3 myths of email fundraising

Myths about email fundraisingMore and more of people coming to me for coaching seem to think that fundraising can be done 100% online. They want help setting up a website and getting on social media. It's as though there must be a great pool of donors just waiting to give and putting up a website will funnel all their money to them. It's a digital version of the Field of Dreams Fundraising Myth.

No one tool can do all the heavy lifting for your fundraising program. Here are some of the myths that I'm seeing:

  1. Email is free

    Email is not free. Crafting fundraising emails that build relationships and raise funds take time. Time to write. Time to edit. Time to test. This time costs the nonprofit money. Sure, you don't see a bill for printing or postage, but the expense is still there.

    After it's sent, there's time to monitor too. To make sure unsubscribes are being honored. To make sure too many people aren't reporting your email as spam.

    And beyond time, people responsible should be investing in books and webinars to keep up with what others are doing. Often for-profit companies are on the cutting edge, which is terrific! We can often learn from their mistakes without having to make them ourselves!

  2. Everyone has email

    They don't. Some of your supporters, or would-be supporters, don't have an email address.

    Of those who do have email, not everyone is reading their email. I've anecdotally heard of people only having an email to sign up for social media sites. They prefer communicating by Facebook messages instead of email. So if you're sending them email, they're not seeing it.

    In addition, email programs like Gmail automatically segment many nonprofit email appeals into a "promotions" tab, potentially making it less likely to be noticed. Add to that the fact that email delivery can be hampered by server issues and spam filters and you have an even bigger problem. Perhaps it's no surprise that while online giving continues to increase, email response rates are decreasing.

  3. Email has replaced print

    I think the most insidious myth is that email has replaced print. This is wreaking enormous damage on nonprofit fundraising. I was on the board of a nonprofit that believed this. We decided to communicate 100% digitally, even for membership renewals. We saved a bunch of money and congratulated ourselves for our fiscal wisdom.

    Until the nonprofit closed its doors.

    Once again, "penny wise" proved to be "pound foolish." Members simply stopped renewing. They'd gotten into the habit of using our renewal letters and conference letters as invoices and submitting it to their finance team. When the renewal reminders came as email, they responded differently. They didn't look like the letters they'd been trained to respond to so they simply deleted them. By the time we figured it out, it was too late to go back.

Mix it up for effective fundraising

I'm not down on email. I love it. You can send it at your convenience and people can read it at their convenience. You can be brief in an email but have links to places for more information. And I email can raise money. My team and I raised $100,000 in email almost 15 years ago! But we raised the other $6.9 million in major gift solicitations, direct mail appeals, and events.

Effective fundraising requires all the tools: email, direct mail, phone calls, face-to-face visits, events. In our sector we call that a "multichannel" approach. Did you know the best way to raise money online appears to be sending a letter?! Counterintuitive, isn't it? (See my post: Want to drive online giving? Send a fundraising letter.)

Donors aren't a distraction

I understand the lure of email. It's much easier to send an email than to develop relationships with people. If you treat fundraising as going to an ATM, then you see email as the card that releases the money. But even with ATMs, you can only withdraw money that you've deposited. For those of us in nonprofits, those deposits are relationships. Relationships take time.

Don't get sidetracked by think that relationship time with donors is robbing you from time that could be spent on "mission." If you've started a nonprofit, you need to come to grips with the fact that donors are part of your mission.

As such, they deserve a portion of your time and budget. So pursue digital communications like email, but don't make the mistake of focusing on them exclusively!

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 https://fundraisingcoach.com/21-ways/


  1. Excellent points, Marc, although I suspect that narrowing the list down to 3 was a challenge.

  2. One of my committee members recently said, “Print is the new email. Everyone got so into email that no one pays attention to it anymore. When you get a card or note that is hand addressed, you open it, much like you used to with email.” Think she’s on to something. Thanks Marc!

  3. Robin is right, print is the new email! Email is in a horrible place these days. Yeah you still have to send them, but don't overestimate how many of your emails get read. It's not very many when compared to standard mailings.

  4. I would love the facts on this quote: "This is wreaking enormous damage on nonprofit fundraising" I am not disagreeing, I think this kind of statement is surely supported by actual facts. Can you just post the data that has you drawing this conclusion? Thanks great blog

  5. Though it is hard to believe, but I guess you are right that not everybody has their own email no matter how modern the world is and the people are.

    • Or, if they do have email, it isn't top-of-mind for them. I have one person who only prefers to text, another who only really responds to FB messages, and a third that loves Google Chat. NONE of those are my own preferred methods!

  6. Danielle says:

    "Their really communicating is through Facebook messages."
    If I receive any correspondence which contains spelling errors and poorly phrased sentences, I stop reading.
    After I saw your sentence above, I struggled to get to the end of the page.


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