It’s easier than ever for nonprofits to stay connected with the people who matter most to their organization.

While newer technology has brought some enormous benefits, it also comes with challenges.

Marketers need to consider widely different channels to reach all the right audiences. Besides that, they need to stand out. Social media, video, microsites, paid ads, search results, and email are saturated with messages from marketers.

Many of the newest marketing channels are proven innovative communication tools, but email remains a pillar of effective marketing. 99% of email users check their email every day. That’s why email marketing should be at the center of your nonprofit’s outreach efforts.

The best email marketers enjoy a high return on investment (ROI) for their efforts by running targeted, creative, thoughtful campaigns.

Benefits of email marketing for nonprofits

Cost-effective communication

The majority of nonprofits and charities have a minimal budget to allocate to marketing, so it can be a challenge to figure out where to spend your dollars. Social media has the lowest barrier to entry because it’s free to create a business account. Costs can incur if you decide to invest in scheduling software or paid advertising. On the expensive end of the spectrum, you’ll find print marketing and TV advertising. Email marketing finds itself in the middle in terms of cost but has an ROI of $36 for every $1 spent, so you can be sure your organization’s budget is being spent wisely. 

Build and nurture relationships

Ask supporters of your organization to subscribe to your email marketing list. Turning supporters into subscribers keeps them in the loop about your organization and lets you nurture supporters’s and sponsors’s relationships to your organization and cause. Email marketing is also a great way to promote your organization’s social media channels — allowing people to connect with your organization on a more immediate level. 

Raise awareness and educate supporters

Email marketing is a great way to keep your audience informed about your organization and cause through regular email newsletters and educational materials. Let your supporters know where their dollars are going and how they are being used by sharing impact reports, stories, statistics, and the goals your organization is striving toward. 

Promote events

Nonprofit organizations thrive on hosting events. Events promote shared experience and shared experience promotes shared giving. It can be hard to feel like you are making a difference when you are donating as an individual. Events give organizations and supporters the opportunity to see the impact they are making as a community of people supporting one cause. Use email marketing to promote future events and recap past events to keep momentum strong. 

Reach fundraising goals and collect donations

Create a drip campaign to encourage donations and let subscribers know how close your organization is to reaching your fundraising goals. A drip campaign is a series of emails sent periodically to subscribers to direct them toward an end goal. Drip campaigns, in terms of fundraising, work to encourage initial donations and even supplemental ones when subscribers see an organization is close to reaching the finishing line. 

email sample of a donation request
Use email to request donations from your supporters

Track and measure results 

Using an email service provider (ESP) will help your organization easily track and measure the results of email marketing campaigns and their effectiveness in encouraging donations and engaging subscribers. Track open rates, click-through rates, bounces, and your subscriber count to understand where your marketing strategy can improve. Check the average open rates, click-through rates, and bounces for nonprofit organizations — updated here monthly. 

The five W’s

Take the time to map out the who, what, where, when, and why of your email marketing strategy.

Who should I email?

It might be tempting to answer this question with “Everyone on my list!” But if you want to improve donor retention and develop more meaningful donor engagement, you have to deliver the right message to the right person.

Email marketing is one of the most effective channels for communicating with different audiences.

Rather than sending one broad message to your entire email list, email list segmentation can help your organization to create email campaigns that are specific to your audience. 

Here are some ideas for email segments to get you started on your own nonprofit email list:

  • Blog subscribers who have never donated before
  • Re-engagement campaign — speak directly to those who’ve impacted your nonprofit in the past
  • Donation amount
  • Monthly recurring donors
  • Social media power users
  • Corporate sponsors
  • Volunteers

What content are you sending?

It’ll be much easier to answer this question once you’ve segmented your email list. Each segment of donors or fundraisers should get content tailored to them. This means that first-time donors might receive educational material on your cause, while recurring donors get more detailed impact reports.

Think about the message from your supporters’ perspective. Given your relationship with an organization, what kind of information or appreciation would you expect from them?

Tip: Make sure to craft compelling subject lines for your organization’s emails to encourage opens.

Welcome emails

Welcome supporters to your organization’s email subscription. Let subscribers know about the content they will receive, when they can expect to hear from your organization, and if your organization offers incentives or gifts as a thank you for making a donation. Include educational material to let them know about your organization’s cause and thank them for subscribing and supporting. 

Fundraising emails

Fundraising emails are a core piece of a good nonprofit or charity marketing strategy. Fundraising helps to support the cause of the organization alongside the organization itself. Make sure your organization sends branded, informative emails with clear calls to action to boost donations and turn donor and membership statuses. 

Thank you emails and donation confirmations

Thank your organization’s supporters for donating and for attending events. Thank you emails and donation confirmation emails should be timely. The messages you send go a long way to let your supporters know that your organization appreciates their generosity, time, and loyalty to your cause.

Nonprofit thank you email sample
Create thank you emails to express gratitude to your supporters.

