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How to optimize your emails to advocate for your cause

Learn what steps you can take to grow and mobilize your community through engaging emails.

How to optimize your emails to advocate for your cause

Email has been around for what feels like forever. For some, a world without email never existed to begin with. Email is a constant. There’s never a question of if you should emailbut rather when, to whom, and why. We’ve all emailed friends, family members, colleagues, and classmates. Through the years, email has played a pivotal role in making it possible to stay connected with so many of the communities we share.

But, it’s undeniable that email’s place within our lives (and our digital strategies) has dramatically changed and evolved with the world around it. 

So what’s the state of email today? And what can you improve about your email strategy to keep up?

Let’s start broadlyhow many emails are moving back and forth on any given day online?

You might be wondering: Is anyone actually opening all these emails? What’s more, do people care about what’s being communicated in them?

While the average email open rate in 2019 was 17.8% across industries, nonprofits and government organizations outperformed most other types of organizations with open rates of 25% and 30%, respectively.

Meanwhile, the average cross-industry click-through-rate came in at 2.6%, which nonprofits matched and government groups outperformed with a 4% click-through-rate.

Whether these stats match your current performance or seem like a reachwe’re going to explore tactics for improving upon your email outreach and moving your supporters to action.

Know your audience
Your email list might have thousands of supporters and potential supporters on itor maybe you’re just starting out with less than a hundred. Either way, you’ll need to be very familiar with this group if you want to send them the kind of engaging emails that lead to donations, volunteer sign-ups, petition signatures, and more.

It’s no secret that a large email list without any segmentation will drop your open rates and bump up your unsubscribe rate. In fact, if you do segment your emails, research shows you can see up to a 39% increase in your open rates. That means before you click send on any given emailmake sure you know exactly who you’re sending to, and why.

Start by identifying which traits are most important to you about your supporters. Here are a few characteristics to consider:

  • When they became a supporter
  • Their last donation and the amount
  • How they showed interest in your cause
  • Whether they’ve attended any online or offline events
  • What volunteer roles they’ve signed up for

These are all data points you can track within your integrated database via tags, which you can then use to create segmented email lists. For example, you likely have large dollar donors and small dollar donors in your database. Segmenting these two groups provides you with an opportunity to reach them with a customized donation ask based on their previous donation amount. 

Craft your content
Knowing your audience goes hand in hand with getting your messaging right. With the added insight on who you’re sending to, you can ensure your emails keep supporters engaged and feeling like an integral part of your community.

Personalization goes a long way toward doing thisand we’re not just talking about addressing people by name. With smart fields, you can customize specifics around their previous donation amounts, membership status, and even send them custom recruiter IDs for when they’re working to help grow your community. This way, you can send 1:1-style emails to however many supporters you need, without the added effort of customizing each individual message.

Apart from personalization, it’s important to share content that’s helpful and relevant. While it might be easier to get right to the point with what you need from your supporters, you’ll get a lot further by sharing what they actually want to hear from you. Think about helpful resources or tidbits that might grab their interest and frame your ask with those in mind.

Plus, when you focus on creating email content that provides value for your supporters, they often forward it to friends and family or share it online. That peer-to-peer sharing provides a great opportunity for your community to grow organically.

Most importantly: Tell your story. There’s nothing more engaging than authenticity. Humans want to connect and the more you share about your cause, your mission, and how it relates to your particular ask, the more likely people will be to help you. So know your story inside and out and make sure it frames every communication you send to your community.

Set clear goals
Your emails should always be intentional and part of a larger strategy. Make sure you know the ‘why’ behind every email send and create a system for reporting your progress. Whether that’s tracking a growing email list or actions taken from emailknow what’s important for your work to move forward and stay on top of those metrics.

Creating a goals dashboard is not only a great way to do this; it also helps your team feel motivated. Share your goals dashboard with others to use it as a reminder of how far you’ve comeand how much further you’ve still got to go.

Similarly, you’ll want to have a good grasp of what actions will help you reach each goal. If it’s a fundraising goal, then trace back what steps your supporters usually take in the lead-up to donating. Once you have this breakdown, you can create a path specific to donations that has email outreach as one of the main components. Then, you’ll automatically know once that step has been completed that the supporter is one step closer to donating.

Stick to a structure
While there’s no one perfect email formula, there definitely are some basics you should be incorporating in each of your emails to make them more effective. We’ll keep these short and sweet, just like your emails should be.

  • Subject lines are the point of entrykeep them concise and informative. Try and stick to 6 words or less.
  • Keep your emails short. If you can say it in fewer words, then do so.
  • Include imagery. Images help break up text and communicate emotion and tone both quickly and effectively.
  • Make your ask clear and easy to carry out. Add a button with your call to action, like: “Donate,” “Subscribe” or “Volunteer”don’t let process be the barrier to entry.

Automate your workflow
As with any part of your digital organizing strategy, it’s important to set up your email programs so they can scale with your work. What’s more, each of your supporters is on a unique journey with your organization, and curating the content you send on that journey is key to keeping them engaged and active in your community.

Email automation removes some of the day-to-day work of managing your emails and gives you time back to focus on optimizing your content and delivering it at the right moment. 

With your content set up for each phase of your supporter journey, you’ll never miss a key opportunity to get in touch after a volunteer or donor has taken a valuable actiona critical moment when your relationship with them can grow.


Even though the need to email might be a given, the practice of sending effective emails isn’t. Next time you approach an email send, keep these tactics top of mind to ensure you’re using email as a tool to build and deepen relationships with your supporters as you continue to grow your community.

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