Did you know that your fundraising email subject line could be limiting your email open rate? In fact, a whopping 33% of email recipients open an email based on the subject line alone, so it’s really important to get it right!
Email is one of the most important elements of online fundraising. It’s a great way to retain donors who have made a first gift. It’s one of the most low-cost options for getting your message to potential donors.
And with more and more fundraising moving online, it’s more important than ever that your organization has a solid plan for nurturing donors that includes ongoing email communication with donors.
Your email could be filled with well-crafted and informative content, but if your audience doesn’t even open the email, then all that work was in vain.
There are many ways to beef up your subject lines, you just have to be creative and pique your reader’s interest.
Best Practices For Fundraising Email Subject Lines
There are a few guiding principles you can use to build any subject line: urgency, curiosity, personalization, and timeliness/relevance.
Put these together in different combinations and you’ll end up with a stellar subject line. Let’s take a look at each one.
Urgency: You want to light a fire under your readers. Use words that get them moving. Action verbs are a great place to start, and you can add in urgency with words like “limited”, or “deadline”. Show your readers why they need to open this email now. Another approach to urgency is to entice your readers with something they simply must have: make them feel special or indicate that they’ll receive a special deal if they click through.
Curiosity: Humans are curious creatures, and the best way to get your readers to click on that email is by making them wonder what’s inside. You can do this with a variety of tactics: posing an interesting question, saying something that doesn’t make sense without opening the email, using oddly specific numbers, or even sending an email without a subject line at all (we’ll dive deeper into that option in a minute).
Personalization: Most mass mailers now have the option to add tokens that will add someone’s name or other identifiers into an email or subject line. These are incredibly powerful tools and you want to take advantage of them. It makes your readers feel like you’ve taken time to think about them. Even if you don’t include their name, you can include other elements that will personalize the email. Segment your email lists and create a persona for each segment so that you can use words that will appeal to each group.
Timeliness/Relevance: If you want your email subject line to do its work, you want to send it at the right time. A great example of this would be sending an email right at 5 p.m. and referencing a Happy Hour, but there are plenty of other ways it comes into play. With fundraising, time is generally of the essence. Fortunately, open rates increase when you express urgency in the subject line. Some words that you can use in your next email to highlight the importance of your email’s contents include “urgent”, “breaking”, “now”, “important”, and “tomorrow”. Also consider connecting your subject lines to larger times and events: if it’s winter, reference the weather.
These four basic principles help to drive all of the other tips and tricks that we know for great email subject lines. But they can seem a bit abstract. Let’s take a look at some specific tactics:
- Use clear, understandable language. This isn’t the time for you to flex your English degree. You want people to know what you’re talking about.
- Tell your audience what’s coming…but not too much. If you have an interesting story or heartstring pull included in the body of your email, reference it in the fundraising email subject line. Give them an idea of what they’ll see when they open the email. But you want to leave a bit of curiosity in there, so don’t spoil the punchline.
- Use emojis! If it aligns with your branding, emojis are a great way to make an email line feel personal and approachable.
- Keep It Short: It can be tough to trim down your subject lines, but according to Campaign Monitor, the most effective length is right around 7 words (that’s 41 characters for those keeping track at home). This gets you the most opens and clicks.
- Use The Right Words: Choose your words wisely and avoid those that could potentially decrease your open rate. A study by MailChimp found that some words often used in fundraising email subject lines can negatively impact an open rate. While it’s almost impossible to avoid all of these when sending out a fundraising email, keep in mind that words like “helping” and “fundraising” are received more positively than “donate.”
- Put those right words at the beginning. When people skim, they focus on the first and last words in a sentence, and your last words may get cut off on mobile. Front-load your most powerful words.
- Pose a Question: When email recipients see a question in the subject line, they are forced to pause and think about the answer, naturally increasing the open rate.
- Do A Test Run: A/B testing is incredibly powerful and you want to take advantage of the fact that you can get hard data about your own audience. Your email platform will likely have the ability to do A/B testing, which lets you send two versions of the same email and compare results. Try different variables in your subject line: length, punctuation, question vs. statement, etc. Don’t forget to look at all the elements of what makes an email successful: open rates, unsubscribes, and click-throughs.
- Have a recognizable sender name: instead of sending from a “no-reply” email, make sure that your emails come from a name your community knows. Your Executive Director is a great option: from [Executive Director] at [Organization].
- Make people feel special. If you can use words like “exclusive”, “private”, or “limited”, you tell your readers that they’re getting something special. Show them that what’s in the email is only for a select group.
- Use numbers, and make them oddly specific when you can. This is a great way to elicit curiosity. If I see a subject line that says “Here’s why we need you to donate $3.88” I’ll be much more intrigued than if the same subject line said $5.
In addition to all these tips, there are a couple of important don’ts in email subject lines as well. Keep a list of common spam triggers like “cash”, “save”, or “act now”. These are the words you don’t want to include.
In addition, watch your use of punctuation: don’t use all caps, or eVeRy oThEr LeTtEr capitalization. Be sparing in your use of exclamation points (you absolutely don’t need three of them in a row). And a final tip to avoid spam filters: don’t include a question and an exclamation in the same line.
The Subject Line Formula
If all of this sounds overwhelming, take a deep breath. There are some tried and true formulas that you can use to build solid email subject lines without losing your mind. Check them out:
- The Question: This one is pretty straightforward. Ask a question that resonates with readers and gets them thinking. A great example: “Do you check your emails when you first wake up in the morning?” You can also make the question about your mission: “do you want to help orphans find homes?”
- The Scarcity: Use numbers and urgency to show people that they’re about to miss out on something. “Hurry! Only 3 consultation spots left.”