Education and impact

Email educational materials to your audience to keep them informed about new developments and impact regarding their support of your organization’s cause. Include stories about who or what is benefitting from donations, as well as future goals to promote continued donation and involvement with your organization. 


Send regular newsletters to keep subscribers informed about your organization, upcoming events and fundraisers, incentives and gifts, and recaps and stories. Use newsletters as an opportunity to have subscribers revise their donor status (think one-time donor to recurring, or standard to premium memberships) and to promote opportunities to get involved. 

Promote events and send recaps

Promote events via email and direct subscribers to RSVP. Create drip campaigns to create hype for subscribers who have signed up for your event and to encourage the people who have not signed up to submit their response before it’s too late. Send recaps of events to non-attendees and thank-you’s to the people who attended your organization’s event. Send recordings from virtual events like webinars, panels, and discussions to event attendees and non-attendees, alike. 

Event volunteers, sponsors, and partner stories

Partnerships and event sponsors help to grow your organization’s network. Share stories and impact from nonprofit event sponsors and partners with your organization’s subscribers. Encourage subscribers to follow nonprofit partners and attend sponsored events. 

Where are you directing your readers?

Of course, you want your email’s content to be engaging to your readers, but they should also receive clear direction as to what to do next. If the email is only going out to your newsletter subscribers, the main call to action (CTA) might link out to a blog post. On the other hand, if you’re running a recurring donations campaign, link out to the campaign microsite or a donation form.

Tip: Make sure to connect what you’re emailing to what readers find on the other side of the CTA.

When should you send emails?

In some cases, the best day to send email is on the weekend, while in others it might be a Monday or Tuesday. Ask yourself who your audience is and what their primary behaviors might be and start experimenting. By looking at your reports, you’ll eventually be able to determine what days and times receive the best open and click-through rates.

Note that the peak times for open rates can be different than primetime for click-through rates. Choose the send day and time based on data you’ve collected from previous campaigns. For example, send an email with a CTA to donate during the final push of your fundraising campaign on the day and time you’ve observed higher click-through rates. Check conversion rates to see how many people made a donation after clicking on a link to a donation form in your email. 

Tip: Craft a content calendar to keep your organization’s communications organized and to avoid overwhelming your subscribers and social media followers. 

Why are you sending emails?

This might be one of the most important questions you ask yourself before sending an email or starting a campaign. Remember, the most effective marketers reach the right people, at the right time, with a relevant message. Create specific goals, by segment, for your email campaigns and the content you deliver to supporters will be much more compelling. Some reasons your nonprofit organization might be sending emails include:  

  • To gather donations
  • To inform your audience
  • To organize events

Here are some examples of how you can use the five W’s in your nonprofit email marketing plan:

Who? First-time donors

What? An educational infographic that reminds them how important their donation has been to solve a problem in your cause sector.

Where? Send email recipients to a blog post or a video that elaborates on the information in the infographic.

When? Within a week of their donation.

Why? Demonstrate a donors’ value to your mission and motivate them to re-engage with your organization.


Who? Donors who have supported your organization multiple times

What?  An exclusive invite to be the first to join your brand new recurring donors program.

Where? To your unique recurring donations program page or form.

When? During the soft launch of a recurring donations campaign or during your year-end campaign.

Why? Make dedicated donors feel appreciated, so they become a pillar of sustained support for your organization.


Who? One-time donors

What? A celebratory thank-you message with a soft ask to donate again

Where? Send them to a unique donation form that speaks to this segment. Maybe the headline of the form is, “Congratulations! You’re about to renew your impact!”

When? On the first anniversary of their first donation

Why? Increase donor retention through celebration and positive reinforcement.


Nonprofit email marketing best practices

Mobile-responsive design

Make sure your organization’s emails are responsive on mobile devices. Emails must fit the frame of the device they are being read on without content and calls to action being cut off. Content needs to be clickable and scrollable by touch and fit a range of mobile devices and web browsers/apps. 

Social media links 

Emails are an opportunity to share your organization’s social networks and expand your reach. Link your organization’s social channels within your email and write a call to action to direct subscribers to follow your accounts. 

A/B testing

A/B testing involves selecting an element of your email campaign to be variable. Create two versions of the selected variable to test against each other. 

Common A/B tests include: 

  • Testing subject lines 
  • Email layout
  • Images and graphics
  • Color
  • CTA text
  • Link type (including buttons, hyperlinks, and linked imagery) 

Form test groups of similar size and demographic make-up to control the test. 

Call to action

A call to action (CTA) directs a reader to take action. Calls to action are placed on websites, in emails, and on social media and accompany a button or link to a product page, landing page, subscription form, event sign-up, etc. 

Gather donations and engage supporters with email marketing

Whether you’re running a fundraising campaign, sending a monthly newsletter or preparing a one-off email, Constant Contact has the tools to to support all of your email marketing needs. Sign up for a free trial and test out our email builder, list segmentation feature, and check out the reporting dashboard to see how you can progress your strategy and boost subscriber engagement.