Donor Relationship-Building Email Best Practices

The most important element of a nonprofit’s fundraising efforts is relationship building. Abila’s 2016 Donor Loyalty Study found that 71% of donors felt more engaged when they received more personalized content from the nonprofits they support. Despite this, many nonprofits have a largely transactional approach to their donors. The same study found that 21% of donors never receive a thank you for their efforts. As a result, the Association of Fundraising Professionals says that the gift and dollar retention rates of the nonprofits they represent are consistently below 50%. 


Relationship building can have a profound impact on your nonprofit. It boosts engagement, increases retention, and encourages your best donors to share with their personal and professional circles. Even just a 10% increase in donor retention can lead to a 200% increase in the long term value of your database. 


One of the most effective ways to build relationships and stay in touch with your donors is via email. Let’s look at some of the best ways to do so using the data, resources, and tools already at your disposal. 


Organize and Segment Your Data

The first step in building stronger relationships with your donor database is to segment the data you have for those individuals. Email remains one of the strongest forms of communication, providing a huge return on every dollar spent, and a low-effort way to engage and build lasting connections with donors and prospective donors alike. But to fully leverage the value of the channel, your messages need to be as targeted as possible, and that requires accurate segmentation. 

For those using HubSpot, this is an easy process. The Active List tool in HubSpot allows you to segment users not only by any property for which you’ve collected data but also any activities they’ve taken. Common segmentation options include:

  • Lifecycle Stage of Donors - Separate your prospects, one-time donors, recurring donors and lapsed donors into separate lists to which you can deliver customized emails. Someone who donated three months ago will respond differently to a new campaign than someone who hasn’t donated in three years. 



Create a Custom Property to track Donor Lifecycle Stage so you can filter contacts in Active Lists. 

  • Location and Demographics - Utilize the properties you’ve collected to segment your lists by their geographic location, age, income level, number of children, or any other information you have readily available. 



Use your Donor Lifecycle Stage property and location information to filter current donors by location or other demographics. 

  • Campaign Activity - HubSpot allows you to segment contacts by email opens and clicks, landing page views, website visits and more. You can also create custom events within your website that are subsequently tracked and used for segmentation. 



Segment your contacts by how active they are engaging with your campaigns


Unique Emails Based on Persona Profiles

To build a strong relationship with donors, start with your user personas. Who are your donors? Why do they donate? What concerns or problems brought your nonprofit to their attention initially? When you know why someone is engaged with your organization, it’s easier to write messages that will resonate with them. Do this by:

Keeping It Personal 

Emails should come from specific individuals in your organization. Use a custom signature with a photograph of the sender and personal stories that will resonate with each persona. Generic, marketing-grade copy fills email inboxes every day. It’s not only boring, but it’s also forgettable - people archive or delete it on arrival. Personalized messages can help overcome the gatekeeping most people do of their inboxes. 


Customize your emails by sending them from individuals in your organization and using personalization tokens in the subject line and preview text to capture attention. 

Bringing in Guests 

Leverage your existing donor network to write personal letters to your prospects. These can be from current donors who have seen an impact on their efforts. From recipients of the efforts your nonprofit makes with the donations you receive. From spokespeople with recognizable names who you’ve brought in to support your efforts. Or even from senior executives in the organization. Leverage existing relationships as social proof to build new ones. 


Subject Line Basics for Nonprofits

None of your efforts mean much if donors and prospects ignore the email entirely. That’s where the subject line comes in. 

Through a combination of a personalized sender’s “from” email address and a strong subject line, you can greatly increase the average rate at which people open your emails. 

Nonprofits have a higher than average open rate compared to other industries. Mailchimp reports that 25.96% of recipients open their emails and more than 3% click the links inside. That may seem low, but when industry averages hover in the 6-12% open rate range and 0.5-1% click-through rate range, it shows a willingness to engage if the content is good. To ensure you not just reach but exceed these benchmarks, consider the following:

  • Keeping it Short and Mobile Friendly - More than 50% of emails are opened and read on mobile devices. Your subject line should accommodate that by remaining short and to the point. 
  • Use Personalization Tokens - Use HubSpot’s personalization tokens to include the recipient’s name, location, or other key information in the subject line. This can have a tremendous impact on open rates. 
  • Avoid Spam Words  - According to Convince and Convert, 69% of emails flagged as spam are because of their subject lines. Nonprofits regularly see as much as 12% of their emails flagged as spam, which can result in a tremendous lost opportunity. Review this list for words commonly flagged as spam in subject lines. 


Tell People What to Do

Finally, don’t be afraid to be direct with recipients. If someone has opened your email, read it through, and is actively considering a donation, don’t be ambiguous about the next steps. Provide a clear call to action in the form of a large, visible button and action-oriented text. 

In addition, build a custom landing page in HubSpot for each email campaign. This does two things: 

First, it allows you to customize the messaging of your donation form to match the language in your email. You can similarly target based on persona, demographics, and campaign activity. Smart content allows you to further customize the content on these pages based on the activity someone might take throughout the campaign. 

Second, custom landing pages allow you to better measure the performance of your individual emails and other traffic sources. While you can segment activity on a landing page by source, it’s difficult to subsequently test changes. If you have one donation page that works extremely well for social media ads but poorly for email, how do you adjust it? A unique page designed only for email - or better yet, only for specific emails - is far more flexible and easier to test changes on. 

HubSpot is designed to help make these changes easy to implement. Building a strong marketing platform and minimizing friction for your fundraising efforts should ideally help improve the number of donations you receive and bolster your overall efforts. Learn how DepositFix is designed to further enhance those efforts by eliminating friction in the donation process. Schedule a demo to learn more. 

Looking for a HubSpot-integrated donation system for your non-profit organization?

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