Building and Nurturing a Donor Email List: Online Donations for Nonprofits
October 5, 2023
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

Building and Nurturing a Donor Email List: Online Donations for Nonprofits

It’s 2023, and by now we all know that digital marketing is one of the quickest and most cost efficient ways to draw eyeballs to your organization. Especially when it comes to rallying the troops behind a worthy cause.

And email is leading the charge.

An email to a potential donor is more than just a shout into the void asking for a few bucks. It’s about storytelling, building a tribe, and inviting people to hop on board the change train.

Just take a look at the numbers:

A survey conducted by campaign monitor concluded that more than half of respondents were at least somewhat likely to make a donation or increase the amount of their scheduled donations after receiving an email, and only 7% were very unlikely.

How likely are you to make an unscheduled donation or increase the amount of your donations after receiving an email?

It’s clear that email is a powerful tool for nonprofits to get online donations. Unlike social media, targeted ads, or phone banking – email is trustworthy and can build connections with people of all demographics.

With email, you can include a healthy balance of imagery, storytelling, and relationship building.

Narrating a story through email allows you to forge a heartfelt connection with current and prospective donors, amplifying your message’s impact – ushering in more donations, volunteer participation, and proactive engagement.

As we progress, we’ll explore the strategies to build and nurture a donor email list and how a well-structured email appeal can pave the way for an uptick in online donations.

Understanding the Value of Email Fundraising

Email is your go-to when it comes to nurturing relationships with your donors. Unlike social media posts or traditional advertising, email fundraising allows you to communicate directly with your prospects and donors. 

Email allows for that personal touch that says, “Hey, I see you, and I appreciate you.”

It’s a powerful conduit for securing initial online donations, especially when it’s crafted with a blend of empathy and clarity. Through a well-articulated email, organizations can succinctly narrate their story, spotlight the urgency of their cause, and highlight the impact a donation could make. 

And with the right call to action, you’re not just opening doors for first-time donations, but planting seeds for long-term support.

That’s the area where email outreach really shines. You’ll be able to target the same donor list over the lifetime of your campaign, encouraging them to continue to take action and donate to your cause.

But it’s not about bombarding them with asks. 

It’s about sharing updates, celebrating little wins, and making them feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. 

And when the time is ripe, a gentle ask can encourage them to donate again. A little care, a little attention, and you’ll watch the relationship blossom over time.

A soft nudge, a heartfelt thank-you, and a dash of storytelling can go a long way in ensuring that the giving well doesn’t dry up, but flows steadily, supporting your cause through thick and thin.

Starting from Scratch: Building Your List

Before you can start sending out emails, you need to build a list of people to send them to. This might seem daunting, especially if you’re starting from zero. 

But don’t worry, we’re here to guide you through the process of building your email list from scratch. 

By focusing on your website, events, and the design of your sign-up forms, you can collect email addresses and grow your community. Now, let’s dive into the details and get that email list growing!

Leveraging Your Website

Your website is not just a digital billboard; it’s a bustling hub of interactions waiting to happen. So, why not seize the chance to grow your budding email list? Use the resources below to get started:


Visible Sign-Up Button: Place a can’t-miss-it sign-up button on your homepage. Make it pop, make it inviting, and watch the email addresses roll in. 

Lead magnets: Offer a downloadable nugget of wisdom, maybe an e-book or a handy checklist, in return for their email. It’s a win-win!

Pop-up Forms: Pop-ups can work wonders for capturing emails, but only if they’re not obnoxious. Keep them simple, easy to close, and not too frequent.


Here’s an example of a pop-up form that does the job without being too intrusive:


Strat Labs Pop Up Form

Leveraging Events

Events, whether they’re in-person, virtual, or a blend of both, are your nonprofit’s runway to strut its stuff. They are where the magic happens, where strangers turn into supporters, and where you can harvest a bounty of email addresses. So, how do you make the most of these gatherings to balloon your email list? 


Sign-Up Sheets: Have sign-up sheets at your booth, and let the ink flow. A friendly face asking for an email address while explaining your cause can leave a lasting impression. Plus, people often appreciate a personal touch.

Webinar Registrations: Plan a webinar with the aim to inform your attendees about your cause and capture their emails. Ensure that the registration process is seamless and that attendees know they will be added to your email list for updates and more insightful sessions.


The perfect webinar registration entices attendees to sign up, and explains why it’ll be a valuable use of their time. It should look a little something like this:

he perfect webinar registration entices attendees to sign up, and explains why it’ll be a valuable use of their time. It should look a little something like this


Contests and Giveaways: Who doesn’t love a good contest? Host a giveaway with the condition of entering and signing up with their email. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and it’s a list builder.


Harnessing the power of your website and the vibrancy of events are stellar strategies to kickstart your email list. While your website acts as a 24/7 sign-up station, events provide a personalized touch, making email collection a breeze. 

Both channels lay a solid foundation for your email marketing endeavors.

