Remember When?

Author: Roger Craver Agitator | DonorVoice

I remember when people were in awe of email.  They loved it.

Until they didn’t.

The convenience –the ability to communicate directly and personally in writing regardless of time zones and free of telephone buzzy signals or answering machines and fax machines—was astounding.

Unfortunately, that early awe of convenience and effectiveness has now morphed into a mélange of clutter and frustration as inboxes are overwhelmed, and the delete key serves as a digital machete cutting our way through the daily jungle of digital undergrowth.

From unethical list brokers to dishonest spammers and grifters, to naïve and well-meaning charities executing plans built on a more-is-better and one-size-fits all strategy, there is plenty of blame to go around as the effectiveness of email slowly dies and its sheer irrelevance and volume strangle donor trust and satisfaction.

Each of us who use email in our appeals and other donor communications can take some simple steps to make our own email programs more effective, our donors more loyal and generous, and, in the process, contribute to restoring the value of this channel.

Focus on Personality and Interest

Without question, the most important task of any digital fundraising program is to focus on the specific personalities and interests of individual donors.  I’ve covered the importance of donor identity and personality, and how they’re used in earlier posts, all with the goal of driving home the fact that one-size-fits-all appeals are becoming less and less effective.

Focusing on individual donors and tailoring email and other digital content to fit their needs and personalities of course requires additional work and expense.  However, much of the information you need to do this may already be available in your own CRM.  You can then enhance it easily and at scale with processes like DonorVoice’s Personalized Matching.

Only by tailoring your messages to best fit each donor can you create the most effective email.  Once you’ve optimized the effectiveness and relevance of your emails, you can then—and only then–best determine the frequency of your emails. Testing frequency alone–without first creating the most effective message tailored to the individual—is simply testing the donor’s patience with your organization.  That’s not a test you’re likely to win.

Your Email Doesn’t Have to Glow in the Dark or Need Bells and Whistles

Just like a good direct mail letter, an effective email should be simple, clear and personal:  An “I to you” message that shows I know and appreciate your interest. Here, verbatim, is a summary of great advice–based on testing–from Jeff Brooks’ What should fundraising emails be like?, which appeared on “You might be surprised what works to raise funds online.

In short: Simpler is more effective.

Here are three tests from NextAfter that just might make you want to rethink how you do online fundraising:

Test #1: Simple and personal

How a radical redesign of an email appeal and donation page affected donor conversion rate. This was a “radical redesign” of an email and its landing page, including:  

  • Much simpler email–text only instead of the more designed control that had logos, a photo, “Donate Now” buttons.        
  • More personal tone in the email that addressed the donor directly and colloquially.
  • Simplified landing page: No photo, less design, overall, less content. Result: 272% increase in donor conversion, at statistically valid quantity.

Test #2: Person-to-person subject line

How a more personal subject line affects open rate Control subject line: “Make this bold statement”; open rate, 16.9%. Test subject line: “Checking In”; open rate, 33.6%. That’s nearly 100% increase in opens.

Test #3: Nix the video

How having a text-based donation page and email vs video affects donor conversion rate

In the digital world, it’s all about the power of video, right?

Maybe not. Look at this test:

Control landing page led with a 3-minute video that made the case for a donation. Conversion rate: 0.65% conversation

Test landing page: Text based (basically the same message as the video). Conversion rate: 4.1%.

That’s a 527.54% improvement.

What does all this tell us?

Something like this: Keep your fundraising emails simple, uncluttered, and personal. Make them feel like they’re from a person, not an organization.” 


Your email program reflects the qualities of your organization.  Your donors have given you access to their inbox–a form of trust–and you should respect that.  After all, if they can’t trust you in your email communications how can they trust you to use their time or money wisely?

Roger Craver

What’s been your experience with email appeals? We welcome your comments and questions.

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