3 min Read
October 11, 2017

A quick checklist for writing effective email appeals

Big Duck

Many of the best practices used in more traditional forms of appeals apply to email as well—being a compelling storyteller, using donor centric language, making asks clear and direct, etc.

The differences for email appeals are generally all driven by one factor—people give an individual email an extremely small amount of time. In 2004, EmailLabs found that the average amount of time someone keeps an email open is 15–20 seconds. We are pretty confident it is even less time is given to emails now.

Here’s a quick checklist for writing email appeals that can help make part of the work for your year-end fundraising campaign a bit easier.

  • Count your characters in the subject line: Keep subject lines to 50 characters or less, including spaces.
  • Put your organization in the from line: Putting the email signer’s name in your from line is a great way to make your communications feel more personal and real, but how many people on your list recognize your board chair by name—or even your Executive Director? What they do know is your organization’s name, so always include it in the from line, even if the signer’s name is used. This way, people who don’t know the specific person will still know that the email is from you.
  • Be strategic with pre-text: The first copy in an email (regular copy or alt text in image tags) will appear in the inbox of many email systems, right next to the subject line. This is called pre-text. As it is the only thing other than the from and subject lines that is seen before someone decides to open an email, it should present something compelling that’s not covered in those two spaces. Pre-text can either be coded so that you can’t see it when you open the email, or placed at the top of the template, over the banner. In the latter case, it is typically written to function as a donation ask and is linked to your donation form.
  • Put all essential points above the fold: Include the main points of your story—the problem you’re addressing, the solution you offer, and the action a supporter should take—above the fold. This way, more of those people who give your email fifteen seconds or less will decide to act, rather than telling themselves, tl;dr. You may feel like you’re leaving out important details, but you’ll have a chance to get to them.
  • Don’t bury the ask: Place the first donate link no further down than the third paragraph.
  • Make the email highly skimmable: Otherwise, very few people will read much of it, and many will be turned off the moment they open the email and see how dense it is. Bolding will help.
  • Don’t worry about length: Follow the first donate link with the rest of the information you need to convey the full story—do NOT worry about how long the email is; it should be as long as it needs to be to tell the most compelling story. As long as you follow the next rule, people will have the opportunity to act as soon as they’ve decided they read enough.
  • But keep paragraphs short: Keep paragraphs to no more than four lines when laid out in your email template. That will make it more readable.
  • Make key points bold: Use boldface to highlight the sentences that are most essential, so that if someone only registers these lines, they will get the main points and know what to do.
  • Ask on a regular basis: After the first donate link, place a donation link every 3–4 paragraphs.
  • Use a postscript: Include a p.s. that highlights an aspect of the problem and/or story that was not focused on in the email. For those who read the full email, the postscript provides yet another reason to give. But some people will scroll right to the end to see what it is you want, so you should write it with someone who didn’t read anything else in mind.
  • Add a callout box: If you don’t already have one, consider including a callout box that breaks up the content of the email to present a visually compelling graphic or photo and a short, direct ask for donations.