Nonprofit Email Newsletters: 28+ Simple (and Effective) Tips

What is a nonprofit email newsletter?

A nonprofit email newsletter is a communication tool that informs subscribers about your organization; it tells them what you have been up to, and it helps you build a unique relationship with them.

It’s also a way to promote your latest fundraising efforts.

In fact, more online donations are made through a click in an email newsletter than any other source.

An email newsletter is NOT:

Your print newsletter copied into an email.
An email asking readers to download a PDF.
A PDF you send attached to an email message.
An email asking readers to read your newsletter on your website.

The Fundamentals of Nonprofit Email Newsletters

Use an Email Service Provider

What is it?

If you’re trying to put out a newsletter for hundreds or thousands of people every week or every month, you’ll need an ESP, an email service provider. You can’t use your personal email to send out newsletters.

Why should you use it?

ESPs will allow your nonprofit to send out as many newsletters as you need without tipping off spam filters. You’ll also have access to interesting templates and tools like A/B testing.

How do you use it?

Look online for ESPs that meet your organization’s criteria. Some are free, while others charge a nominal fee. Generally, the more email addresses you have in your mailing list, the more expensive an ESP will be.

The bottom line: Having an email service provider will allow your nonprofit to reach more constituents and perfect your newsletters. 

A mobile donor views a nonprofit email newsletter on a phone.

An example of a nonprofit email newsletter on a mobile phone.

A tablet user views a nonprofit email newsletter.

Build a permission-based mailing list

What is it?

A permission-based mailing list means that your subscribers have to “opt in” at least once. The most common kind of opting in is simply signing up either online or via a physical sign-up sheet. The second opt-in generally involves confirming subscription via email.

Why should you use it?

If you want to build a large mailing list quickly, stick with single opt-in. But if you want to ensure that those subscribers are real and not robots, use a double opt-in mailing list. Opting in twice means everyone wants to be a part of your list.

How do you use it?

With whichever email service provider you choose, there should be a way to customize how you set up your mailing list. You can also try passing around a sign-up sheet at your next event or meeting. The first works best with double opt-in.

The bottom line: Creating a double opt-in mailing list will ensure that you have the highest quality subscribers.

Segment your mailing list by subscription date

What is it?

Your newsletter will likely be taking on new members quite frequently. As you do, it’s important to keep track of when they joined so that you can more effectively cater to them individually.

Why should you use it?

The most recent supporters aren’t going to want the same types of content that those who have been with you for years want. That’s why it’s crucial that you segment your list by date of subscription.

How do you use it?

Most email service providers allow nonprofits to segment their mailing lists automatically. There are dozens of ways you can slice and dice your list, but by date is the easiest and the most sensible.

The bottom line: Segmenting your list by subscription date ensures that everyone feels as though the content were created just for them.

Publish your email newsletter monthly

What is it?

In answer to the question, “When should I send out a newsletter?” the simplest answer is, “Once a month.” Publishing monthly ensures that you’ll have enough content to share, and you won’t be sharing too often.

Why should you use it?

Sticking to a monthly publication schedule means that your subscribers always know when to expect your email. Beyond that, having a schedule takes the guesswork out of sending for your nonprofit.

How do you use it?

Whether it’s the first of the month or the last, setting your monthly schedule is entirely up to you. Pick a day of the month that makes the most sense for your organization and stick with it! Consistency is key.

The bottom line: Adhering to a publication schedule will not only appease your readers, but it will also make your life more simple.

Incorporate newsletters into your nonprofit’s editorial calendar

What is it?

Your nonprofit likely has an editorial calendar that you use to plan your other communications. Adding your newsletter to this docket means keeping your themes and messages consistent across the board.

Why should you use it?

Once again, consistency is an important factor when it comes to creating an email newsletter. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why keeping your newsletter in line with your editorial calendar is crucial.

How do you use it?

When you’re updating your editorial calendar, be sure to keep your email newsletter in mind so that you can create fresh, interesting content around the same themes as your other communications.

The bottom line: Adding your newsletter to your editorial calendar will help keep your messages in line across all communications.

Add a Way to Opt Out

What is it?

There should always be an easy way for a subscriber to opt out. Whether it’s an “Unsubscribe” button or a quick email and response, it’s a necessary measure.

Why should you use it?

The last thing you want is for subscribers to unhappily mark your newsletter as “Spam.” It’s also required by law to incorporate a way to opt out.

How do you use it?

Much in the same way you can customize your opt-ins, you can also intuitively program your email newsletter’s opt-outs.

The bottom line: Letting subscribers opt out easily will keep them happy and keep your mailing list clean.

Keep track of unique open rates

What is it?

Unique opens are slightly different than total opens, which are what most email software measures. The difference is, unique opens don’t count the number of times that a single person opened your newsletter. It’s therefore the truest indicator of whether your content is eye-catching enough to entice readers to open it.

