min read

Asking for monetary support can be a challenge, especially navigating how to appeal to potential supporters without them tuning out. The trick to avoiding this phenomenon is completely based on the presentation of your cause and the manner in which you make an engaging ask. We’ve dissected the core components of creating an amazing fundraising email sequence below.

Tell Your Story

Like any good story, your fundraising email needs a hook – an opening line that creates a need to keep reading. Most people see fundraising emails and skim over before sending it to spam. Give them a reason to engage.

  • Try posing a relevant and thought-provoking question to engage your readers.
  • Create intrigue about what they will learn with a statement like “You won’t believe this” or lead with an ambiguous action-oriented statement like “Let’s do this!
  • Lead with gratitude for people taking the time to read through to motivate them to keep going.
  • Stress urgency as you get closer to your goals to compel action.

Once you have your hook nailed down, make sure you give them a narrative that will stay with them. Remember: it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to show the magnitude of the problem.

There are thousands suffering, hundreds of people that will benefit each year, huge numbers of people that will gain access to something important because of this project.

The bigger the problem, the more people will be touched by your project and the more likely they’ll be to get involved, right?

Turns out, people are easily overwhelmed when confronted with large problems. We have a difficult time wrapping our minds around the enormity of issues, which leads to a mental response called psychic numbing.

Psychic numbing causes people to mentally retreat when they think their personal effort won’t have an impact. In this case, this response leads to inaction.

A powerful study by Paul Slovic in 2014 demonstrates that people’s compassion starts to diminish when presented with even as few as two victims instead of one.

This means that it’s crucial to tell your story from the perspective of a single character.

Connect a real person who has, or will, benefit from your work and the donor’s impact, providing them with a reason to believe in the effort. The person you decide to talk about is your focus: they are the hero, not your organization.

Incorporate Your Visuals

Try to include visual content in your fundraising email to make your story more digestible. The human brain responds to images and videos 60,000 times faster than plain text.

Just like you are centering your story around a single entity, center your images and videos around one main subject: it can be a person or animal, a group or family, a gathering or event, etc.

Consistency is key when using images and videos to tell a story. Use the same subject across multiple emails and allow your audience to see this subject evolve over the course of several visual pieces to create a narrative.

It may start with a statement of the problem in your first email with a visual representation of the struggle the subject is going through. Then, by the last email, it may be information on the impact that donations can make paired with a visual of the positive change or outcome.

To get started, here are four main elements to look for in your photos:

  • EmotionResearch reveals that donors perceive the same type of personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people. And just like with people, they are attracted more to some personality types than others — attractions which are emotion-based, not rational. Use people and faces to give your story compelling emotions that dovetail with a donor’s core motivations. Try to capture facial expressions to convey the emotion you want to evoke.
  • Details: Your story lies in the details. Little things in our lives make up who we are. Use a variety of up-close and wide-angle shots including your main subject and the small details that portray who they are by capturing them in situations that relate to your cause.
  • Action: The most interesting photos show some sort of action. Your main subject should be in the middle of creating, moving, or actively showing something. This is an easy way to catch your audience’s attention.
  • Lighting: Set a certain mood with the lighting used in your photos. Will they be dark to set a dramatic effect or bright to emphasize a certain mood? Lighting is a surprisingly important factor to create an emotional impact and drive your audience towards what you want them to feel.

For videos, use this guide to develop a strong outline and access free tools to create something compelling that doesn’t require you to be a Hollywood director.

Keep it Short & Sweet

No one has endless time to spend on reading fundraising emails, especially if it’s from an unknown sender. With that said, keep it short and sweet.

Limit your paragraphs to just a few sentences each, keeping the entire email at just a few paragraphs as well. To make it even easier on the eyes, use headlines to emphasize the important points you wish to make.

Focus on Your Donor

You wouldn’t be where you are without all of the help from individuals who believed in your organization’s mission – so treat them as individuals.

