10 Mistakes nonprofits make with email fundraising and how to fix them

Email is easy. All you need is some copy, maybe an image, and to direct supporters to a webpage. Voilà! Easy-peasy!

Except, emails like that aren’t effective. Then organizations wonder why their emails do not perform well. They don’t use email in the best possible way. 

Your supporters want to hear from you via email, even fundraising emails, but you must first fix certain mistakes or misconceptions. 

Mistake 1: Use of poor technology

We live in a digital age where every nonprofit needs to have a CRM, a website, an email marketing platform, social media channels, and more. To communicate and fundraise, organizations need technology. But this leads to 2 problems

  1. Organizations buy or use the wrong technology
  2. They don’t understand and use the technology they have to its full capabilities

When technology is not integrated with your other software it creates a more significant issue. What’s the point of having data in your CRM if you can’t use it for web pages or email?  

The Fix: First, know your goals and understand how to achieve them. Before you buy new software, look at your current technology and assess if it can do the job. If it can’t, then it’s time to research and ask questions. You need to know precisely why you need the new software, how it can help, and if you can integrate it into your current technology.     

Mistake 2: Send emails to supporters who never open an email

Bigger is better. This is a common misconception about email audiences. Sure, you want to grow your email list. A larger list means more potential donors. But, while you grow your list, other supporters quit opening your emails.  

Think of it as a “circle of life” moment. It is natural to add and remove supporters from your email audience. 

The problem occurs when organizations do not remove subscribers, ever. Not removing unengaged supporters will damage your email reputation, which makes it difficult to send emails to anyone.

The Fix: Remove supporters who haven’t opened an email from you in over a year. You can still keep them in your database and try to re-engage them from time to time. But keep them out of your regular email campaigns.  

Mistake 3: Send supporters every email

Not every supporter needs to receive every email you send. This often leads them to unsubscribe or worse, they don’t engage with your emails. 

When you segment lists more supporters will open and interact with your emails. Fewer supporters will unsubscribe. Supporters will repeatedly open your emails because they know the content is relevant to them. 

The Fix: Segment supporters based on their behaviors. Send event links to only supporters who signed up. Create audiences from the last time they gave. The options are endless.

Mistake 4: The email isn’t personalized

Personalization is a big trend, and many nonprofits still don’t use it. This is not an optional addition to an email. One study showed 91% of supporters want personalized communication. The data backs up this claim because personalized subject lines get 26% higher open rates. Personalized emails also increase conversions by 20%

Personalized Emails


The Fix: This is another reason why it is important to integrate your technology. Go beyond first name personalization and send emails based on behavior. For instance, you can send a follow-up email to supporters who clicked a link about planned giving. 

Mistake 5: Boring subject lines

“Today is Giving Tuesday”

“March Newsletter is Here”

Do these real subject lines make you want to open the email? 

The majority of organizations write subject lines that get lost in the inbox. They don’t motivate the supporter, which is one of the reasons why open rates are so low. Studies show anywhere from 35 -64% of supporters will open an email based on the subject line 

The Fix: Use a subject line that will encourage supporters to open the email and find out more. Try a subject line that adds curiosity or use a quote. You can start a subject line with a call to action, like “Watch What Happens Next.” 

Mistake 6: An email has too many calls to action

It’s not uncommon to see emails with more than one call to action. The email will ask supporters to watch a video, volunteer, and donate. What’s wrong with this, you ask? More than one call to action overwhelms supporters and will result in them taking the action you least want them to take. 

The Fix: For fundraising emails, you only need one call to action, to donate. 

Mistake 7: Your organization doesn’t send enough emails

You read that right, you email too little. Your organization doesn’t send enough cultivation and fundraising emails.  

What do cultivation emails have to do with fundraising? Answer: Everything

When you provide value through cultivation emails, supporters are more likely to support your organization. Supporters won’t mind the fundraising email because they will understand the mission better. 

A consistent mix of both cultivation and fundraising produces better results. 

The Fix: Send emails based on quality, not quantity. Email your supporters when you can provide value or have news to share. When you do this, you can send fundraising emails a couple of times a month without negative consequences.  

Mistake 8: Too much friction to complete the donation 

Even if you get your supporters to engage with your website, email, or social media posts your job is not done. Supporters still need to complete their donation and most won’t. Research shows 9 out of 10 supporters will leave the landing page before they donate. 

Landing Page Bounces

Supporters will bounce from a landing page for a couple of main reasons.

  1. Page loads too slow
  2. Too many fields to fill out on the form 
  3. The message is inconsistent
  4. Too many steps to complete the donation

The Fix: Make sure your landing pages load within 3 seconds or less. Keep the landing page simple, don’t add any other links. On the form, use only the fields you need. Most of the time all you need for a donation form is the supporter’s name, email address, physical address, and payment information.  

Mistake 9: Supporters don’t get thanked after a donation.

Donor retention is a big issue with many nonprofits. One of the reasons is that donors don’t feel like their gift makes an impact. Too many organizations email a receipt with no thank you or they don’t email the supporter at all.

The Fix: A thank you email is the first step toward building a relationship with donors.   

Automate a thank you email after a supporter makes an online gift. This email should thank the donor and give a brief explanation of how the donation will get used. You can go multi-channel and send a thank you letter in the mail, as well. 

Mistake 10: Ignore data to make decisions

How do you know if what you do resonates with supporters? You look at the analytics. When you ignore this all-too-important data, you miss opportunities to speak to your supporters. You need to know what works and what doesn’t One of the best ways to do this is through your analytics.  

The Fix: Automate your data and create dashboards to see all your stats. Have an analytics tool like Google Analytics 4 to see how your website and landing pages perform. Your other communications platforms will have analytics ready at your fingertips. Test different elements of a campaign then use this data to help you make decisions. When you do, you will see more success with your digital fundraising.

There you have it, 10 mistakes nonprofits make with email fundraising. All these mistakes are easy to correct. It takes the right technology and the best staff to implement it. In many cases, like segmentation and automation, it means a solid strategy first. Rest assured, when you fix even one of these areas you will see greater engagement from your supporters which will lead to success.

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