nonprofit email marketing strategy

How to Create a Winning Email Marketing Strategy for Your Nonprofit

This is a guest post by SaaS content marketer Mark Quadros.

Creating an email marketing strategy for a nonprofit is wildly different from a sales-based marketing campaign. 

While traditional email marketing aims to increase revenue, nonprofit email marketing seeks to:

  • strengthen relationships with loyal donors,
  • expand the organization’s reach,
  • and drive future donations through education.

As you might imagine, this requires a particular set of unique strategies specific to nonprofit organizations. In this article, I’ll teach you the skills you need to create a highly successful nonprofit email, as well as guide you through creating seven essential emails.

Let’s jump in.

The importance of email marketing for nonprofits

Nonprofit email marketing is vital for your organization’s funding and donor relationships, as a successful campaign will:

  • increase your engagement with donors,
  • boost your donations,
  • reinforce your credibility, 
  • help you distribute educational content,
  • boost support for your mission,
  • increase donor and volunteer participation in your events. 

Email marketing is also an incredibly affordable type of marketing.

The cost of digital marketing is generally measured as cost per mille (CPM), assigning a dollar amount to every 1,000 people who see your advertisement. While TV advertising has an average CPM of $34, the CPM of email marketing is entirely within your control.

For small organizations, this will allow you to put your money where it matters most: your mission. 

nonprofit email marketing strategy
Image via WiredImpact

Nonprofit email marketing also allows you to use different strategies on different donors.

To do this, nonprofit organizations often segment their email subscribers into donor groups based on each person’s donation habits.

These donor groups generally include:

  • annual donors. 
  • monthly donors.
  • lapsed donors. 
  • volunteers.
  • non-donors.
  • new donors. 

When your strategy engages with different donors differently, you’ll be able to meet the diverse needs of each group, providing a personal and educational experience that will increase your donations long term. 

Email Marketing for Nonprofits: Best Practices

No matter who your organization is and where you are based, the best email marketing strategies for nonprofits are based around eight best practices. I’ll detail them below.

#1. Focus on building your email list 

The best way to get your email marketing seen is to focus on building your email list. While it’s tempting to buy email lists, this won’t result in a high click-through rate, nor will it increase donations. 

Instead, I recommend you build your email list by including a link to your subscription and promote that link across all your marketing, especially: 

To promote your email list on social media, use tools like to let people to sign up without leaving the app. 

email marketing strategy nonprofit organization

Bonus tip: If you attend real-life events or frequently hold stalls or booths in public, ensure you bring a tablet along with you that allows people to join your list. A jar of candy can also help with this, as people will gladly sign up for your list if you offer them a sugary sweet reward. 

Keep your list healthy: Validate 100 emails for free with ZeroBounce

#2. Avoid the spam folder

Bad advertising makes up 36% of all the spam content globally, with over 14.5 billion emails caught in spam filters every day. Once your emails are caught in the spam filter, you’ll be unable to reach your donors, let alone increase your donations. 

To stay out of the spam folder:

  • Address every email to the donor’s first name. 
  • Send from a reliable email address (spokesperson). 
  • Sign your emails from your spokesperson or organization. 
  • Avoid using buzzwords that are known to trigger spam filters.

Long term, you’ll also stay out of spam filters if you build your sender reputation. Your sender reputation is based on two major factors:

  • Your IP location and how frequently it sends emails. 
  • Also, your domain reputation and whether your brand’s domain has established credibility with email providers like Gmail and Yahoo.
email marketing tips
Image via Exponea

It’s also essential to adhere to local email regulations, as breeching email spam laws may win your organization a hefty government fine. This includes America’s CAN-SPAM Act, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), and the UK’s 2003 Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations. 

#3. Don’t ask for too much too soon

Before you ask your audience for money, you’ll need to build a relationship with them based on trust. The best nonprofit marketing strategies develop a communal relationship with donors. That means your donors care deeply about your mission and believe in your organization. 

To build a communal relationship:

  • Don’t ask for donations within the first month of someone subscribing to your list. 
  • Focus on educational content in all emails. 
  • Elect a spokesperson.
  • Allow donors to respond to your marketing emails (i.e., do not use a ‘noreply@’ address). 
  • Respond to all emails you get from donors. 

#4. Share relevant content

Not all of your email marketing content needs to be funding-related. There is plenty of content you can share with your audience to help them get on board with your cause, including stories and experiences written by donors, news stories relating to your mission, infographics about your cause, informative webinars or documentaries, and interviews with experts. 

When developing a relationship with your audience, you want to be seen as a reliable source of education above all else. To keep this reputation, always fact check everything you choose to share and keep your emails visually appealing. 

Bonus tip: If you’re using images, try creating photo collages, or use email templates to spruce up your design.

marketing emails for nonprofits
Image via CampaignMonitor

#5. Automate your emails

If you want your emails to arrive on time, every time, you’ll need to automate your email marketing. The easiest way to automate your emails is to use marketing automation software, as it allows you to:

  • plan campaigns for each donor group, 
  • send out multiple emails simultaneously (and automatically!), 
  • quickly develop new emails with templates and in-built branding, 
  • add rich media, like infographics and images, to spruce up your marketing. 

Marketing automation software is also a great way to conduct international campaigns, as you can send emails to donors in their local time zones. 