Why should you use it?

There are dozens of email metrics that your nonprofit could and should be looking into. But unique opens will give you a good indication of the general first impression your letters give. If you notice fewer and fewer people open your newsletter, you know it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

How do you use it?

Most email service providers should give you some automatic insight into your unique open rates. If not, you can calculate your rate by dividing the number of unique opens by the number of delivered messages multiplied by 100. A fairly standard unique open rate is somewhere between 15% and 30%.

The bottom line: Tracking your unique open rate will help your nonprofit figure out just how many of your subscribers are actively opening your messages.

Learn more about how @Pay can help you raise more with a fundraising thermometer money today.

Tips and Advice for Content Crafting

Feature a “Welcome” newsletter

What is it?

Your newest supporters are vitally important. Show them they matter with a personalized, enthusiastic, and grateful welcome newsletter. Be sure to use their name and thank them for supporting your nonprofit.

Why should you use it?

One of the best things you can do to retain a readership is to make new subscribers feel like they’re a part of something greater than themselves. Welcome newsletters achieve this feat.

How do you use it?

Because you will have already segmented your readership by subscription date, it should be easy to send out a warm and friendly welcome newsletter every time a new reader comes on board.

The bottom line: Sending out a welcome newsletter will not only make new readers feel appreciated, but it will also inspire them to continue their support.

A mobile donor checks out their welcome newsletter from their favorite nonprofit.

An example of a nonprofit email welcome newsletter.

A mobile donor confirming a donation in their mobile email inbox after reading a welcome email newsletter.

Build an audience profile based on giving habits

What is it?

If you keep an updated donor database, you likely have past giving information on most, if not all, of your subscribers. Look to the info you have in your nonprofit CRM to build an audience profile in order to cater to them more fully.

Why should you use it?

If you don’t know the kinds of supporters you’re reaching out to, you may be missing out. You might be talking mainly to volunteers and small gift donors who want to know how they can give their time more so than their money.

How do you use it?

Building a profile will take looking at all of the data you have for each of your constituents. From there, you can take a step back to see the more holistic picture that it paints about who your audience really is and what they want.

The bottom line: Building an audience profile will ensure that you’re delivering the kinds of content that your readers most want.

Highlight supporters’ accomplishments over your own

What is it?

We’ve all read newsletters that taut the accomplishments of the nonprofit and never once mention the donors. Don’t fall into this trap, or you may find your unsubscribe rate rising.

Why should you use it?

Your supporters want to read about how they can help and how their involvement shapes your organization. Emphasizing their accomplishments over your own guarantees they’ll remain interested.

How do you use it?

Make sure that you’re using more “you’s” than you are “I’s” or “we’s.” And don’t hesitate to shine the spotlight on at least one new supporter a month to keep donors personally engaged.

The bottom line: Giving credit where credit is due will not only make your donors feel appreciated, but it will also make your organization stronger.

Pick an objective for your newsletter

What is it?

Picking an underlying objective for your newsletter means deciding its true purpose. Is it to inform readers of upcoming events? Is it to show progress around your cause? The answer is up to you.

Why should you use it?

If you’re not sure of the purpose behind your publication, you can bet that your readers won’t be either. Deciding on an intent for your newsletter will keep you and your subscribers all on the same page.

How do you use it?

There are so many objectives to choose from, but it boils down to: “Why are we sending this newsletter out?” The answer to that question is your nonprofit’s true objective.

The bottom line: Picking and sticking to an objective will give your readers a reason to open your email newsletter every time you send it out.

Be honest about the contents of your email

What is it?

Few things are worse than being tricked into opening an email. Don’t clickbait your readers. Be honest about the contents of your newsletters. It’s always better to be truthful than sensational.

Why should you use it?

You may see an increase in open rates if you lead readers to open your newsletters with “unbelievable” headlines. But you’ll see that number drastically drop as subscribers realize you can’t keep your promises.

How do you use it?

It’s easy to tell the truth and still be interesting. Your work is important. If you convey that in an honest way, your subscribers will ultimately appreciate your dependability.

The bottom line: Consistently telling the truth about the contents of your newsletter will instill a sense of trust in your readership.

Visualize one reader when you’re writing

What is it?

You may have a readership of over 30,000 donors. But they don’t need to know that. When you’re crafting your content, pretend that you’re writing personally to just one of them.

Why should you use it?

There’s nothing better than reading a message that feels as though it were written just for you. Help all of your readers feel this way by crafting your content with each one of them in mind as an individual.

How do you use it?

You don’t have to write 30,000 individual emails if you simply treat the main newsletter you send out as though you were one nonprofit professional reaching out to one avid supporter.

The bottom line: Writing from an honest, personal perspective will help your newsletter connect better with each of its readers.

Limit stories and calls-to-action to 5 or fewer

What is it?

