7 Killer Email Fundraising Tips from Human Rights Campaign

How often do you experience your email messages from your donor’s perspective? How often do you let your donors pick the best email fundraising message?1Well, that’s exactly what Human Rights Campaign does. And it works!During their 16NTC presentation, HRC shared how they crafted wildly successful email campaigns. They do it be focusing on their DUX (Donor’s User Experience).
.Donors User Experience
DUX is ultimately about a/b testing, based on a few smart questions regarding your email fundraising messages. Best if asked from a donor’s perspective:
  • Who’s the email from?
  • Do I get the gist of the message?
  • Do I know what to do?
  • What do I read after I take the first action?
  • What’s next?

Whether consciously or unconsciously, donors ask these questions every time they get your emails. Here are 6 ways you can make your email fundraising messages more donor-centric:

Email Fundraising Tip #1: Select the best sender

DUX question: Who’s the email from?

The most important questions anyone asks about any email is: Who is sending me this email? Do I know this person or organization? Do I like them?

One thing that immediately stands out about HRC’s email campaigns is the sender name. Sometimes the emails are from Chad Griffin, sometimes they’re from Marty Rouse, and other times it’s Human Right Campaign (see below).

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They’ve experimented with and tested a variety of ideas:

  • Organization name vs name of a person
  • Names that have high affinity
  • Male vs female names
  • Combining org and person

They explore ideas, discuss which sender will get the most opens. And then they test. They test, and test, and they test.

Email Fundraising Tip #2: Craft a subject line that begs to be clicked

DUX question: Do I get the gist of the message?

The purpose of your subject line is NOT to raise money or tell donors the date, time, and location of your upcoming fundraising. Your subject line has only one purpose and that is to sell opening your email. That’s it.

While viewing your emails donors unconsciously ask: What’s in it for me? Is this email worth my time? How urgent is this email?

Ask these questions about your subject lines:

  • Does it plant a question?
  • Does it tell half the story?
  • Does it tickle my FOMO (fear of missing out)?
  • Does it promise value in the message?
  • Does the subject line include my name?
  • Is it super short?

Email Fundraising Tip #3: Don’t neglect the preview text

In most email apps, users can see a preview of the email message before they open it.

Most times the preview is the first part of the email message. If an image is the first thing in your email message, the preview might be html code for that image (as shown below).

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Most of your donors aren’t HTML experts, so the first example above might confuse donors.

Email Fundraising Tip #4: Craft a message that begs to be clicked

DUX question: Do I know what to do?

Let’s face it, if you don’t give people a reason to click, your email is dead in the water. Your email message should clearly state what’s being asked, and then ask several different ways.

  • Experiment with personalizing the email (first name, location, etc).
  • Experiment and test the images in your email message.
  • Test the goal. In one message, HRC compared two different goals in a fundraising campaign: Amount raised vs. money raised.
  • Ask several times in your email message and make sure those asks link to your campaign landing page.

Email Fundraising Tip #5: Craft action calls that beg to be clicked

One important part of every email fundraising message is the call to action. Call-to-actions can be text, or they can be a button.

Preferably it’s both since it often takes multiple asks to push donors over the edge.

HRC regularly tests several ways to drive clicks in action calls:

  • Call-out box versus no call-out box (as shown below)
  • Personalize the button (name, location, etc)
  • Check box as button
  • Highlighted or bolded text
  • Image buttons versus HTML buttons
  • Add My Name versus Add Your Name

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Email Fundraising Tip #6: Include a meaningful follow-up action

The best time to ask for a donation is immediately after someone has taken action.

When HRC asks supporters to sign the “No Hate In My State” petition (see above), they immediately ask for a secondary action: Donate and get a T-shirt!

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Are you offering a follow-up action after people join your newsletter, sign a petition, etc? Does the follow-up action maintain the narrative, like the example above?

What actions are you presenting after people:

  • Donate for the first time?
  • Attend an event?
  • Join your newsletter?
  • Sign up to volunteer?

Do your follow-up actions make sense to the donor, volunteer or subscriber? Are you telling them what’s next?

Email Fundraising Tip #7: Don’t take off your lab coat


The reoccurring theme throughout HRC’s presentation was this: Always be testing. Improve your email engagement with a process of experimenting and testing.

And never take off your lab coat. Best practices that work today, may not work as well in three months. So you should always test your email messages, particularly your subject lines (a relatively easy test).

What’s your favorite HRC email fundraising tip?

John Haydon on Email Marketing for Nonprofits