How To Write High Conversion Emails Your Donors Actually Love To Read

Ethos Consulting Group

Ever wonder why your beautiful, heartfelt and articulate email got depressing open rates?

Or why those who did read them failed to click the link to give?

Today, we’re gonna tackle an issue a lot of nonprofits struggle with.

Writing that freaking donor email.

Because chances are you really love your nonprofit…and you want everyone else to love it just as much as you do. So you sit down and start punching away keys, telling them ALL the reasons why your cause is just so, so amazing. 

And it is. It really is.

That’s why the words and stories you choose to share are the life and death of your emails.

So are the people you tell them to.

Now, I’m not gonna lie. I, too, have written some pretty snoozey emails…(Whaaaat. Why are you even reading this?!)

But here’s the thing.

You can turn it all around. No matter where you are in your nonprofit journey, you can take ownership of your communication and write better stories.

Here are 6 tips to help you boost conversion rates―and make donors fall in love with you all over again.

#1 Keep your tone consistent, personal, and human.

You are human…I hope. So are your readers.

Stiff, impersonal language is a sure way to send bored fingers straight to their Amazon carts.

Not your donate button.

So until Alexa discovers a way to write emails, your tone needs to sound like another human being to your audience. (No, Amazon did not sponsor this article.)

By now you might have noticed my tone is a bit casual. Ok, it’s a LOT casual. I do this not to annoy you, but to demonstrate a point.

Personality matters.

You don’t have to be casual or sound like me. In fact, you should not sound like me.

Your nonprofit needs to have a consistent and defined personality to build trust and reliability across your communications. But no matter what that personality is, this voice should be relatable and human―one that cares deeply about its community.

Use words you would use in everyday life that won’t send readers to the dictionary. In school, you were probably taught not to use contractions if you wanted your essay to be well-written. 

Well, we’re not writing essays. We’re writing emails.

Don’t shy away from contractions to sound professional or academic. Contractions are a quick fix to make your sentences less robotic and easier to read.

#2 Don’t always talk about yourself.

I know. It’s hard. You have so much you think your donors should know right now.

And you want to tell them everything.

It’s easy to slip into a pattern of communication with a heavy focus on your achievements and challenges―rather than thinking about what the donor wants or needs to hear.

The thing is, donors are customers. They may not be buying a product, but they’re buying into your vision of the world. And they need to be invited into the story.

In case you’re thinking, well, we already do that―this goes beyond talking about their money and what they can do with it. (More on that in #5).

#3 Divide your donors and email them once a week.

Are you sending every email you write to every donor on your list?

If yes, it’s time to stop.

Your donors all have different relationships with your nonprofit, and your emails need to reflect those special relationships. If you’re sending every email to every donor, it can create a culture of impersonal solicitation and donor fatigue.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean you should email them less.

Shoot for one email a week for each category of donor. It might sound like a lot, but if you are not communicating with your community regularly, you run the risk of being forgotten―or worse.

Many organizations tend to increase communication around holidays and big campaigns, but if you don’t already have good email relationships in place, these kinds of heightened solicitations can irritate people who only hear from you when you need money.

#4 Play with length and texture.

This will improve any email you write, not just donor emails.

Writing a good email is like decorating a room. There needs to be flow and places for the eye to rest and stay awhile.

Structure your emails so they’re easily scannable for important information. Long paragraphs will not serve you well here, because there is nowhere for the reader’s eye to land. Instead, break paragraphs down into shorter easy to read sentences.

In addition to short, well-spaced paragraphs and sentences, add in some texture-play. Incorporate bolds, italics, colors, images or gifs in the specific places where you want the reader to pay attention.

But that landing point shouldn’t always be about making a donation. Which brings us to…

#5 Give your donor a pet whale.

Ok, confession time. Everything I learned about donor communication I learned from my pet whale.

I was 8 years old. It was the 90s. I loved the Little Mermaid.

So when I saw a sponsorship opportunity to buy my very own humpback whale, I begged my parents. After weeks, they finally caved. I waited every day for my little box to arrive complete with a video, photo, and brief story about Scylla―who was swimming wild and free somewhere in the Pacific Ocean where she belonged.

Why is this important?

Donors, like customers, share something called “aspirational identity.”

This is the person they dream of becoming, the projects they want to be associated with, and how they want others to perceive them.

For 8-year old me, my aspirational identity was to be a mermaid with her very own whale.

(And I loooooooved my whale. I watched that video with the obsession of a child just to spot her fluke darting out between the waves.)

When you sit down to write those emails, think about who your donors are―but even more importantly―who they want to be. Probably not part-of-your-world mermaids…but who knows?

Then highlight the projects, stories, and action opportunities they would want to share with their friends.

#6 Be specific in your subject lines

As a writer, I often save my subject lines for last. That’s because the process of writing an email often reveals the most compelling lines as they are written―rather than at the outset.

Instead of using a throwaway, generic subject line, choose wording that reflects the essence of the email and engages your target donor.

After you’ve written several options, run them through a headline analyzer (like this one) to see which have the highest ratings. Emotional and action words will always bump up your score, so if yours are ranking low, be sure your subject lines contain those as well.

And now for our conclusion.

Turns out, I never liked writing closing, recap paragraphs…so…



Join Our Mailing List!

Sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter about new resources, articles, and other helpful information for your nonprofit.

Before you go...

Sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter about new resources, articles, and other helpful information for your nonprofit.

Skip to content