Your email greeting should use their first name and incorporate as many unique details about them as possible. Make it clear that you know who you are speaking to, not just sending mass messages. Also, utilize second person. Use the pronouns you, your, and yours. They are your focus.

Explain how their support alone is so valuable rather than everyone’s as a whole. Connect your donor to the outcome they can make so they feel a sense of responsibility to the good work being done.

Not only does making your message personal create a connection to the cause, but it offers a relationship between your donor and your work. Your relationship is sparked by a common passion and drive to help.

These kinds of stories are what made you so dedicated to your cause, so spark that fire within your audience, as well.

Allow Freedom to Choose

You don’t want to be annoying or pushy…so don’t be. While you can’t expect anything if you aren’t willing to ask for it, not every ask should be about monetary support.

There are multiple ways to make impact, so make multiple asks that include different calls-to-action over the course of your fundraising email sequence.

Start with something as easy as asking for people to share with their networks. Social capital is a great way for your supporters to have impact because it moves potential avenues of support outside of the scope of your database and helps you acquire new donors. This is also a great way to move people down through your funnel with authentic interactions towards a first-time gift.

From there, try asking people to engage with your content, like watching your video. This will help connect supporters to your story and is a great way make a “soft ask” that allows them to make the call on whether or not they follow-up with additional action.

Finally, when you do make the direct ask, allow people to say no. Simply by stating “but you are free not to” you show respect for your readers’ free will that goes a very long way. According to scientific research, giving individuals the choice to not donate nearly doubles the likelihood of receiving a donation in the end.

Show the Impact of a Dollar

Within your fundraising emails, there should also be a scale of impact you show when you ask for a donation. Donors come in all sizes, and it’s imperative that you are able to show tangible benefit from a range of donations. We all know that small donations won’t cure world hunger, but it’s sure a good place to start.

Every donation has a positive outcome, no matter how small. Don’t neglect to emphasize this to your audience.

What is the outcome of their donation? Provide a clear path for donors to connect the dots between their money and the seen outcome. Try constructing a budget around your cause that ties to different donation levels.
For example:

  • For $20 you can supply a child with meals for a week
  • $200 will feed three children every meal for a month
  • For $2000 you can support an entire community of children with all of the food they need for a month

Remember, realistic numbers and personal impact create a strong call to action and transparency is key. Being completely honest about the breakdown of where money goes builds confidence for the donor and also lets them relate to the granular change they can make for your cause.

Providing money to another individual is an act of trust; don’t neglect to build that confidence before asking. People will continue their support if they can see what impact they have throughout your ongoing story.

Katie Haystead

Katie Haystead

Senior Vice President, Partnerships

With over a decade of experience working with K12 schools and higher education institutions’ fundraising efforts, Katie Haystead now oversees the partnerships team at Community Funded. Her passion for partner success and satisfaction aligns with Community Funded’s priorities and Katie’s unique background is well suited to manage the day to day operations of our partnerships team as well as new market acquisition.

Prior to joining the team at Community Funded, Katie served many roles within the Fundraising Division at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Her experience ranges from working onsite and remotely with clients executing phonathon programs, developing annual giving strategies, onsite consultations and also developing multichannel strategies allowing for strong synergy between annual giving channels and creating strong major and planned gift pipelines.

Katie is based in Metro Detroit and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she worked for the phonathon for 3 years while working towards her History Major.

Kim Jennings

Kim Jennings

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Kim Jennings, CFRE is a skilled fundraising leader who believes in the power of Christian education to raise up thoughtful, strong, committed leaders who can make our world a better place for all.

Kim Jennings

Todd Turner

Director of Digital Strategies, Generis

In addition to his 11 years overseeing Chuck Swindoll’s Insight Living Ministries communications department, Todd Turner has worked as a digital strategist for faith based organizations across the globe..

Kim Jennings

Jennifer Perrow

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Jennifer is a skilled fundraising and communications professional who helps ministries articulate vision, communicate mission, and raise abundant funds to advance Kingdom priorities.