Segmenting Your Donor Email List

Segmenting, or breaking down your email list into smaller groups based on specific criteria, allows for more personalized interactions. It’s like having different conversations with friends who have varied interests; you wouldn’t discuss your love for hiking with a friend who’s all about indoor games, right?


Understanding Donation History: Knowing who are your one-time donors, recurring donors, or big-ticket donors helps in crafting messages that resonate with each group.

Identifying Interests: If you know what causes or projects excite certain donors, you can tailor your messages to highlight those areas.


Segmenting Your Donor Email List

Strategies for Effective Segmentation

Now that we’ve grazed the surface of why segmentation is crucial, let’s dive into how you can do it effectively.


Start Simple: Begin with basic segments like new, recurring, and lapsed donors. As you get comfortable, delve into more detailed segments.


Utilize Surveys: Send out brief surveys to gauge your donors’ interests and preferences. It’s a straightforward way to collect valuable insights.


Automated Tools: Employ email marketing tools that offer segmentation features. They can simplify the process and save you tons of time.


Analyze and Adjust: Regularly review the performance of your segmented emails. Are they engaging donors better? Use this data to fine-tune your segmentation strategy.

Crafting Engaging Content

Creating captivating content for your emails is like opening doors to enhanced donor engagement. Here’s how you can make your emails not just readable, but memorable:


Don’t Be Salesy:

Good email copy feels like a friendly chat, not a sales pitch. Aim for a tone that’s conversational yet respectful.

Be Direct: Clarity is king. Get to the point and stay there.

Tell a Story: Share real stories about the impact your organization is making. It helps create a personal connection.


Hook Readers With Your Subject Line

A good subject line should grab your reader’s attention. It’s the first thing your donors see, so make it count.

Be Specific: Let them know what’s inside. “Updates from our last mission” is better than “March Newsletter”.

Create Urgency: Phrases like “Only a few hours left” can prompt action.


Create a Clear Call-to-Action:

What action do you want your readers to take after reading your email? Make it crystal clear with a well-crafted CTA.

Be Bold: Ensure your CTA stands out visually. Use bright colors and bold text to get your call-to-action to stand out.

Use Actionable Language: Words like “Donate,” “Volunteer,” or “Read More” tell readers exactly what the next step is.


Here’s an excellent example of a non-profit email from Kampgrounds of America Foundation (KOA) with two great calls to action:


Here’s an excellent example of a non-profit email from Kampgrounds of America Foundation (KOA) with two great calls to action:

Timing and Frequency of Emails

With email fundraising, the timing of your email is nearly as important as its content. Below are the best times and cadences to email your donor list:


Weekdays: Sending emails during the weekdays, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays, often sees better engagement.

Morning Hours: People tend to check their emails in the morning, so aiming for a send time around 10-11 AM could be beneficial.


Apart from timing, the frequency of your emails is also important. Too many emails can overwhelm your donors, while too few may cause them to forget about your cause.


Monthly Updates: A monthly newsletter or update is a good baseline. It keeps your donors in the loop without overcrowding their inbox.

Special Occasions: Besides regular updates, reaching out during special occasions or urgent needs is acceptable.


Crafting the perfect email is a start, but sending it at the right time and at the right frequency is what completes the puzzle and leads to higher engagement rates. 

If you pay attention to timing and frequency, you can ensure that your message reaches your donors when they’re most receptive. 


Automated Email Campaigns

Through a set of pre-written emails, you can keep engaging with donors without having to send every email manually. Two powerful types of automated emails are drip campaigns and automated thank you emails.


Drip Campaigns: These are a series of emails sent out on a schedule. For instance, after someone makes a donation, they receive a thank-you email, followed by an update on how their donation was used a few weeks later, and perhaps an invitation to an upcoming event after that.

Automated Thank You Emails: Everyone appreciates a thank you, and automated thank you emails ensure your donors feel appreciated right away. As soon as a donation is made, a thank you email should be sent out, making your donors feel valued.

Acknowledging Milestones: Acknowledging a donor’s first donation or yearly donor anniversaries is an excellent way to keep the connection strong. Setting up automated emails for these milestones can make your donors feel special and encourage them to continue supporting your cause.


By integrating automated email campaigns into your fundraising strategy, you build and nurture lasting relationships with your donors. It’s all about showing them that you value their support, and there’s no better way to do it than through timely, personalized.


How to Ask for Donations in an Email

Asking for donations via email can be a delicate dance but when done correctly, it can significantly boost your fundraising efforts. It’s all about being clear, honest, and heartfelt in your request. Start by expressing gratitude for their past support if applicable, explain the current needs of your organization, and precisely what their donation will contribute towards. Being specific about how their support will make a difference is key.

Email fundraising is a multi-faceted approach that requires a blend of good content, timing, and technology. From building and nurturing your donor email list to crafting compelling content, and leveraging automated campaigns, each step plays a crucial role in your fundraising success. 

By paying attention to these elements and continually optimizing your strategy, you are well on your way to creating a lasting impact through your email fundraising efforts. With the right partner, your non-profit can significantly enhance its outreach and donor engagement, paving the way for a brighter and better future. Contact us today to get started!

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