Email Marketing for Nonprofits

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Email marketing for nonprofits

As other digital marketing strategies have evolved over the past decade, the question of “is email marketing still important?” keeps coming up.

Yes! A resounding yes. Email marketing is very much still important for your organization’s success in the digital space. Creating a strong email marketing strategy is an effective communication channel that your organization needs to create and maintain with your constituents.

In this article, we will cover the fundamentals of email marketing for nonprofit organizations.

What is email marketing for nonprofits?

Email marketing is a highly effective digital marketing strategy of sending emails to current donors and prospective donors. Effective email marketing strategies aim to convert prospective donors into donors, and turn current donors into loyal, monthly donors.

Email marketing can be used to increase donations, improve brand loyalty, and deliver importation information. Like direct mail, email marketing is a one-to-one communication direct to your donors in a digital channel.

Why is email marketing important?

You’ve probably read a lot of other articles that talk about your organization being active on all the new social media platforms. Does your organization have an active Facebook community? Just think about how your community engages with your content on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. You’re “killin’ it” in the social media world. Now, imagine that Facebook suddenly shuts down tomorrow. Your entire audience disappears. What would you do?

There are many reasons for you to make email your top priority, but these are my top two reasons:

  1. You own your list. Period.

All the donors that ever gave you their email information is data that belongs to your organization. By focusing on building your email list, you would never have to worry if the social media platforms shut down. You would be able to move that conversation directly to your email list.

  1. Higher amount of Conversions

Another benefit of email marketing is that it’s incredibly easy to track your return on investment (ROI). Emails are trackable within your email service provider (ESP) and you’ll be able to see who is opening your emails and who is clicking through your emails. The ROI tends to be higher because you don’t have to put ad money behind emails, like you do with other forms of digital advertising.

What types of emails should my nonprofit be sending?

Email marketing is going to look different for each organization, but it can consist of two fundraising buckets: Cultivation and Acquisition.

Cultivation is an email marketing strategy for your already existing email addresses. Your organization can inform your constituents about big announcements, such as a President retiring after 25+ years of service. Or, perhaps your organization is in need of new volunteer recruits. Or, maybe your organization just wants to say thank you for the impact their donors contributed to over the past year.

Whatever it may be, communication to your current constituents is a form of cultivation. Cultivation email can consist of some of the following categories:

  • Newsletter
  • Major Organization Updates
  • Volunteer Spotlights
  • Thank You’s
  • Announcements
  • Appreciation

Acquisition is the practice of acquiring new email addresses for your organization. A very basic acquisition option you can offer is to have a signup form prominent on your website. Ask people to sign up! 

With any acquisition strategy, you need to provide something of value to your audience. Here are a couple of acquisition strategies to help grow your email list:

  • A Signup/Popup form on your website
  • An “offer” or lead magnet
  • A contest or giveaway
  • A pledge or petition

Once you have your acquisition strategy in place, the next piece you need to look at is your email Welcome Series.

The Welcome Series

Now that people have signed up to receive your emails, you need to acknowledge that they’ve signed up. The Welcome Series is a series of automated emails that are sent to the subscriber immediately after submitting the form. Why immediately? When someone subscribes to your list has your organization on the brain. They’re expecting to hear from you. If you can get your email in front of them, you’re more likely to convert them into a potential donor.

This is your organization’s chance to make a good first impression. When a prospective donor has gone through the effort of giving away their email address, it is clear that they are interested in your organization. They want to know more about your and how your mission makes an impact.

Your welcome series should consist of multiple emails. The first, immediate email should be a recognition-type email or “thanks for signing up”. You should also be able to share what the audience can expect from you in the future. A second email could be an invitation to follow your organization on social media. And a third could give details on your mission and the impact your organization makes in your community.

Email Segmentation

If you already have a growing and active email list, then you’ll want to get started in segmenting your email marketing into various segmentations. Segmentation is the process of organizing your email addresses into smaller groups or segments based on specified criteria determined by your organization. Your organization wouldn’t necessarily communicate with your event attendees with the same messaging or language as they would to major donors.

Here are some examples of segmented audiences:

  • Donors
  • Non-donors
  • Volunteers
  • Major Donors
  • Boards/Committees
  • Event Attendees

You can also segment your audience based on communication frequency such as weekly, monthly, or annually. You can also segment based on program interests, locations, or entities (because not every donor in your database is going to be an individual person). Once you have your smaller segments defined, you can start creating really healthy email lists.

Email List Hygiene

Also known as “scrubbing,” email list hygiene is the process of cleaning your email list of invalid, bounced or uninterested, non-engaging email addresses. You want to ensure that you’re sending emails to people that want to receive your emails.

Your organization will want to determine how often this process should be completed, but it’s good to review this at least once a year. Your list hygiene is often associated with your email deliverability and sender reputation.

Here are a couple of ways to check your sender reputation scores:

Once you identify invalid or bounced email addresses, you’ll want to remove them from your email list. You can do a spot-check for role-based emails, such as support@example or, or any misspelled email domains such as example@gmeil.comor Even the .com could be mistakenly typed as .cmo or .ocm, so make sure to correct those to see if they’re actually good emails in disguise.

If you have a list of good email addresses that are just unengaged with your content, you don’t have to delete them immediately, but you can segment them out of your current email campaigns. You can treat this segment separately with a dedicated message to try to re-engage them. If they still don’t respond, then you can remove them. Sending email is cheaper than direct mail, but you still don’t want to waste money or your sender reputation on invalid email addresses.


If you’re not already email marketing, then now is the time to start. It may seem daunting at first, but the only way to learn is to start emailing. You will go through a great deal of deciding on strategy, how it’s related to your organization’s mission, followed by planning and executing. Once you’ve dipped your toe in, you’ll be able to analyze your results, make an assessment and improve your campaigns from there. Let me know in the comments below if you have any tips that we haven’t covered.


Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

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