Digital Outreach

Would YOU Read Your Newsletter? Best Practices for Nonprofit Email Marketing


For nonprofits marketers, creating a newsletter takes time and doesn’t seem to deliver much value. Recipients don’t always appreciate the newsletter because either they never opted in to receive it or the content isn’t relevant to them.

However, I firmly believe that email marketing is one of the most underutilized marketing channels for nonprofits. Not because many organizations aren’t doing it, but rather most people aren’t doing it effectively. We all have databases full of email addresses and great things to say, but most of our emails are lacking personalization and the emotional connection.

So how do we create that connection, resulting in more email engagement and results?

It comes down to focusing on the audience and people you serve rather than your nonprofit.

In this post I will help you answer some of the big questions and provide best practices to help make your newsletter worth it – for both your nonprofit and the recipients.

Before you start…

Are you considering your audience?

Obviously you want to get one newsletter dialed in before committing to others, however, I strongly encourage you to consider multiple newsletters for each audience. What donors want to hear is very different from that of general subscribers, volunteers or board members. By creating multiple newsletters with content relevant to each audience, you will see better engagement and also be more efficient with your time in writing it. Define those audiences and segment your database accordingly. Read more about defining each audience in our Audience Development Guide.

If multiple newsletters is just not an option logistically, consider creating a newsletter that is grouped by topic to allow readers to easily scan and find the content that is most relevant to them.

What’s your (newsletter’s) purpose?

Every month you write a newsletter, but was is the purpose? What are you hoping to get out of it? And keeping your audience updated on what’s going on at your nonprofit isn’t a great answer. Ideally your newsletter does more than just inform – it drives users to your website, gets them to sign up for your annual gala or shows them the impact their donation has made on the community.

Write down and share your newsletter’s purpose with any team members who help contribute. Use this statement to help ensure your newsletter stays focused.

Once You’ve Started…

Are your subject lines working?

No, seriously, write a great subject line!

If they don’t even open your email, what’s inside doesn’t matter. Analyzing your open rates is a great way to determine if your subject line was effective. Here are a few unique subject line examples.

Make it personal by inserting their name, “We could use your help this month {{firstname}}

Ask a question, “Which nonprofit should you volunteer for?”

How-to, “How do you turn your social impact ideas into action?” or one of our recent email subjects, “Do you make your bed?”

Stat, “430 young people graduated this year thanks to YOU”

Is your newsletter resonating with audiences?

Instead of touting your organization’s accomplishments or promoting an event, tell a story that might resonate with the reader. Pulling them in with a story will keep them engaged rather than scanning. Check out paragraph 1 of an email from ArcStone CEO,

“This is an issue that has touched my family personally.

I have two teenaged sons that love to play basketball at our neighborhood park in Uptown.
Sadly, several of the kids they’ve met at the park have been pushed out of their homes to fend for themselves on the street.
It has happened twice within the last six months. First with a thirteen year-old who, with tears in his eyes, begged me to “let him sleep over” because he was locked out and couldn’t reach his mom…”

The story goes on but you get the point. Making an emotional connection with this story actually helped to raise thousands of dollars for a local nonprofit we are involved with.

As you continue…

Are you keeping it simple?

I’m a big believer in simple, clean emails (this blog agrees). You don’t need an overly designed email template. Here are a few examples that are both clean and lightly branded – one is image driven while the other uses text to feel more like a personal email.


Are you monitoring?

Without tracking your newsletter metrics, it’s hard to stay motivated to write a great newsletter. Be sure that for every newsletter you track:

  • Open rate – the time of day and subject line can influence this
  • Click – was it interesting enough to click through to your site
  • Link tracking – which links in the newsletter were clicked

Compare these results month to month and test.

As you reflect / reassess…

What do your readers think?

Send a survey or include a quick question in the email asking for feedback. What information is most interesting? Do they even read the newsletter? Do they get excited when it arrives in their inbox?

Would YOU read your newsletter?

If the answer isn’t yes, you have some work to do. If you need help on any of the above tips, consider consulting a digital agency (like ArcStone!).