create a perfect email marketing program or campaign. There’s always room for improvement. That’s why in your career, you’ll see some great, average, and rather poor results. And it’s perfectly OK as long as you keep learning from your experience and keep on testing new ideas.
The most common issues you observe at the beginning are:
Slow email list growth. Building a list organically with the target audience takes time. But it doesn’t mean that you should sit and wait. Actually, there’s much you can do to speed up the list-building process. You can:
- add a pop-up form to your website: pop-up forms are hard to miss, and if you explain why joining your email list is a good idea, you can expect a high conversion rate.
- run a competition: competition can be both a sign-up incentive and an idea to engage with your audience.
- write a blog post: write about your organization, highlighting one of your key projects. Add a sign-up form or a link to your sign-up page.
- add an opt-in link to your email signature: I’m sure you send a lot of emails every month. Make sure your recipients know they can sign-up for a newsletter.
- find partnerships: find people and organizations with a similar target audience and offer them guest posts and joint email campaigns. A strong network of partnerships is incredibly valuable.
- run a webinar: webinars are a great way to build a solid contact list. Do the research and choose a topic that is interesting for your target audience. Run promotional campaigns and invite people to register. Webinars are also perfect for content partnerships. Team up with other organizations to get in front of their audience.
The following three KPIs might relate to contact engagement. The key to a high engagement rate is relevance. That’s why segmentation is so important. If you group contacts based on their information needs and preferences, you’ll be able to plan and send communication they will engage with.
Low open rate. People are likely to open emails with the information they find valuable. Make sure that the three elements visible in the inbox before opening an email represent the contents of the message. The three elements are:
- sender: make sure people know that the email comes from a reputable sender – you
- subject line: spark interest, draw attention but refer to the contents of the email
- preheader: use this extra space to explain or expand on the subject line
Low click-through rate. Make sure your emails are mobile-friendly. Your call to action should be clear and easy to follow. You can run A/B tests to find out what content and messaging engages your audience most.
Low conversion rate. When you see that people open your emails and click the provided links but don’t do the action you were hoping for (e.g. don’t register for live events, don’t donate) you should take a step back and look carefully at your value proposition and audience.
First, clearly explain the goals of your organization and the ways you’re going to achieve them. Then put your message in front of the right crowd – look for people who are likely to support your cause. Send the right message to the right people and simplify the donation process – so that it’s quick and easy.
Note: You’ll also want to ensure your email list is hygienic and well maintained. To learn more about this, read our email list management guide.
Inspiring examples of nonprofit emails
There’s no better source of inspiration than a great email from your industry. And boy, are there many great emails sent by non-profit organizations! Once again, we teamed up with Liza to show you a few inspiring examples from our inboxes:
Nonprofit email marketing example 1: Kiva
What is this email campaign about?
Kiva is a nonprofit organization that lets you easily loan money to people that cannot get a loan from a bank.
This campaign provides a summary of their campaigns in 2020, highlighting how many people supported them, how much money they’ve donated, and how many loans they’ve made.
What’s so go about this email campaign?
After getting the recipients excited about how much impact they’re making, the email leads you to a single CTA, letting you lend money immediately.
This is a great tactic that can help nonprofit organizations engage their audience better and gather more donations from their supporters.
Nonprofit email marketing example 2: Kiva
What is this email campaign about?
This email campaign tells the story of one of many people whose life changed after they received a loan from Kiva.
What’s so go about this email campaign?
Sometimes it’s hard to get your donors engaged in your cause. What can help is sharing a relatable story that shows the real impact a single donation can make.
In this email campaign, Kiva not only shows an example of a person whose life changed after they received a loan but also suggests which loans are about to expire.
This is a great tactic that can drive fast responses from people who may otherwise hesitate to take action.
Nonprofit email marketing example 3: Movember
What is this email campaign about?
Movember is the leading charity changing the face of men’s health globally, focusing on mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer.
This email campaign shares the mission and progresses the Movember foundation made so far before World Cancer Day.
What’s so go about this email campaign?
With this email, Movember manages to drive awareness among people who might not otherwise know the brand’s mission. What’s worth noting is that they’re doing this around World Cancer Day, which takes place in February, rather than November that’s typically associated with the charity.
Nonprofit email marketing example 4: Movember
What is this email campaign about?
This email shows a summary of all the groundbreaking research and health projects that were funded by people supporting the Movember cause.
What’s so go about this email campaign?
There’s no better way to get your supporters and donors engaged than to show them they’re making a real impact by joining your cause. This email does it well. Not only is informative but also very well-designed. In addition, the email ends with one primary CTA – make a $50 donation – that’s hard to miss or ignore.
Back to you
In conclusion, email marketing can be a powerful tool for nonprofit organizations to reach their target audience, promote their mission, and drive donations. By following the best practices outlined in this article, you can create effective email campaigns that resonate with your subscribers and achieve your organization’s goals.
Remember to keep your emails personalized, engaging, and visually appealing, and don’t forget to track your metrics to optimize your campaigns continually.
Finally, keep in mind that building a strong email list takes time and effort, so be patient and persistent in your efforts. With the right strategy and tools, email marketing can be a valuable asset for your nonprofit organization and help you make a meaningful impact on the world.
Pro tip 💡 Are you ready to start your own campaigns? Be sure to check out the discount for email marketing services for nonprofit organizations, and see you in our inboxes!
This article was last updated in March 2023.