5 Harsh Truths That Will Make You Send Better Donor Emails

Everywhere I look I’m inundated with nonprofits trying to get my attention. I can’t open my email, scroll through Facebook, or check my voicemail without receiving an opportunity to help an organization.

July 3, 2021

Everywhere I look I’m inundated with nonprofits trying to get my attention. I can’t open my email, scroll through Facebook, or check my voicemail without receiving an opportunity to help an organization. 

The scariest part of nonprofit marketing is all the money that’s spent on reporting your impact back to donors.  

We all wish we had unlimited resources to reach our donors, but there’s one affordable way that's producing results - a consistent, thoughtful email newsletter strategy.  

However, abuse your donors’ time, and you too will be wasting your precious resources on sending emails that never get read.

Here are 5 harsh truths to consider when sending emails to your donors:

1. You’ve got 99 problems - and donor attention is definitely one

Marketing at a nonprofit isn’t easy; you think donors care because they once gave you their time or money, but they don’t.  The reality is that donors give for a thousand different reasons, of which only one is that they’re passionate about your specific organization.  


  You've got 99 problems and donor attention is definitely one

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 After sending a quarter-million emails to 22,000 donors over 12 weeks, we learned that 56.5% of donors are likely to never open a single email!


opened at least one email


Be comfortable with the fact that many of your prior donors will never give again. 

Rather than trying to build a newsletter email that appeals to everyone, stay focused on providing value to those donors who do care.

2. No single supporter is coming to save you

We all dream of getting that big check from a high net-worth prospect.  We think that once she understands our impact and reads our stories, her heart strings will build a bridge to her wallet.  

While targeting this type of donor can be an effective strategy, the reality is that individual donors give 8x more than the top individuals and foundations combined!

Changing your focus to your most engaged supporters is your best shot at building sustainable revenue for your nonprofit. After all, small monthly gifts can end up being major gifts over time.

As part of our study on donor engagement, we found that 5.7% of donors opened an email every single month.  


Consecutive Monthly Emails Opened
Engaged Donors


These engaged users are giving you signals that they care.  Tell your story, show your impact, and don’t forget to ask these engaged donors for help.  Chances are they’ve been waiting all along.

3. There are no big wins - only incremental progress

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Overnight successes are usually 10 years in the making.  


  Overnight successes are usually 10 years in the making

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Big donations are never as game-changing as you thought, successful events quickly fade, and new donors come with a new set of expectations.

The good news is that as soon as you accept that incremental progress is all you need to succeed, you can keep moving forward and stop getting distracted.

We recently proved that sending weekly value-add emails can increase your opens 3x and engagement 6x.

Weekly Emails Increase Opens


Weekly Emails Increase Clicks

Take the first step. Start sending your engaged donors value add emails every week.  Soon open and clicks will compound, engaged donors will surface, and you’ll achieve something remarkable.  

Remember: Success is built brick by brick. Or should I say email by email.

4. No one email or newsletter will work for all your supporters

The simplest yet most difficult idea to grasp is that there’s an individual behind every one of your donor email addresses.  One thing we know is that individuals expect nonprofit communication to be tailored to their preferences.

In fact, a recent study found that:

  1. 65% of donors would give more time or money if their non-profit got to know them (Salesforce Connected Nonprofit Report, 2016)
  2. 80% of donors don’t believe their non-profits know them or their preferences (Salesforce Connected Nonprofit Report, 2016)

 When the average newsletters includes 7 calls-to-action, it's no wonder why donors aren't opening and clicking your emails. 

 Are you falling into the trap of sending one-size-fits-none newsletters?

Busy Nonprofit Newsletter Example

 Start treating your donors like individuals and send them what they want. Sending emails with a single call-to-action wins out over emails with multiple calls-to-action.  

Focus your time on what matters - delivering something of value to your donors to earn their attention.  Aim small, miss small.

5. It’s not about you

Can you recall a time when you met someone and all they did was talk about themselves?

At first we give them the benefit of the doubt thinking that at some point they’re going to ask us a question.  But as time goes on, and that doesn’t happen, we lose interest.

Donor relationships are no different.  As a nonprofit organization it can be easy to only talk about yourself - your mission, your impact, your needs.  

But don’t fall into this trap.  

Remember that donors are people, too.  The best way to earn their attention is to treat them like a new friend who you are genuinely interested in getting to know (see bullet #4 above).

If you put your donors' interests first, they’ll reward you by engaging with your emails and continuing to support your organization.

Don't let these hard truths slow you down.

Behind every harsh truth lies an opportunity to delight your donors.  Start today by remembering to:

  • Stop worrying about the donors that aren't engaged with your organization
  • Start focusing on providing value to your engaged donors
  • Consider sending weekly value-add emails to your donors
  • Treat your donors like individuals by giving them a personalized donor experience
  • Stop talking about your organization and start getting to know your donors' interests


GoodUnited is the best way to tap into the unlimited potential of your Facebook fundraisers. With GoodUnited, nonprofits see: 74% more emails, 24% increase in fundraiser goals reached, and 94% of their fundraisers want to raise again.