Crafting an e-mail that gets opened



Strategic planning and list-building is just the foundation of an effective email marketing campaign. Once these pieces are in place, the following guidelines can help you create a message that will motivate your supporters.


Optimize the message envelope

Pay close attention to the information you include in the email’s message envelope, as it can be critical to your response rate.

The purpose of your message’s subject line is to get the message opened. Your subject line should be no more than 50 to 60 characters in length, and should tell the recipient something about your message. Use short, action-oriented words to draw on emotion. 

Most people scan their emails to see who messages are from and then prioritize which messages to open. If an email appears to come from an unfamiliar source, your open rates may suffer. Capitalize on the strong affinity supporters have for your nonprofit by putting the organization’s name in the “from” line.

Did You Know? 

Spam filters watch for excessive punctuation and capitalization in email subject lines. To avoid having your message blocked by spam filters, use concise subject lines. 


Design your email to drive response

Your message’s design and layout can significantly impact response rates:
  • Send graphically rich emails. Using HTML in your email messages allows you to include photos and images as well as control design elements such as fonts and colors. HTML email is visually pleasing, professional looking, and generally easier to read. Plus, it allows you to reinforce your organization’s brand by including your logo or other recognizable visual elements in each message. 

    However, it’s important to remember that some of your supporters may not be able to read HTML messages because of the limits of their particular email provider. Choose email marketing software that supports multi-part email distribution of both HTML and text format messages, which will automatically detect when someone cannot accept a graphical email, or has indicated that he or she prefers to receive text-only messages, and will deliver a text version in its place.
  • Keep key message points above the fold. Most email programs allow users to preview messages without fully opening them. Although your readers may be able to pre-set the size of their viewing window, you can assume that only the top 25 percent of the email will be visible. Make sure you include the most compelling elements of your message and any calls-to-action in this top portion of the email.
  • Keep your message short. Don’t overwhelm your message recipients with too much copy. Limit the message to one or two key points and keep your overall message to less than two screen lengths to reduce the amount of scrolling required by readers.
  • Drive readers to your website. One way to keep email messages short is to replace lengthy explanatory text in your message with a short “teaser” followed by a link to your website. This tactic has the added benefit of allowing you to track the links that are most frequently clicked, which will help you evaluate supporters’ interests and the impact of your message. But instead of simply dumping them onto your homepage, send readers directly to a page where they can take action, such as signing up as an advocate, making a donation or registering for an event.

Personalizing your message

The power of email marketing lies in the ability to create and develop relationships with your supporters by delivering content that is specific to their interests, motivations, geographic location and other characteristics.

Addressing supporters by name is a simple way to add a personal touch to your email communications, and alone can make a significant impact on response rates. A good email marketing tool makes it easy to insert merge fields into your messages. These merge fields pull any data from your database, allowing you to automatically send a unique version of the email to each constituent.

While selectively displaying personal information is important, the real power of personalization lies in automatically customizing the content a constituent receives in an email message. As with the personalization merge fields that allow you to address each constituent by name, this technique draws from the registration and profile information you have gathered in your database. But in this case, the “conditional content” might be a single sentence, a full paragraph, images, a survey or even unique donation forms. This content is automatically inserted into an email if a constituent meets particular criteria that you have designated. By adding content based on each constituent’s interests, your organization will make its communications more relevant, and more valuable.


Did You Know?

Your email marketing software should allow you to easily add content to a single organizational email or email newsletter, delivering local content just to constituents in that area. This can be done by state, ZIP code, affiliate and/or region.




Testing Your Message 

Prior to sending your email out to hundreds or thousands of supporters, be sure to thoroughly test your communication internally. This important process prevents distribution of emails containing costly and/or potentially embarrassing mistakes.Designate and train a few people within your department or organization, and send test messages to this same group to maintain consistent quality standards. These internal testers should complete the following tests:

  • Check for display variations. Set up test email accounts on a variety of email clients (i.e. Microsoft Outlook™, AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo!). Have your testers evaluate the look of the email in various email clients so you have an understanding of what your constituents will see.
  • Check functionality. Your testers should check that the various technical components of your campaign work properly. Testers should attempt to mimic the experience your constituents will have when they receive your email. Be sure to click through all links in the email and on any landing pages. Also test the transaction, registration, or other functionality associated with your call-to-action.
  • Test externally to fine-tune the message and check the process. Take advantage of the inherent benefits of the Internet by sending test messages to a sub-set of recipients prior to sending it to your entire email file.
  • Check for message effectiveness. Because the Internet allows you to send messages and receive responses quickly, you can compare response rates of different messages and subject lines, and then refine your email message before sending it to the entire constituent base — ensuring the maximum response for each email campaign.
  • Check your campaign process. In addition to testing the effectiveness of the email itself, it is important to send a test message to ensure you are prepared to handle responses — particularly if you are sending a message to several thousand constituents or more. Is your telemarketing team staffed appropriately to handle the volume of responses? Is your marketing staff prepared to reply to the email messages that come back from your constituents? Sending a test message to a small percentage of your target audience will help you to identify any holes in your process before sending to the entire list.

A/B Test Groups 

Your email marketing software should allow you to send two or more different messages to a percentage of your target audience to test the effectiveness of each message (often called A/B split testing), and then send the most effective message to the remainder of the audience without sending to the test group again.