How to Use Email to Reel in the Best Donors for Your Nonprofit

Did you know that bass anglers don’t go out and just cast their line into any old pond or lake?

Indeed, there’s a lot of planning and technique involved in catching those “lunkers.”

For bass, anglers have to scope out shallow water with a lot of shade and shelter. They have to practise their pitching and flipping. And they need to test the lure–a popper, jitterbug or frog–that gets the best results.

What happens when you put this much thought into your fishing trip?

You get the exact fish you want–and piles of them!

Just like fishing, email content is the rod, lure and bait to find and catch those big schools of donors.

Let’s look at a good strategy for email that will reel in donors and help your nonprofit survive and thrive with a tremendous haul.

Salmon or pickerel?

So which fish are you hankering to catch?

All of them, you say? Tsk, tsk.

With email (as with all fundraising content), we need to know who is most likely to feel the attraction of our lures.

In Email Persuasion, marketing consultant Ian Brodie talks about the four components of the ideal (donor) persona:

Who they are: Their demographic and personal information.

Their external targets and pressures: The causes they support, their pressures at work, what do they need to get done in a day.

Their internal aspirations and challenges: Their personal challenges, the values they feel strongly about.

The “know and feel”: The emotions they need to feel and the information they need to have in order to give.

Document all of this information to get a clear picture of the exact person you want your emails to attract.

Before firing up your email app, can you answer the following about your target audience?

  • What will motivate people to sign up for your emails?
  • What should you promote in your emails?
  • How should you promote it and what should you emphasize?
  • What language should you use? What issues will resonate with them?

With these questions, you’ll be in the right body of water for the right fish.

What’s your bait?

At this point, you’ve chosen your fish and learned its behaviour and habits.

The next part is how to convince those fish to come to you, or in this case, sign up for your email updates or newsletter.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Why wouldn’t donors want to hear from us? Won’t they just sign up because we have a sign-up?”

The answer is of course no. Most people (like most fish) won’t just jump right onto your hook!

Should the donor provide you with their personal information? What if you send boring stuff? Will the donor have time to do something with the stuff you send? And what about unsubscribing if she doesn’t jibe with your vibe? Just one more thing to think about!

That one sign-up reoresents a big decision about personal time and mental energy!

So you better have a lovely, juicy bit of content to make your donor happy to get caught on your (very nice and world-changing) hook.

For example, could you offer a cookbook of how to eat well on $4 a day?

What about a best practices toolkit for creating a collective kitchen?

Or a fact sheet on how kids can stay healthy?

Overall, your bait needs to provide value to your donors in exchange for their valuable permission for you to market to them.

Grab your fish, but don’t cook it! 

Once you have your donor on your email list, do you simply let them dangle there or do you hook them as deep as you possible can with a bunch of donation asks before they wriggle away?

Neither way is particularly effective. A better way is to hook the fish with as little pain as possible.

How you ask? Well, one tip is to phrase your ask is a non-pushy but direct way:

“Would you be able to give $50 today? Because that would help us start right away at planning our summer program.”

“Could you increase your donation by 10%? Because that would let 5 additional seniors benefit from our services.”

Other techniques include spacing out your asks, sending content that is only of benefit to your reader, and just dropping a line to say thanks.

This way, even if the donor knows they’re “on your hook,” they don’t feel the need to swim away.

Be an expert wrangler, not a weekend angler

While amateurs can get away with lollygagging in a tinfish to enjoy the scenery, professional fisherpeople don’t have that luxury.

They target the best species, find the best location for that fish, and use the best bait to get those lunkers hooked.

A good email strategy is no different.

With a keen awareness of the specific donors you want to attract and what it will take to attract them, while hooking them with as little pain as possible, you’ll definitely catch the donors that will keep your nonprofit going.

And done right, your emails will give you much easier fishing in the long run, so that one day your best donors will be practically leaping into your boat.