- The Announcement: If you have an event, class, campaign, or other new and exciting initiative, the announcement is a great choice. You can use words like “introducing” or “new” to get better open rates.
- The How-To: Tell people what they’ll learn in your email. You can use this in conjunction with a bit of a heartstring pull to get donors connected to your cause. “How to give struggling students the tools they need.”
- The Proof: Use specific numbers that show an exact benefit of your work. “You gave 200 families new homes last year.”
- The Personal Call-out: Use a name token to personalize the subject line, and add in a question or benefit that is specific to them: “Hey Tiffany, are you looking for ways to give back?”
- Numbered List: People LOVE numbers, so simply saying that you’ll have a list of things in your email makes people more likely to open it. “15 Reasons You Should Be at [Event]”.
- Curiosity Gap: We talked earlier about plenty of ways to elicit people’s curiosity, but a great formula to use is “What you don’t know about __”. You can fill in the blank with anything connected to your mission.
17 Fundraising Email Subject Lines To Improve Your Open Rate
Now that you have an idea of what your fundraising email subject line should look like, here are 17 examples that you can use or modify for your next fundraising email.
1) Impact Statement: “Help expand the statewide reach of women’s viewpoints”
Readers want to be a part of the work that you’re doing, and when you tell them that they can make a difference directly, they’re more likely to click.
2) The Question: “Can we set up a call?”
This prompts your audience to open the email because it poses a question and encourages a reply. Plus, it’s short and sweet.
It’s a great way to easily engage a donor in a way that feels personal.
3) The Introduction: “Hello (First Name), I’d like to introduce myself”
A personalized introduction is important, especially for prospective donors, and it sets the stage for working together in the future.
4) The Cheeky Subject Line: “Let’s talk dirty (data)”
When in doubt, get a little cheeky. A well-placed song lyric, quote, or common phrase can work to your advantage in hooking your audience into opening that email.
Here’s a fun list of some song lyrics that may work well in your next fundraising email subject line. This one works especially well because it sounds inappropriate at first glance, and that always garners extra attention.
5) The Intriguing Subject Line: “Confession time: we need you.”
This fundraising email subject line adds a bit of intrigue with the word confession. It makes it feel personal and increases the urgency of the ask by making it seem as if the reader is getting some secret, important information.
6) The Prize-Focused Subject Line: “Be an MVP for patients and Win a Trip to the Super Bowl.”
While this subject line isn’t personalized, it feels like it is because it directly addresses the reader.
Plus it helps to inspire donors by letting them imagine themselves as an “MVP”. It ties everything together with the Super Bowl theme makes it relevant to culture and is a prize that will get donors excited.
7) The Deadline: “Finish your 2020 donations before December 31!”
Fundraising emails that mention a holiday or the year-end open at higher rates, so take advantage of this fact if you’re running an email campaign on or around a holiday.
You can add even more urgency by telling your donors that they have a deadline.
8) The Urgent Question: “Can we count on your support today?”
This subject line poses a question and then cuts to the chase with a timeframe that doesn’t feel overly aggressive.
The example from MeetEdgar is a great variation on the theme: it introduces a specific campaign for a specific day and adds a question that draws in the reader.
9) The Follow-Up: “Did you find what you needed?”
This is a great fundraising email subject line to send out to those that visited your website and provided their email address in exchange for something such as exclusive content.
The email, of course, would build on that question by asking the prospect to consider a financial contribution if they felt that the information they received was valuable.
10) The “One last thing…”
When you send out your last fundraising email, make it known upfront that it’s the last chance to give. Including the number one will make the email stand out in the inbox in general.
This example from NTEN creates a curiosity gap and uses the reader’s name to make it personal.
11) The Last-Chance: “Today is the last day”
Use an urgent tone to get your point across, especially near the end of an email campaign. You can change up your language, but using words like “final”, “last”, or “end” gives people a sense of urgency.
12. The New Announcement: “Announcing the first-ever…”
On the other side of the spectrum, sharing that you’re introducing something new is a great way to build excitement.
Words like ‘announcement,’ ‘new,’ or ‘first’ give the impression that your readers are getting in on the ground floor.
13. The Client Story: “Meet Yasmin and Ahmad”
This is a great heading that you can change up to fit your mission. It’s simple and short which gets eyes on it, it hints at a story that will be in the email, and it lets you share the story of those impacted by your organization.
14. Reverse-Psychology: “Do not open this email”
Sure it seems silly, but reverse psychology really does work. Telling someone not to do something is a surefire way to make them want to do it.
You can use this kind of a subject line for different contexts: “Do not open this email if you don’t want to make a difference,” if you’re asking for a donation, or “Do not open this email if you want to miss the best event of the year,” if you’re announcing a gala or other event.
15. The invite: “An invitation from our very special guest”
This subject line does a few important things. It makes the reader feel important because it says that it’s an invitation (you only send invites to people you care about). It creates a sense of curiosity and mystery because it doesn’t reveal the special guest. And it pushes the reader to click to find out who that special guest is.
16. The List: “Top 10 SEL tools right now”
Readers want to learn something new, and when a subject line hints that you’re about to teach them something, they are much more likely to open the email.
This subject line does a lot of things right. It includes a number, which increases clicks. It promises tools, which means readers know what to expect and know that they get something out of opening the email. And it says “right now” which increases the urgency.
17. No subject line
That’s right. One of the most powerful subject lines is to not include a subject line at all. According to HubSpot, emails with no subject line are opened 8% more than those with a subject line.
This isn’t a great choice for an opening email, but for established contacts it can work wonders.
We all know just how easy it is to skip over emails we simply aren’t interested in. Make your email recipients want to read your emails by writing intriguing fundraising email subject lines.
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This post was originally published on 5/28/16 and updated on 1/29/21.