Boost Engagement & Drive Action: Nonprofit Email Success

As marketing becomes more complex, email remains a cornerstone channel for nonprofit organizations. 

Email is one of the most effective ways of staying top of mind and connecting your mission with the hearts and inboxes of supporters. But how can you ensure your email efforts stand out, effectively support your marketing and communications efforts, and genuinely engage your audience? In this article, we’ll share why email marketing is important for nonprofits, best practices, and a few email ideas to get you started. 

Why nonprofits need email marketing

With limited budgets, lean teams, and a pressing need to connect deeply with supporters, email marketing offers a perfect blend of cost-effectiveness and personal touch. But, it’s not just about sending messages asking for signups or donations; consistent, well-crafted emails will build and nurture relationships, build authority, drive engagement, and provide your organization with a wealth of data.

8 nonprofit email best practices

So, you know what email marketing can do for your organization, or perhaps you’re already running some email campaigns, but they’re not performing as well as you’d like. Here are 9 best practices you need for effective email performance:

1. Create a Calendar/Schedule

Without a comprehensive editorial calendar, your marketing and comms strategy isn’t just incomplete — it’s fundamentally flawed. Within that editorial calendar should be your email schedule. Without a schedule, you’ll not only lose the benefits of consistency but also likely not have all of your communications aligned across your other channels and miss out on the benefits of a great audience journey and experience.

What we often see when we first onboard clients is that if they don’t have even a high-level schedule in place, their emails are rushed, inconsistent, sent out a suboptimal times (ahem, Friday afternoons), and are often only focused on asking their audience for something. No wonder their email marketing efforts aren’t paying off!

2. Focus on Growing Your Email List

Growing your email list must be a major focus of your communications and marketing strategy. Your email list is an “owned” channel, unlike social media, for example. A robust and engaged email list safeguards your nonprofit against changes or challenges with channels you don’t own. For example, if Facebook went away tomorrow, your organization would still have all the audience data and be able to continue communicating with them. Email is the most effective way to reach your target audience and generally sees much higher open and engagement rates than other channels. Plus, it’s the most cost-effective channel for most organizations. 

Here are a few ways you can grow your email list:

  • Have a newsletter/email opt-in list on your website in your footer, using an embedded form, and/or have a pop-up that triggers for new website visitors.
  • Use a webinar as an opportunity to collect email addresses.
  • Add a CTA to your social media bios, include it in Instagram stories, and at the end of carousel posts.
  • Offer incentives like resources, a giveaway, a survey or a quiz.
  • Guest posts and cross-promotion with your partners can provide a great opportunity to encourage their audience to join your list.
  • Use paid ads to encourage your target audience/persona groups to sign up.
  • Allow people to sign up on a tablet at in-person events.

3. Maintain Updated Contact Lists

Regularly clean your email list and contact records to ensure high deliverability and engagement rates. Run campaigns to contact records who may have only provided an email when they signed up to complete their contact records. 

4. Copywriting & Design Best Practices

Your emails need to be visually appealing and well-written with the reader in mind. And remember to always test your emails before hitting “send”. Here are a few best practices for creating your emails:

  • Think about your subject line. Keep it short, punchy, and ensure it’s relevant to your reader and the content you’re sharing. 
  • Keep your headline clear and the email easy to read. Keep the text brief, and break it up with spacing and imagery. Cleaner is better, less is more, so don’t go overboard with images or long paragraphs. Use the email to drive interest and include the bulk of your information on a landing page or elsewhere. 
  • Try to focus on one ask or call to action (CTA) per email and make it stand out. Focus your ask, and if you’re trying to speak to different audiences in one message, consider using segmentation to tailor each message more effectively for a greater impact. 
  • Imagery can be a great way to create interest and make your emails more engaging. But, the imagery needs to be good; we really suggest working with a graphic designer or using a great template versus DIY’ing it whenever possible. 

5. Incorporate Email Personalization & Segmentation

Email personalization and segmentation will give you much higher engagement, open, and click-through rates. Simply put, segmentation means separating your email subscribers into smaller groups based on different criteria or characteristics to send them messages that are highly relevant to them.

Some examples of different criteria you can use to segment your lists are by lifetime donations, board members vs. volunteers vs. staff, donors, downloaded resources or content, and website behaviour.

6. Use Drip Sequences & Automated Campaigns

Drip sequences and automated emails are a great way to engage your audience. When combined with segmentation, you can ensure your audience is receiving content that is relevant to them and their behaviours. To get started, try creating an onboarding drip sequence for new volunteers and an automated welcome message (or drip sequence) for new subscribers. Combining segmentation and personalization with drip/automated campaigns can be incredibly powerful! This can be a little too technical for some teams, though, so be sure to get help when you need it. 

7. Find the Balance Between Asks & Providing Value or Storytelling

Asking your audience for their input, donations, registrations, and participation is par for the course. But, it’s important to also use email to provide value, share information, inspire, and create a connection. Find the balance between asking for things and sharing. Use email to showcase your organization’s impact and highlight the incredible work you do and the communities and people you impact.

8. Optimize Based on Analytics

Email marketing can give us powerful data! The data you collect from your email efforts can help you understand what works and allow you to constantly optimize your efforts. Some of the analytics you should track include email deliverability, open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribes, and conversions.

Nonprofit email ideas

Planning out your email calendar can be time-consuming. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • A re-engagement campaign to activate people in your list who haven’t engaged with you in a while. 
  • A new subscriber welcome message or drip sequence to introduce your organization, share your most popular content, and the impact your organization has.
  • Webinar or event invitations (and reminders!)
  • Newsletters with curated content that will inspire, educate, and entertain your audience.
  • Share your annual report or details on your annual general meeting. 
  • Appeals for donations, advocacy, support, or participation.
  • Automated thank you emails to your donors. 
  • Storytelling campaigns focused on the work your organization does and the impact it has. You can also highlight your volunteers, staff, partners, and supporters.

Email marketing can have an incredible impact on the growth of your organization and your outreach efforts. It's your opportunity to connect with your community, build authority, and engage your audience. 

Remember, the key to effective nonprofit email marketing lies in understanding your audience, delivering value, and consistently refining your approach based on insights and data. By following our tips, you can improve your email performance and drive your mission forward. 

At Sidepony, we're committed to guiding and supporting organizations that make our world a better place. If you need marketing support, we’d love to help.

Related Articles

Discover how content marketing can elevate your nonprofit's impact. Learn strategies for engaging supporters and amplifying your cause using storytelling, branding, and digital strategy.

Continue Reading

Ready to get started?

Boost your revenue, strengthen connections, and drive awareness with just one conversation.

Contact Us