#6. Keep track of insights

The best nonprofit email marketing strategies are driven by marketing insights.

Marketing insights are pieces of knowledge about your marketing gained from tracking the success of previous marketing activities. For example, insight is knowing that 94.6% of workers currently work from home. 

You can gain insights into your donor’s behavior by assessing your emails with key performance indicators (KPI’s). Common KPIs for nonprofit email marketing include:

  • email open rate, 
  • email click-through rate, 
  • donation conversion rate, 
  • per-email revenue rate. 

The easiest way to track these insights is to use email marketing software from a provider that offers a data aggregation dashboard. This will let you track your email marketing trends by month, quarter, and year, as well as provide you with real-time results. 

#7. Coordinate your campaigns

As a nonprofit, you are likely running various campaigns across traditional media, print media, news media, and social media. To create a winning nonprofit email marketing strategy that wins generous donors, you’ll need to ensure every piece of marketing stays coordinated with:

  • your organization’s mission,
  • the expectations of your donors, and
  • your brand voice.

To keep your brand voice on track, create a branding guide that specifies how your brand interacts with donors – from your policy on emoji to the type of grammar you use (i.e., UK or US English).

#8. Personalize your emails

According to research conducted on 1,000 consumers aged 18 – 24, consumers are 80% more likely to do business with an organization if they offer personalized experiences. This applies to nonprofit organizations too, as donors who feel personally valued are likely to donate more money than donors who feel unappreciated. 

In your nonprofit email marketing strategy, you can embrace personalization by addressing every email to the donor by name. Also, ensure your marketing system sends them an email after every contribution. You can acknowledge their loyalty with a “thank you” card.

email sending strategy
Image via CampaignMonitor

That said, make sure to use content briefs or templates before automating emails. Don’t automate without consistency. 

Types of emails for nonprofits to send

To build the best email marketing strategy for your nonprofit organization, you need to focus on building a great relationship with donors. As nonprofit organizations require just as much support as they make donations, it’s challenging to measure each donor’s real value. 

However, we can measure the financial assistance each donor provides by calculating their ‘lifetime value.’ Lifetime value (or ‘CLV’ for short) is measured by multiplying the total donations made by each donor in one year by the number of years they donate. 

To increase your donors’ lifetime value (and attract new supporters!), you need to master these seven essential types of nonprofit emails.

Informational and educational updates

What they are: Informational and educational updates are regular emails you send to your donors to keep them aware of what your organization is doing and where their funding is going. 

Who you should send them to: Information and educational updates should be sent to all donors, volunteers, and supporters. 

How often you should send them: Update emails should go out either weekly, monthly, bi-annually, or annually. 

call to action
Image via WWF

Donation Appeals

Who you should send them to: Donation appeals should be sent only to new email list subscribers or infrequent donors. 

How often you should send them: To keep donation appeals effective, send them to new email list subscribers and infrequent donors bi-annually or annually.

fred hollows foundation

Image via the Fred Hollows Foundation

Call to act email

What it is: A call to act email gathers funding or support for projects relevant to your organization’s mission, including:

  • legislature change,
  • prospective bills, 
  • petitions,
  • new organizational projects,
  • man-made and natural disasters, 
  • other unexpected events. 

Who you should send it to: Call to act emails should be sent to all email list subscribers, donors, and volunteers.

How often you should send them: Send call to action emails when your organization requires support for work outside of its regular scope. 

fund raising email
Image via Environmental Defense Fund

“Thank you” emails

What they are: “Thank you” emails are emails you send to donors and supporters directly after they donate.

Who you should send them to: “Thank you” emails should go out to all donors.

How often you should send them: “Thank you” emails should be sent within 24 hours of a donation. 

nonprofit email strategy

Image via WildApricot

Event invitation

What it is: Event invitations are emails that invite people to attend virtual and in-person events that your organization hosts or endorses.

Who it should be sent to: Invitations should be sent todonors, volunteers, and supporters with the ability to attend the event (i.e., located in the same city or timezone as the event). 

How often you should send it: Event invitations should go out:

  • a month in advance.
  • a week in advance.
  • a day in advance.
  • the morning of the event.
amnesty international
Image via WildApricot

Success Story Email

What it is: Success story emails are emails that review your organization’s positive changes in recognition of the work done by your donors, your organization’s staff, or individual activists. 

Who you should send it to: Success story emails should be sent to all donors, volunteers, organization staff, and supporters. 

How often you should send it: Success story emails should be sent out within one week of the action the email celebrated.  

email list cleaning
Image via Classy

Holiday email

What it is: Holiday emails are emails sent out to celebrate national and international holidays, like Christmas Day, News Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, 

Who you should send it to: All donors and supporters in cultures or countries where the holiday is celebrated. 

How often you should send it: Holiday emails should go out on the day of the holiday. 

mother's day email example
Image via Classy


Ultimately, creating a winning email marketing strategy for your nonprofit isn’t just about increasing donations. It’s about building a two-way, communal relationship with the people that support you the most. 

Prioritize authenticity and creativity in your email marketing, and you’ll have a game-changing strategy in no time. 

Author bio: Mark Quadros is a SaaS content marketer that helps brands create and distribute rad content. He contributes to several authoritative blogs like HubSpot Sales, CoSchedule, and Foundr. Connect with him via LinkedIn and Twitter.