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Beyond the Subject Line: More Secrets for Getting Your Fundraising Emails Opened

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Email is the backbone of nonprofit digital fundraising. Grow and engage your list consistently, and you’ll enjoy increasing returns on your email appeals … assuming your supporters open your emails.

In our recent blog, Secrets for Effective Fundraising Subject Lines, we delved into the art of crafting compelling subject lines that get your emails opened. Now in this post, we’ll go beyond the subject line to explore other factors that can help get your emails opened and raise more revenue for your cause.

Before we dive into those factors, a quick reminder about the measurement of email opens. Email open reporting is becoming less reliable due to privacy technologies like Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay any attention to open rates. But do understand that your open rate reports don’t necessarily reflect reality, and you may consider focusing on clicks as your primary email metric.

Most importantly, regardless of open rate reporting, you do need to take all measures possible to get your emails opened by your supporters. Let’s dive into some factors beyond the subject line that influence that.

“From” Name

The “From” name is often the first thing your readers see. It should usually be recognizable and trustworthy, like your organization’s name or the name of a well-known individual like a high-profile CEO. But you can also use it more as an additional creative element, although it’s best to exercise caution with this.

To break down the pros and cons of different approaches a bit more:

  • From name = Organization name: The most recognizable, but impersonal:

Save the Children

  • From name = Name of a person from your organization: More personal, but fewer people will recognize them unless they’re really high profile or a pillar of that community:

Sophie Penicaud

  • From name = Person’s name + Organization name: Personal AND recognizable, but it can end up so long it won’t be visible on mobile devices and even desktop clients:

Kacper Nowacki, Save the Children

  • From name = Something else (eg a call to action or campaign name): This may grab attention around a hot topic, but is not recognizable and may be confusing for your supporter.

Here’s an example of getting more creative with the From name:

Early Access Match @ AJWS

In fact the organization’s name is still included here, but because it’s at the end, it gets cut off in many email clients or devices, and may be a bit confusing or unintuitive for the supporter. BUT it is also signaling a gift match, and offers the supporter exclusivity with “early access”. Further, this email was part of a 24-email (yes 24!) appeal that mostly used more conventional From names. I like this as a test because the direct engagement tactics (the match, the exclusivity) are sound.

Here’s another example of a creative From name:

Hidden name from Uganda, with Avaaz

Yes, the name is hidden, as if it has been censored. This is clever. It really stands out in the supporter’s email inbox and relates to the email’s core theme: an anti-gay law that was signed in Uganda and the related increase in serious violence towards LGBTQ+ people there. As the email explains, “As the anti-gay law has just been signed, the consequences for an email like this could be deadly – in many ways, they already are. For that reason, names have been removed and photos are anonymous.”

You should test creative approaches to From name like this, but make them a minority of your emails. For the most part, be consistent and aim to build recognition and trust. You usually want your supporter to immediately understand who the email’s from without having to think.

Preview Text

Preview text is the sentence following the subject line that displays in most email clients. It offers a glimpse into your email’s content. Here are examples of how preview text displays in a couple of different email clients:

Don’t fall for polluter propaganda – Our planet is suffocating on single-use plastics – and the worst culprits know it.

The best way to think of the subject line and preview text is as a one-two punch that compels the reader to open the email. You should keep the preview text engaging and aligned with your subject line, and don’t necessarily give it all away. For example, if your subject line poses a question, the preview text might hint at the answer. It’s a subtle art that can significantly boost open rates when done right.

In our last post we also talked about topic relevance as being vital to subject lines – or at least those where you’re signposting the topic. This also applies to preview text. Your preview text must aim to resonate with your audience’s values and interests, or otherwise offer something of value.

Mobile Optimization

With half or more of emails being opened on mobile devices (depending on your audience), mobile-friendly emails are a must. For this reason, you should aim for brevity with all your pre-open text elements – From name, subject line, preview text – and front-load keywords.

When you preview or test your emails before sending to your list, make sure you check them on a number of different mobile devices and clients. So for example, check how your email looks in an Apple Mail inbox, a Gmail for Android inbox, an Outlook mobile app inbox, etc.

Next week, we’ll look at some of the “invisible” things you can do to increase your open rates.

Want more up-to-the-moment help for digital fundraising? Take our all-new and completely FREE online workshop, 3 Email Fundraising Mistakes That Cost You Tons of Donations. Featuring digital Fundraisingologist James Herlihy, this single session will help you leap forward in your online fundraising mastery. Sessions are coming up soon! More information here. 

Related Blog Posts:

Previous Post
Secrets for Effective Fundraising Subject Lines
Next Post
Invisible but Important: Less-Known Ways to Improve Open Rates for Email

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