You may have a lot of news to share, but chances are, your readers are incredibly busy (almost as busy as you are!). Keeping your stories and calls-to-action down to 5 or fewer ensures that they’ll have time to read everything you write.

Why should you use it?

Limiting the number of stories you share and the amount of calls-to-action you place in a newsletter will help your nonprofit more evenly distribute great content, and it’ll allow readers to digest the bulk of each newsletter more readily.

How do you use it?

Carefully prioritize which pieces of content you want to share each month. Also make sure that the calls-to-action that you include are relevant and easy to follow for all of your readers. Line each of your stories up ahead of time with your editorial calendar.

The bottom line: Including only the most pertinent stories and calls-to-action will keep your newsletter fresh, interesting, and easily digestible.

Learn more about how @Pay can help you raise more with a fundraising thermometer money today.

Formatting Your Email Newsletter

Check that your email is mobile-responsive

What is it?

You spend a great deal of your time creating an email that looks great on a laptop or desktop. But have you ever taken a moment to examine the way it appears on a phone? Before you send out your next newsletter, you absolutely should.

Why should you use it?

Believe it or not, more than 60% of your email newsletter subscribers will be opening your messages on their mobile devices. Don’t you want donors to be able to view them as splendidly as they could on their home computers?

How do you use it?

There are some email service providers that let you customize your newsletter specifically for mobile. Whether or not that’s the case, you can always take a moment to view a test newsletter on your phone before you send it out to your subscribers.

The bottom line: Checking whether your email newsletter loads well on a phone will help more than half of your readers have a better experience with it overall.

Monthly donors end up giving 42% more in one year than one-time donors do.

A mobile email newsletter subscriber reads the nonprofit email newsletter on her phone.

In the past year, mobile giving donations have increased 205%.

Craft headlines that are less than 49 characters long

What is it?

Craft your email newsletter headlines with the adage, “Brevity is the soul of wit” in mind. In essence, the shorter, the better. 49 characters (not words) is the ideal length for most subject lines.

Why should you use it?

Studies have shown that the ideal length for a subject line is roughly 49 characters long. If you adhere to this standard, the entirety of your subject will show up in your readers’ preview pane.

How do you use it?

Keep a count of the number of characters and words that you include in each subject line. If you exceed 49, look for areas to cut. If you’re not quite at 49, be sure to add a little more substance.

The bottom line: Keeping your subject lines at around 49 characters will increase engagement with your newsletter across the board.

Experiment with A/B testing different subject lines

What is it?

A/B testing, also known as “split testing” compares two versions of an email newsletter or subject line to see which one objectively performs better.

Why should you use it?

In order to figure out the best way to display your content and get readers interested in clicking on your email, it’s important to perform split testing.

How do you use it?

There should be a way to perform A/B testing built into your email service. If not, you could try conducting a test within your organization to gauge responses.

The bottom line: Performing A/B testing ensures that you put out the best possible version of your newsletter from subject line to layout.

Put a real name in the “From” field

What is it?

Many nonprofits make the mistake of not putting a real name in the “From” field. Instead, they’ll put their organization’s name, or worse yet, no name at all!

Why should you use it?

Just like writing as though you’re one person talking to another makes readers feel invested, so does having a real person’s name in the “From” field.

How do you use it?

Use a familiar name like “Joe Smith, President of Charity” to appear whenever your organization sends out an email newsletter.

The bottom line: Putting a real name in the “From” field increases the chances that readers will respond to your newsletter.

Make your newsletter easily scannable

What is it?

By adding eye-catching headlines and subheadings, and breaking text up into small chunks, you can create a more easily-readable newsletter for your subscribers.

Why should you use it?

The more easily scannable your newsletter is, the more likely it is that your subscribers will take the time and effort to read it.

How do you use it?

Break your content up as much as possible and be sure to make separations between articles unmistakably clear.

The bottom line: Formatting your newsletter so that it’s easily scannable invites your subscribers to stay longer and read more.

Limit exclamation points and CAPS

What is it?

It’s easy to think that peppering your newsletter with a lot of enthusiastic CAPS and exclamation points will make you stand out. The truth is, you should be saving that kind of emphasis for the points that really matter.

Why should you use it?

If you save the emphatic formatting for the points that matter, your statements will be more impactful. Plus, you’ll be taken more seriously by your readers if you’re not figuratively screaming at them all the time.

How do you use it?

Use exclamation points sparingly and limit your capitalization to the bare minimum. Of course, you can still use both of these tactics; just be sure to do so in moderation.

The bottom line: Keeping your exclamation points and emphatic capitalization to a minimum sends the right message to your readers in the end.

Make the next step as easy as possible

What is it?

Whether you’re wanting subscribers to donate to your cause, click “Like” on Facebook, or check out your website, you’ll want to make that next step as clear and convenient as possible.

