5 Email Storytelling Tips to Inspire Donors to Give

Andrew Berry May 14, 2019, by Andrew Berry

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When you’re getting ready to craft an email to send to your constituents, it’s not a simple process of typing up some content and sending it off. There are actually several best practices to keep in mind. While telling a story through email might seem like a simple task at the forefront, you’ll want to avoid some easy mistakes that nonprofits have a tendency to make.

In order to move donors through the funnel, you want to tell a compelling story, keep your readers engaged, and meet your ultimate goal of receiving donations. So what are these best practices? Let’s check them out:

  1. Make it memorable
  2. Highlight relatable individuals
  3. Use visuals
  4. Reach the right audience
  5. Close with a strong CTA

Are you ready to learn some impactful ways to tell a story through your email campaign? Let’s take a look!

 

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1. Make it memorable

The most important thing you can do when crafting an email to donors is to make it memorable. If your email doesn’t stand out from the crowd, you’ll be less likely to engage your readers and give them a reason to pay attention.

Just as your campaign page should be the best it can be, your email campaigns should be held to just as high of a standard.

Try out these tips to make your email as memorable as it can be and avoid common mistakes:

  • Use a powerful subject line. Your subject line is the first thing readers will see when your email hits their inbox. Keep it relatively short, but urgent. However, avoid exclamation points or all-caps, as well as certain words, such as help and urgent. After all, readers might not open the email at all if the subject line is unappealing.
  • Tell a compelling story. Humans naturally respond to stories, so it’s important to tell a good one. Explain the impact of donor contributions, as well. By appealing to an individual’s emotions (in a positive way!), you’ll keep them invested so that they continue reading.
  • Use simple language. Don’t play into industry terminology. Be sure to write in a natural, conversational manner that will be easy to digest and remember. In addition to this, try not to overload your reader with too much information. Convey the message you need without going overboard.
  • Offer specific examples. When attempting to stand out with your story, you need to keep your donors invested. Provide specific examples to show them how their donations have made and will make a difference. Link to the sources of your examples and explain the results of past campaigns.

By making your email content memorable, you’ll ensure that your readers actually open it and find value in the copy. If you want to stand out, it’s important to be the rule rather than the exception.

Going over the top with subject lines as well as the body of the email will likely come off as overbearing, so stick with these best practices and you’ll be on your way to securing donations!

 

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2. Highlight relatable individuals

Relatability is an essential element of crafting your donation emails. Stories can’t be engaging if they’re not relatable on some level, so it’s important to highlight individuals who are key to your campaign. This will mainly focus on your beneficiaries.

Try these strategies when developing your email:

  • Present the beneficiary's story at the forefront, which can include their personal story and their journey to improve their situation.
  • Share the beneficiary’s conflict and how your nonprofit has helped them overcome it.
  • Don’t be afraid to show these stories in a darker light if that’s the way they should be told. Be genuine and balance a heavier story with a lighter resolution.
  • Interview your beneficiaries as part of the email content so readers can gain insight into their specific point of view.

By presenting your stories in a clear and compelling way, as well as making your beneficiaries as relatable as possible, you can inspire donors to give.

Even with these tips, however, it can still be challenging to figure out where to start your story. Check out these letter templates from Fundraising Letters for guidance on how to reach out to donors.

 

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3. Use visuals

Visuals go a long way and are a great method of breaking up text in an email. If you want to engage with your online community via email, visuals are a fantastic way to do this.

The following are examples of visual elements you can use in your emails:

  • Photos. Include photos of your beneficiaries and your nonprofit members hard at work. Putting faces to a cause is a great way to show transparency and demonstrate exactly what you do.
  • Colors. Use a few colors to make a clean-looking design, and be sure to choose colors that complement each other.
  • Fonts. Use a “safe font” that is supported on all devices and simpler in appearance. These include Arial and Times New Roman.

Visually appealing to your readers and potential donors is an important element to keep in mind as you craft your emails. A clean appearance will also give off a sense of professionalism and instill more trust into your readers as they consider giving. Professionalism should never be compromised, and it’s important to remember that your emails are a direct representation of your donation website. Make it count!

 

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4. Reach the right audience

Sometimes this can be overlooked, but your emails can’t be generic—meaning, you can’t craft one specific email to send out to all of your constituents. Why is this the case? Simply put, there is a variety of donors who you should reach out to in different ways, whether this regards the gift amount, their history with your organization, or other factors.

Donor Segmentation is the solution to this issue. By segmenting your donor list, you’ll get a better idea of who to reach out to and for what amount, and learn what compels them to donate. Many nonprofits make the mistake of not segmenting their donor lists, even when sending out newsletters or general information. Don’t make the same one!

Here are a few donor segmentation tips:

  • Separate by potential donors and recurring donors. Recurring donors will have more of a context and background related to your nonprofit, while potential donors may need additional information provided.
  • Separate donors by their interests. If potential donors haven’t shown a particular interest in your nonprofit’s mission, it’s good to reevaluate who you specifically want to reach out to and how you should do it.
  • Perform prospect research. Performing prospect research will allow you to make informed asks for the appropriate amount based on a donor’s history, willingness, and capacity to give. Learn more about this process here.

Provide relevant content to the right people by segmenting your donor lists, which will ensure your readers are receiving valuable content marketed directly to them. If you reach out to the people most likely to consider supporting your cause, you’ll drive in more donation revenue than if you had sent a generic email to everyone on your list.

 

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5. Close with a strong CTA

One of the biggest parts of telling your email story is how you close it. You should include a powerful call-to-action that inspires your donors to click through and arrive at your donation page.

Your CTA should do the following:

  • Relate to the story you’ve told throughout your email content. The conflict you’ve described should be the driving reason that readers should donate to your cause. Show this in your CTA.
  • Be direct. If raising funds is your goal, don't ask your readers to sign up for an event or to volunteer in addition to donating. It’s important not to confuse them. Even more, make your first ask early on in the email as a way to get to the point.
  • Be prominently displayed. Have a “Donate” button that is clearly placed within your email and leads your readers to your donation page.

Pro tip: Be sure your donation page is professionally designed and asks for just the right amount of information from donors. Donately offers impactful tools to design a great donation page.

Having the right CTA is imperative to reaching your ultimate goal for email storytelling: receiving contributions. It’s important to be compelling throughout, but if you’re not direct and your donation button isn’t prominently displayed, this could lead to confusion and cause issues.

Be sure to make your ask in the most direct way possible and you’ll be on your way to securing funds for your cause!


Crafting the perfect fundraising email can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be if you do your research and take the right approach. Be sure to make your content memorable and relatable, use visuals and strong CTAs, and reach the right audience. If you do all of these things, you’ll set your fundraising strategy up for success.

Try out these strategies for yourself and tell your story!

How to Build Your Nonprofit Email List: Website & Social Media

Andrew Berry

Andrew Berry

Andrew is the head of marketing and customer success for Donately. After getting involved with nonprofits at a young age, he discovered a passion for helping the organizations that are making the world a better place. Knowing how vital online fundraising has become, his goal is to help nonprofits raise more money online each year! In his spare time, you will find him cooking up dinner, playing with his dog or cheering on Boston sports teams.

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