Even for experienced email fundraisers, getting your message heard during a busy season of appeals can be a challenge. Connecting with your donors via email can seem especially difficult if you’re venturing into email fundraising for the first time, or haven’t found a lot of success in the past. For the benefit of those taking our Email Fundraiser’s Toolkit, and the benefit of our followers not in the class as well, we’ve compiled a list of some of the questions being asked in class and answered them here. Hopefully together we can shed some light on the elements that make a strong email fundraising campaign.

I’m really interested in fundraising pitches that are connected to the campaign under way—seems like there’s a lot of that going on these days. For example, someone signs a petition and they get asked to give to support the campaign as a next automatic step.

These kind of follow up asks do make sense. We find that the best donors are often the ones who have just made a connection to the organization in a different way. You do need to be careful, however, that you aren’t over asking. It can turn a feel-good moment into a negative experience if your constituent feels like they were only asked to sign that petition so you could have a way to ask them for money.

Should planning around informational emails/newsletters with fundraising ones be separate and at different times or can they be combined?

Asks that are buried within informational emails like an eNewsletter are often not as successful as those that stand alone. That being said, a healthy mix of communications is the way to go. Make sure to continue your eNews communications during your fundraising campaigns to remind your constituents of the great work you do. Continue emails about services or events as well to show the impact of your work. You can always include a passive ask in each of your communications, but just don’t expect huge revenue from emails that aim to accomplish multiple goals. Standalone fundraising requests will most often raise the most money for your campaigns.

Could you give an example of a negative element?

The famous commercials from the ASPCA showing images of abused animals with heartfelt music playing in the background is the quintessential example of “going negative” with a fundraising campaign. And in this case, it definitely works. However, keep in mind that you have to do it just right to make an appropriate impact. Showing your constituents as pitiful, helpless, or gravely injured could potentially undermine your efforts if you fail to show the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Your constituents need to understand how their donation can create change, otherwise you might feel like a “lost cause.”

We have a happy cause: kids form a team, solve an educational challenge, present it at tournament and have a great time doing it. They learn 21st Century skills and workplace skills. How do we sell that positive cause?

Simply from this description we can get an image of your program, constituents, and the impact of your program. I would think about bringing in images or videos from the program, complete with quotes from kids to emphasize the value of your work. Hearing kids articulate, in their own voice, the value from your program seems like a fantastic place to start. You might consider a series with a written letter from a “kid ambassador” of sorts, a letter from a parent or teacher and then a short video that combines each perspective to hit the concept home.

We need money for “bricks and mortar” and operating expenses. We can get grants for specific programs, but how do we make a tangible result for paying the staff?

Everything that you do is supported by general operating money. Don’t feel like because the money raised from an email campaign is going to pay for heat that you can only talk about the cost of oil. All of your stories are on the table for these type of campaigns.

How much is too much info?

You want to try and keep your emails short and to the point. Unlike the trend towards multi-page direct mail pieces, you need to try and be highly concise with your emails. I’ve seen successful emails that only presented three sentences (and we’ll look at some in class #2). Be conscious of what can be read in an Outlook preview pane as well as how much text you can include above the fold of the email page. Also consider that a reasonable amount of your constituents will be reading your emails on their mobile phones where space is at a premium.

Can you include different perspectives in one ask? For example, donor, volunteer, and client?

You can consider including a few different perspectives in one email, but will need to think about length at that point. It might be interesting to present a few different perspectives in an introductory email and then explore each perspective in subsequent supporting emails.

How would you sync an email campaign with a direct-mailing and a phone bank?

Being conscious of the fact that requests are coming at your donors from multiple angles is a great start! If you are using multiple channels at once it is best to try and think about them as one cohesive campaign, using a consistent story and being thoughtful about how each can contribute to the whole.  Consider the timing of each communication and acknowledge multiple communications if there is overlap. For example, if you are calling people after they have received your direct mail, it might be helpful to mention that they should have received a letter from you.

How far apart should you space these appeals?

Once you have decided how many emails you will send, think about key milestones in your campaign. When will you start? When will you end? And how many weeks do you have in between? Often we recommend starting a little slow and building towards the deadline. So, if we are looking at a six week calendar, sending one the first week, one the third, one the fifth, and one or two the sixth.  But the model is not set in stone, and if we are talking about an end-of-year campaign, where the holidays fall with often dictate frequency throughout.

What if we are getting started with an email fundraising approach for the first time ever? Are there any special (additional) points to consider?

When starting an email fundraising campaign you need to be extra careful to have your house in order before you jump in. Building a solid email list should be your number one priority, as it will be hard to raise money if you don’t have any email addresses. You also need to take care to set up your Broadcast Email and Online Donation tools before you get started. Without the proper infrastructure you will find it difficult to implement the campaign. Finally, you need to make sure you appropriately set your expectations. In our experience, email fundraising campaigns start slow and then grow after a few iterations. Don’t give up on the program if you don’t raise buckets of money. Give the program time to mature—remember, you need to train your donors to give online before it can become an institution.