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I’ve spent a good part of the last few weeks writing emails to support direct mail appeals. As part of this, I pulled together a whole lot of results from various email campaigns – both my own and others – from various sources.

I’ve found a lot of results have been contradictory. I suspect this is the case for several reasons. These include how the donor email address was acquired and different levels of donor engagement. The quality of email content. What else the donor has been receiving via email. The list goes on.

So I provide the following list of findings from my own experience with testing only. That’s why I call them suggestions, not tips. Some of them are in line with proven direct mail techniques. I suggest you take these hypotheses and test them yourself.

1. Deadline subject lines perform better as long as it’s a genuine deadline. You can’t say “One week to go” if there’s no conceivable reason why that’s the case. Fortunately, for EOFY appeals, 30 June provides a natural genuine deadline.

But just be aware every charity is sending these deadline-driven emails too. Think about how you can stand out.

2. The closer to the deadline, the better the emails perform. The emails that tend to raise the most are on the day of the deadline (subject to point 1) rather than 2 days before, 3 days before, one week before… you get the idea.

3. You can send more emails closer to your appeal deadline (again subject to point 1) as long as you’re providing something of interest or value to the donor.

You can email every day in some cases. BUT this cannot be a hard sell ask in every email… although you CAN ask nicely each time. If you’re going to email this frequently, you must provide another reason for the donor to feel happy about opening your email – a heartwarming photo, a tearjerker story, latest news.

4. Update subject lines perform better as long as they are genuine updates. For example, progress on how much has been raised, more news from the project you’re trying to get funded. You can’t just stick “Update” in the subject line and not update the donor on anything in the email.

5. Intrigue or curiosity subject lines usually, but not always, performed better than offer subject lines (as long as the offer didn’t include a deadline). That is, “What happened to 5-year-old Joe was shocking” as opposed to “Your gift will keep Joe off the streets”.

I have a hunch this is dependent on how truly intriguing you can be versus how compelling the offer is. For example, subject lines referring to the much-loved matching gift sometimes, but not always, performed better than intrigue subject lines. But a very, very intriguing subject line outperforms a matching gift offer.

6. Longer emails performed better than shorter emails. I know this is less consistent with email than direct mail though. So please don’t shoot me if you’ve found otherwise.

7. Lacklustre stories mean lacklustre results. This is VERY noticeable. A so-so story in the email? Boooooring. Definitely fewer clicks. So ensure you’ve got strong, emotive, heartwarming stories for e-appeals. Don’t just use what’s left over from your direct mail!

8. If you don’t email, you don’t raise funds. Yeah okay, I know this is obvious. But so many charities are resistant to supplementing direct mail appeals with emails. Yet you can raise anywhere from 15-30% more with emails if you do them well and have a user-friendly website.

9. Emails perform badly if the website you send donors to is of poor quality. You can try to place clear donation buttons or links on the home page. You can try providing clear paths to donate. But if your website is poorly designed or looks amateurish, emails will perform badly.

This also raises the question… how many donors are turned off giving in response to your direct mail when they arrive at your website?!

If your website is truly awful, I suggest putting a hold on fundraising emails. (Unless you’re still raising enough money from emails to make it worthwhile.) Put some resources into developing a really donor-friendly, user-friendly, just plain friendly website. Then start trying out e-appeals again.

10. Test the same variable over multiple emails if your email list is too small to get statistically valid results from a single email. Or even if your list IS big enough. Once you’ve done this several times, you get a reasonably good idea of whether that variable really makes a difference. Or not.

So there you have it. Get testing! I’d love to know how you go.

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