If you are a nonprofit who has a website, the chances are you are using email marketing. Email marketing for nonprofits is not always a success; there are a few reasons for this but if your emails are not being opened then you have no chance of success.
If you want your email campaign to work, you need to pay attention to your subject line.
Have a look at these figures from the guys at CoSchedule
This shows us that over a third of all email recipients open their emails based on the subject line and almost 70% report their email as spam based on the subject line. This means that if your subject line is weak, forget about it being opened – you could be marked as spam.
What this means is that if you want the emails you send to be opened, you need a good subject line. If you use a weak subject line you email will just be brushed off as spam and your whole email campaign will have been a complete waste of your time.
We all know it can be tiring continually trying to be creative and thinking of new subject lines so here are the types of subject lines that get opened. I have also thrown in 2 example subjects you can simply copy and paste!
1. A subject line that generates curiosity
It is human nature to be curious so try just giving a hint and not giving away all the information in the subject line.
Subject: Who donates more; men or women?
Subject: Who gives more time to charity; Gen X or Gen Y?
Consider using one of these subject lines for an email fundraising/volunteering campaign. This subject will get more opens than “please donate” or “Men donate more than women” because by stating the facts, the recipient has no reason to open the email, they already know the answer.
It should be easy enough to find some stats on Google to provide a short introduction to back up your claim before asking for the donation.
Bonus: for some people you will be triggering an emotion and they may want to donate to prove you right/wrong.
**Just so you know: I believe this is a more toned down ethical approach to this strategy. In the forprofit world it is common to ask the question in the subject line, expand upon the question in the email but not give the answer and then get you to click a link or subscribe before providing the answer. Personally I find this irritating and I just delete the email.**
2. Subject lines that are personal
No two supporters of your organization are the same so why should their email subjects be the same? Personalized subject lines have an 82% higher open rate compared to generic subject lines.
Here is the simplest example:
Instead of saying: Hey valued supporter, use their name.
Subject: Hey Firstname
Subject: This will be interesting for people in Oregon (or whatever state the reader is located in).
The great thing this is very easy to do with any mail platform so you do not need to type out each person’s name individually, you can simply select this from the options.
It is best if you can get a bit creative with this and incorporate things such as:
• Projects they have donated to
• Referring to events they have attended
• Volunteering activities they have helped with
3. Subject lines that introduce a story
Most people like reading a story so the subject line is a good place to offer a teaser of what the story has to offer. This increases curiosity which we have discussed and also “frames” your reader so they are ready to engage.
If you do not have any information for a story or you are stuck for ideas tell them about the impact they have made or could make.
Subject: How your support changed the lives of 15 people OR How we changed the lives of 15 people
Subject: Your donation provided “insert benefit” to this guy
4. Subject lines that focus on self-interest
These are direct and appeal to one of our most basic emotions. They explain what the benefit is to the reader and what is in it for them. Generally speaking, people want to improve as individuals, whether that be making more money or just becoming a better person, so an email with a subject line offering them a chance to improve themselves is likely to be opened.
Subject: Why volunteering makes YOU a better person
Subject: Why donating actually helps YOU
Perhaps test without the Caps on YOU. People might want to improve themselves but do not need to be shouted at 🙂
5. Subject lines the convey scarcity
This is all about the fear of missing out (aka FOMO). With increased presence of Social Media in our lives we are used to being quickly informed about any events, news, deals etc.
This is very common in the forprofit industry because it works. How many times have you seen airline ads saying “only 5 seats left at the special price” or hotels saying “only 1 room left at this low price”?
But this psychology can also be applied to the nonprofit sector. And unlike other sectors, this can be done ethically and honestly.
Just use a subject about your current campaign and state the facts.
Subject: These dogs have 5 days to find a home
Subject: Provide shelter for the homeless tonight
6. Subject lines that suggest Quick and Easy
Society no longer wants slow and steady solutions. We do not want to go the gym for months to lose weight, we want diet pills. We do not want to save a little each month to be comfortable, we want a lot of money and we want it now, so we go and buy a lottery ticket.
We want quick solutions that are easy to implement. If you can convey this in the email subject, the reader is more likely to open the email.
Subject: 3 Benefits you get from volunteering
Subject: The top reason why donating to charity helps you
7. Subject lines with broadcast recent news
Following on from the FOMO we discussed earlier, people want to hear breaking news. This also follows on form our first point about curiosity – we want to know what is going on!
The obvious subject lines here are to just share anything you have achieved/gained that is newsworthy. Having said that, even if you don’t have anything that is newsworthy, you can be creative and piggy back off other breaking news stories.
For example, if are involved with a homeless shelter and there is news about home prices increasing you could use this:
Subject: Home Prices Up (again)! Impact on the homeless rate
Or if you are involved with an organization that proves food and there is a news story related to food supply you could use something like this:
Subject: Fresh food supply is down. How this affects “insert name of your organization”
8. Subject lines which show authority
If you have accomplished something or an authoritative figure (such as a doctor or lawyer) has had something to say about your organization or field, then let people know. The more authoritative the person/organization backing up your claim, the more powerful your email.
Subject: Why volunteering is good for you. According to “Insert experts name and credentials”
If you have recently presented at a conference or seminar use that to show your authority
Subject: “Name of conference” – why we matter
9. Subject lines which provide “how to” information
The ‘how to guide’ is getting used quite often nowadays but it is still a classic. Everybody likes easy to follow step by step instructions. They allow us to make changes or implement new ideas without having to think about them. Just make sure that your email content explains nice and clearly how to achieve the objective.
Subject: How to volunteer (and make friends while doing it)
Subject: How to gain confidence by getting involved with “insert organization name here”
10. Subject lines with announcement/events
If you are going to be at an event or conference or have any other announcement, let your supporters know; include them and make them feel welcome. You should also do this for online events, such as launching a new event, or even a new donations page.
Subject: Here is your free ticket. Come join us at “insert conference name”
Subject: Check our new website, what’s your opinion?
Bonus: Here are a few of the least successful (aka worst) subject lines to use
Plenty of research and data has gone into this so I just thought I would give you a quick list of subject lines to avoid:
• 15 minutes of your time
• Quick call
• Touch Base
• Great deal
Conclusion: For any email marketing strategy, you need to get your subject right.
Despite what you may read or hear, emails are a good way of communicating with your followers or potential followers. Email marketing strategies for nonprofits are alive and kicking. Having said that we all get tons of emails and suffer from overflowing inboxes so if your subject line is not compelling, your emails will not be opened.
If you take away one message from this post let it be although subject lines are short, they are not easy. Take your time with them and test, test, test.
Keep going with what works and stop using the duds.
Do not forget to check back for the final post of this 3 part series: The best email tracking tools for nonprofits. There programs are vital to test which emails are being opened and which are being ignored.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and if you have any feedback or questions I would love to hear from you.