Crafting subjects for year-end fundraising emails

All month, I've been seeing some odd email subjects trying to get me to give.

Would you open any of these?

  • An Appeal From [Nonprofit] CEO [Name]
  • It's Not Too Late for Your 2010 Tax Deduction: Support [nonprofit] Today
  • Since we are at year-end, could you re-visit your charitable giving?

I'm not a fan of any of them, but if I had to choose one, it's be the last one. This is in keeping with the nonprofit's voice so I probably would click through.

An email subject is sort of like a direct mail envelope: it's only effective if it gets you to open it.

When you do your fundraising emails this week, be very intentional with the subject. People are reading email on all sorts of devices. So I recommend keeping the subject shorter, somewhere between 35-50 characters. This way they'll "get" the subject, regardless of the size of their screen.

But some say that longer subjects actually increase clickthrough rates. (You want the email open but you're really interested in having people click-through and make a gift.) So be sure to test. If you're using a tool like [affiliate link], you can do split tests--sending a longer subject to half your list and a short subject to the other half. The results will help you in future email appeals.

A Simple Test

Here's a very simple way to check out your email subject. Write it out and then P.Y.I.T.S. - Put Yourself In Their Shoes.

If you were a harried professional who hasn't made a gift yet this year and has too much email, would you open this email? Really?

Don't send it out until you can answer "yes"!

Update 12/28: Just saw this email subject "Please Don't Donate to [Nonprofit]! Send Passionate Youth Musicians Instead!" I definitely opened that one!

What are some email subjects have you seen this year? Are they compelling or easy to delete?

About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to


  1. I was intrigued by your post and went through my email box for the past week or so. Here's what I plucked out:

    1. Remember to Give This Week for a Tax Deduction
    2. Pamela, sending you so much love
    3. A Holiday Tail
    4. Hudson River Will Finally Get the Cleanup It Deserves!
    5. Last Chance! Give the Gift of Community
    6. An unprecedented invitation -- from [name]...

    I would love to hear your thoughts on which of these 'work.' Which ones would you open?

    As an aside, I opened 'A Holiday Tail' not because of the headline necessarily, but because it came from Best Friends - and their emails are always so fun and joy-filled that I never fail to read them. How many organizations can say that?

  2. Pamela,

    Great additions! I think you hit on something really important with you "Best Friends" comment: email fundraising is more than just the subject.

    It also is dependent on frequency of the email and if your organization's emails are fun or informative or generally worth opening.

  3. Just got this one today:
    - 2 Days Left in the 2010 Season of Giving!

  4. And this one:
    There is still time

    Short & sweet, no?

  5. Pamela, oddly, without any connection to any of the senders, I think I'd open the last one...

  6. That was a test, Marc. I'm always urging my own readers to explore beyond their comfort zones and learn from marketers outside of the nonprofit arena.

    You proved my point. That last email came from internet marketer Ali Brown.

  7. Thanks Pamela! Love being tested. 🙂

    Some more in my inbox today:
    - Not Too Late to Donate
    - Your Gift
    - Almost there!
    - Make your gift before December 31st
    - Last chance to change the world in 2010

    Jumo sent the "Your Gift." That intrigued me enough to open it. I don't normally recommend ambiguity in your email or direct mail, but it worked in this case.

    Causes sent out the last one. Seemed a bit "over the top" for me.

  8. Agreed on the Causes email, Marc.

    "Almost there!" was from the NY Restoration Project and alluded to a generous $115,000 challenge grant from founder, Bette Midler. There's a lot to like in their campaign - the challenge, the sequencing, the brevity and the enthusiasm.

    BTW, I've not seen hard stats about the use of the donor/subscriber's name in the subject header but I do notice a higher open rate on my own emails when I use it.

    Fun convo!

What would you add?