Advice From 3 Nonprofit Fundraisers On How They Use Email To Engage Their Supporters

Email: It’s a vital part of our lives. Night and day, these messages are flooding our inboxes with no end in sight.

Not surprisingly, a person receives somewhere around 220 business and consumer-related emails every day. That’s a lot of information being thrown at us 24/7/365! Chances are, you’ve noticed all this noise yourself.

And your nonprofit or charity’s donors and other supporters have certainly taken note too. That’s one of the reasons why your messages aren’t being read as much as you’d like. There’s too much going on out there and we’re all getting ever more particular about which ones we read and which ones we ignore.

So, what are you doing to make your emails stand out? Which best practices are you using to get read?

We spoke with three nonprofit fundraisers and they gave us their take on how they’re successfully using email to engage and rally their supporters. Check out their sage advice and incorporate some of these elements into your next fundraising email campaign

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Email: An Engagement Tool

“Email marketing allows us to engage with donors on a more regular basis, attract new donors, and keep our donors updated on events and initiatives. It helps keep our mission fresh in the mind of donors.”

– Anne Watson, Executive Director at St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joseph County

For many nonprofit organizations, email is the predominant form of communication. It’s how most of us connect with supporters on a regular, ongoing basis, whether it’s to inform an audience about an upcoming fundraiser, communicate campaign results, or simply connect them with monthly updates.

Anne Watson, the Executive Director at St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joseph County, uses email to reach supporters throughout all phases of the donor engagement cycle, from recruitment via inspiration to reporting impact and everything in-between.

While they promoted their 2017 Legacy Dinner & Silent Auction, the St. Vincent de Paul Society used email to encourage participation by asking email recipient to “Vote” for the best personal fundraiser!

Do This Today: Don’t just throw information out there. Instead, encourage supporters to engage with your email by taking an action step such as voting or clicking on a link to sign up for insider information.

Always add a call to action, no matter what type of email you’re sending out.

VisArts: Email + Peer-to-Peer

“For our third campaign, I discovered CauseVox’s software for peer-to-peer fundraising… It enabled us to automate many of the manual processes we had instituted. The most significant plus was that it…was so easy for our board and staff to script their personal fundraising appeals on their own [personal fundraising] pages. Everyone commented on how simple and effective it was to send out appeals. We developed a schedule, prompting our personal fundraisers to send out e-mail solicitations over a two-month, year-end campaign.

Each solicitation contained the link to our campaign page which included information about our organization and the fundraising campaign, as well as rotating stories about the individuals we serve. We even invited some of our volunteers to participate in the campaign. Tracking who had solicited each donation was so simple.”

-Ginger Webber, Development Director, VisArts

Email is the perfect accompaniment to online peer-to-peer fundraising because it helps streamline the process, from recruiting fundraisers (more on this below) to collecting donations and referring people to the fundraising website.

VisArts mastered this combination during their 2016 VisArts Challenge Campaign. By providing personal fundraisers a schedule to send out emails, as well as sample appeals, participants experience a stress-free fundraising experience.

Sample P2P Fundraising Email From VisArts

For inspiration, take a look at this example fundraising email body sent from Ginger at VisArts.

Subject: An Invitation to Join My VisArts Challenge Campaign

Dear friends and family,

As you all know, I’m the Development Director for VisArts, a non-profit arts organization located in Rockville, MD that has been serving the metro DC community for the past 30 years.

We’ve launched our 2016 Challenge Campaign and I hope you will join me in supporting an organization that I sincerely believe is making a huge difference in transforming the lives of individuals in our community.

I’ve been a supporter of the arts for many years as a musician, a board volunteer for a musical group comprised of adults with disabilities, and now at VisArts.

Every day at VisArts, I see how the arts bring out the best in us. Our annual Gen-Y gallery exhibition provides emerging artists ages 15-25 with their first professional gallery exhibition experience; we offer accessible classes for teens and adults with autism; and, the more than 800 classes we offer attract individuals of all levels of ability and interest, me included. I took a leap into glass classes this year. Check out my work below.

The support of friends and family in my various artistic endeavors reminds me how the arts can transform lives. I’m a case in fact.

I’m inviting you to make a donation today to help me to reach my goal of raising $2,000 on behalf of VisArts by December 31. All donations go directly to supporting VisArts’ operations and program initiatives.

Again, thanks for joining the 2016 VisArts Challenge. Your support means alot to me.


PS-If you want to learn more about VisArts, go to the very bottom of my page and click on “Learn More About This Campaign.” You will see a cool 60-second video about VisArts and a great story about one of our young art students.

Takeaway: Give your personal fundraisers the support they need to propel your peer-to-peer fundraiser to the next level by developing a schedule and example/template emails they can copy and personalize.

Take it a step further and consider tracking the success of each email. If there were one or two emails that brought in more donations, use these in future campaigns.

Email: An Aid In Making Connections

“Using CauseVox has been an excellent way to build up a team to help your fundraising campaign… One of the most effective ways we have been reaching people is by directly contacting individuals and sending them a more personal message about the cause and what role they can take to assist.

Not everyone will check out Facebook posts, but you know by highlighting on individuals you want to directly contact, they will at least read your message.”

-Ray Ramirez, The Lyric Lab

The most important role a fundraiser has isn’t necessarily bringing in money day after day, but to develop connections that blossom into long-term relationships. To Ray Ramirez of The Lyric Lab, emails are all about growing these bonds. In fact, many of his emails are geared toward mindfully talking with donors about their capacity to give.

Sometimes, it’s a financial gift but other times, it’s about time or other efforts the donor is able to provide. In his sample email below, Ray touches on the many ways a supporter can get involved in a fundraising campaign. As you can see, he also includes resources for the person to learn about the cause and determine how they want to contribute.

Sample Relationship-Building/Recruitment Email

Greetings Susan,I am writing because we recently initiated a crowdfunding campaign for The Lyric Lab, and wanted to see if you can possibly assist us with fund-raising in any way you can – and this does not necessarily mean donating money.

As you of course know, The Lyric Lab is an arts organization that facilitates creative writing and audio recording workshops in schools, after-school programs, senior citizen centers, colleges and universities, homeless shelters and correctional facilities. By bringing writing workshops and the ability to record directly into the space where participants are already at, The Lyric Lab focuses on documenting student’s’ work with the full understanding that as we do this, we are truly “Building Community One Voice at a Time.”

You can jump straight to the main campaign page here:

We have signed up with the CauseVox funding platform. The premise of CauseVox is to not only get donations, but to also build a network for your campaign. Individuals and teams are established as supporters of a specific cause, who can make donations themselves, and help to push the campaign to their social networks and other contacts. The hope is that along the way, individuals could possibly get a few more fundraisers on board to help with this work. New members can assist as individual fundraisers, join an existing team, or even create their own team and get new members for it. The more people on board, the more effective we will be in our efforts, and CauseVox gives us a real easy to navigate/user friendly platform to do this. So any way you are able to assist, we will tremendously appreciate it.

To stay in contact with our program, you can log on to our website at: or our Facebook at

And you can listen to current and past tracks of workshop participants here:

Again I want to thank you for all you can do to assist us with this campaign, and all you have done already to assist us with the project in general. We push forward in providing this service to amplify the voices many thought were voiceless.

My deepest gratitude,

Ray Ramirez

The Lyric Lab Founder and Director

Takeaway: No two donors are alike and a blanket ask for a $X donation isn’t always the best way to accommodate the many needs of your supporters. When asking for something (anything) from your supporters, make sure it’s a personal ask with plenty of information and, most importantly, different options.

In addition, always address the person by name, provide the reasoning behind the campaign/ask, educate them, and end with a call to action.

Yes, the future of fundraising may revolve around people and relationship-building, but email will still play a role in it all. Instead of flying by the seat of your pants, try using email to engage your donors frequently using strong calls to action, incorporating email into your fundraising campaigns, and using it to build relationships.

Email is here to stay—use it to get noticed!

A special thanks to Anne, Ginger, and Ray for their invaluable advice.

For more information on using email effectively, check out these resources:

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