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Why Subject Lines Matter for Nonprofit Email Marketing

Did you know that 33% of people open emails based purely on the subject line? That’s right — 33% of email recipients care more about what you’re saying than who you actually are. All you nonprofit email marketing professionals and fundraisers out there probably want to argue with me about this. You might say “Our list is made up of donors, friends and community members who support us and want to hear from us” or “people believe in us because of who we are” and I would tell you you are probably right about all of this. But, If you want these people to open your email marketing and fundraising campaigns what you are saying matters more than who’s saying it.

That’s right… pick your jaws up off the floor and think about it for a minute. In cause-based email marketing and fundraising, users (the people who get and hopefully read your email in this case) are often program participants, volunteers or donors. These are the people that help make your programs happen and benefit from their existence & the overwhelming majority of these people have less connection to who that what. They are donors and volunteers because they believe what and why you are doing what you do and why you do it. Program participants and others that benefit from your work are interested for similar reasons. Yes, the are major donors who give generous sums of money every year and people that your executive director went to grad school with. Chances are these people only represent a tiny percentage of your list though. Chances are also that these people understand that you want to communicate with the masses (they probably want you to do so as well) so they too are much more concerned with what you’re saying than the who’s saying it – a phone call or personal note from the ED might make these people feel more like the superstar they are.  For the rest of your list, those who’ve never heard you ED’s name or given a large sum to your cause, it’s the what and why of your email that matters.

All of this is why your subject line matters, a lot… really, a lot.  It’s the only thing 33% of your email recipients are going to look at, and the other 67% are going to see it either first or second.  One things for sure though, all of these people on your list are going to take a couple of seconds (on average 2 to 3 seconds) to read the subject line and then make a decision if it goes straight into the trash or if they are going to open it and see what you are talking about inside the email.

The subject line is the first impression subscribers will get of your email, and it should impress and captivate your subscribers. At the end of the day, your subject line needs to inspire readers to do one thing – open the email.

How can you ensure your subject line inspires readers to open your email? One word. “Test.”

Stay tuned to the Media Caused blog for my next post on nonprofit email subject lines, or sign up for our email list and get the best of our blog and other great nonprofit marketing tips delivered to your inbox. You’ll want to read what’s inside.

Jacob Swarsen

Jacob@mediacause.org