Why should you use it?

It only makes sense that if you want someone to do something, you should make it as simple and intuitive as you can. If it isn’t easy, fewer readers will go to the trouble.

How do you use it?

Depending on what it is you want them to do, you’ll have to take different measures. If you want them to donate, include an easy-to-use donation button, for instance.

The bottom line: Making whatever next step you want readers to take simple increases the likelihood that they’ll follow through.

Learn more about how @Pay can help you raise more with a fundraising thermometer money today.

Extras to Include in Your Nonprofit Email Newsletter

Integrate an email donation button

What is it?

An email donation button looks just like the image below. It’s a small feature that allows your donors to give to your organization without ever leaving their email inboxes.

Why should you use it?

Adding an email donation button to each newsletter your nonprofit sends out significantly increases the chances that a subscriber will donate to your cause on the spot.

How do you use it?

Invest in mobile fundraising software that allows you to incorporate email donation buttons that are quick and easy to use for both your readers and your organization.

The bottom line: Incorporating an email donation button into your newsletter will drive donations up considerably.

A mobile donor chooses to give via email donation button after being prompted by a nonprofit email newsletter.

A number of different options for email donation buttons in a nonprofit email newsletter.

A mobile donor receives an automatic donation receipt after giving via email donation button in a nonprofit email newsletter.

Include info about texting to give

What is it?

In addition to giving readers the option to donate through a button, you might also consider including your nonprofit’s text-to-give number and a brief description for how to give that way.

Why should you use it?

Providing your subscribers with more than one way to give back allows them the freedom to choose their involvement. Perhaps it’s easier for some donors to text in their gifts on the go.

How do you use it?

All you really have to do is add a quick foreword or addendum to your newsletters with information on how to contact your organization as well as how to donate via text message.

The bottom line: Adding your text-to-give number to your nonprofit’s email newsletter allows your subscribers to select the way they’d like to give.

Add social sharing options

What is it?

Adding social sharing options means providing your newsletter’s subscribers with the opportunity to tweet, Facebook post, and/or Instagram the contents of your newsletter.

Why should you use it?

The majority of your newsletter’s readers are on at least one form of social media. Letting them share your content on their favorite sites means greater exposure for your organization in the end.

How do you use it?

There are many ESPs that will allow you to embed social sharing buttons. If yours doesn’t, you can always insert a quick link or two to your nonprofit’s pages at the bottom of the newsletter.

The bottom line: Embedding social sharing buttons in your emails increases the likelihood that your supporters will spread the word about your organization.

Make the top of your newsletter the most compelling part

What is it?

You want to make your newsletter as captivating as possible throughout, but the best place to focus those efforts is a place that’s referred to as “above the fold.” Concentrate on the top half of your newsletter first.

Why should you use it?

The first thing most people will see when they check their inboxes is a little snippet of your newsletter. You’ll want to be sure that you’re including content that’s eye-catching to keep readers interested.

How do you use it?

When you’re writing, begin with this question, “Most people will judge our nonprofit based on the top of the newsletter. Is this the message we want to send?” Use the answer to make your editorial decisions.

The bottom line: Pushing your best content to the top is bound to draw the most readers into checking out the rest of your content.

Experiment with video clips and sound clips

What is it?

Embedding video clips and sound clips that are relevant to your cause is a great way to enhance your email newsletters and set them apart from the rest.

Why should you use it?

Because people are more inclined to engage with video and sound, adding either one on occasion can have a positive effect on your click-through rate.

How do you use it?

You can easily include a link to whichever sound bite, podcast, or video clip you want to highlight in the body of your email newsletter.

The bottom line: Incorporating videos and sound bites every now and then will drive engagement and add excitement to your newsletter.

Capitalize on the power of a single image

What is it?

Add just one image that truly captures the essence of what you’re trying to say in your newsletter, and it can be infinitely more impactful than an array of lesser images and words.

Why should you use it?

A picture is worth a thousand words. Not only that, but people process images 60,000 times faster than they process words. If that’s not a compelling argument for images, there isn’t one.

How do you use it?

Choose a beautiful, meaningful photograph that speaks to the truth and purpose of your organization. Incorporate it near or at the top of your newsletter for the greatest effect.

The bottom line: Using a single, powerful image to convey your intentions can have a lasting impression on the minds of your readers.

Link out to relevant content

What is it?

Provide the best experience for your readers by linking to articles that you’ve published on your site or that you’ve found interesting on other sites.

Why should you use it?

Giving your readers more options to explore relevant stories will ultimately make them more informed supporters of your cause.

How do you use it?

Always be on the lookout for fresh content that’s pertinent to your organization. When you find it, just pop in a link in your newsletter!

The bottom line: Including links to great content will only enhance your newsletter and your readers’ experience.

Learn more about how @Pay can help you raise more with a fundraising thermometer money today.