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Raising Thousands (if Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email

by Madeline Stanionis, 108 pp.

Email fundraising - are you successful with it? If you could stand improvement, there's no better book on the market than Madeline Stanionis's Raising Thousands (If Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email. It's direct, conversational, and filled with illustrations of real-life appeals that worked - and WHY they worked.
Topics include: how to compose snappy emails; when (days and times) to send them; what makes a subject line pull; how to cluster your emails for better results; and proven techniques for getting your emails opened.
"Undeniably the best book ever written about online fundraising," says Michael Stein, himself a nationally renowned technology writer and Internet strategist who's counseled organizations as diverse as Network for Good, the Campaign for Mental Health, and the Carnegie Corporation.

The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications


The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications, by Jeff Brooks

Drawing from decades of in-the-trenches fundraising experience, Jeff Brooks, one of America's top fundraising writers, takes you on a step-by-step tour of the unique strategies, writing style, and design techniques of irresistible fundraising messages.

About the Author

Madeline Stanionis is the CEO of Watershed (www.watershedcompany.com), an online fundraising and advocacy agency. She is also past President and Creative Director of Donordigital, a full-service online fundraising, advocacy, and marketing company.

Madeline has been raising money, organizing, and communicating for organizations and causes for 20 years, not counting her second-grade campaign for George McGovern.

She is a frequent speaker and writer in fundraising, advocacy, and technology conferences and publications across the country, and co-convenes Web of Change, an international annual gathering that connects global leaders in online communications, technology, and activism who are actively building a better world.

Madeline holds a Masters of Social Work from San Francisco State University. She lives in Berkeley with her husband, Scott Connolly, and two rescued greyhounds, Daisy and Ajax.

Table of Contents

  1. Everybody’s doing it
  2. It’s all about the list
  3. It’s all about the timing
  4. Think campaigns, not appeals
  5. Compose yourself
  6. There’s a lot of noise out there
  7. The sum of your parts
  8. What to send when you’re not soliciting
  9. It’s all about the data
  10. Making the most of the numbers
  11. Conclusion



The following article is excerpted from Madeline Stanionis’ book, Raising Thousands (if Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, please call 508-359-0019 or email us.

Writing Emails for Fundraising

As far as email copy is concerned, there are two key writing components. The first is the subject line; the second is the body of the email itself. Since readers encounter the subject line first, let's begin there.

The scoop on subject lines

Talk about time being of the essence! To capture your constituents' attention and convince them that of the many emails bombarding their in-box, yours is the one they must read, you have a grand total of … one to two seconds!

With that in mind, let's address a few subject line fundamentals:

• Length. Email programs vary as to how many characters your reader will see. Be on the safe side and keep yours to about 50 characters.

• Shouting symbols ($, !, CAPS, *) and words such as: Free, Sale, Teens will land you in the spam filter. Avoid them. (Stay up to date on the "words to avoid' list by visiting: www.emailsherpa.com or www.clickz.com)

Tell, tease, take action

Depending on the situation, you'll speak in different voices with your subject line. For example, if your issue is timely, and your relationship with the donor is well-established, your job may simply be to "tell" him or her what is happening. Here's what I mean:

• A crisis occurs overseas and a relief agency sends an email letting donors know how they can help: "Send a blanket to Bamgarian flood victims."

• The “telling” approach also holds true for emails that help your users take care of business: "Order your Golf Gala tickets now," or "Your membership expires soon - renew today."

• Messages with time-sensitive content fall into the “telling” category as well: "Six vegan-friendly ways to decorate Easter eggs," delivered a few days before the holiday.

However, you won't always have straightforward opportunities to ”tell” the facts. Here's when a little “teasing” is needed to get your reader's attention:

• An email landed in my box last week with this subject line: "The movie President Bush doesn't want you to see." That provocative approach works for me … I want to find out just what that movie is.

• Another way to tease is by being a bit clever. Quick, easy-to-scan clever. “It's beginning to look a lot like justice..." sent just before the Christmas holidays by Earthjustice.

Lastly, whether you're telling or teasing, it's always important to use your subject line to call your readers to action. After all, nothing happens (i.e. sending you a donation, filling out a petition) until they take the next step.

The best "take action" emails are:

• Specific. Rather than exhort readers to "Tell them no", say instead: "Tell Big Tobacco to stop selling to children."

• Well-timed. Ideally, the topic is in the news.

• Local, if possible. "Tell Big Tobacco to stop selling to Boston children."

Once you’ve motivated your constituents to open your email, it's critical to give them something good to read.

Composing an email – three elements

Writing good emails starts with the basics of writing good copy, period. You must have a story to tell, offer a compelling reason to give, and use clear and persuasive language. Only a few key elements distinguish email copy from other forms of writing:

1) Make your email scannable

How do you read your own email? Do you pore over every word? Of course not. Neither do your constituents. If you're like most people, you tend to scan rather than read your messages.

Therefore make sure your message is “scannable.” That means:

  • Short sentences
  • Short paragraphs
  • Numerous links to your donation page
  • Graphic insets telling your reader what to do
  • Bullets
  • Selective use of bold and italics (reserve underlining for hyperlinks only)

Using these guidelines, your goal is to create a persuasive message that, in seven seconds or so, tells your constituent exactly what to do.

2) Keep it simple and short

In a direct mail fundraising letter, you have pages (sometimes as many as eight!) to let your story unfold. Not so with email!

Chances are good your constituents are a bit overwhelmed by the volume of email they receive, and a windy email will only add to the deluge. Keeping your message short and to the point is a service to your recipients. That means:

  • Presenting only one or two key points
  • Using as few words as possible to state your case
  • Avoiding the history of your appeal (this is no time for background info)

3) Keep the medium in mind

Email tends to be more casual than print. That means a more personal, less formal tone is appropriate and even expected. For example:

  • Salutations and closings are typically more relaxed. A letter might begin with “Dear Ms. Stanionis,” while an email would start with “Hello Madeline."
  • Email copywriters tend to use more colloquial terms. Direct mail copy might say, “We were truly overwhelmed by the generous response to our request.” In email, that translates to, “Wow! You overwhelmed us (and that’s hard to do)!"
  • An up-to-the-minute style of writing is also appropriate. In direct mail language: “It was lovely to celebrate our anniversary with you last month.” In email: “I’m writing this at midnight, just getting home after the anniversary party. Whew! What a night.”

In this article I've highlighted a few subtle ways in which writing email is different from other forms of writing. Still, good writing is good writing: specific, clear, and forceful. Email hasn’t changed that a bit!

Companion Books

Customers who purchased Raising Thousands (if Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email also bought:

How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money       The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications