The Dos and Don’ts of Email Fundraising Subject Lines

Email Fundraising is on the rise, meaning that non-profits are sending out more fundraising emails than ever before. But more doesn’t actually mean better. In fact, last year's fundraising email conversion rates declined, despite the barrage of emails.

Your audience will judge a fundraising email by its subject line. It determines whether or not the email is opened and tells your donor what’s actually inside the email. The subject line either entices your donor into opening your email or bores your donor into ignoring/deleting your email. Basically, the subject lines are pretty important. That’s why you need to follow the subject line best practices below.

Email Fundraising Do’s:

1. Make it simple

You might be tempted to write an email subject line that’s punchy and saley. Don’t. In this study, Mail Chimp analyzed more than 40 million emails and found that your subject line should (get ready for this shocker) describe the subject in your email. That’s it.

2. Keep it short

Another study from Mail Chimp (thanks, Mail Chimp) found that shorter subject lines performed better than longer ones. They think you should keep your subject lines under 50 characters.

3. Include a CTA

Tell users exactly what they need to do once they open the email by including action-oriented words. For example, include words like “donate” or “read” in the subject line. This motivates people to act, increasing click-rate once the email is opened.

4. Identify yourself

Try to mention your non-profit in the subject line.

Email Fundraising Don’ts:

1. Use all capital letters or special characters

Your email may not even make it past SPAM filters. If it was not picked up by SPAM filters then the donor reading it may identify it as SPAM.

Please note: When I advise you not to capitalize, I mean don’t capitalize the entire subject line. Capitalizing one word can actually work.

 2. Request help

People are wary of fundraising emails with requests for help. They immediately bring to mind scam emails and so people don’t open them. You know the scams I’m referring to (the ill-fated Nigerian prince comes to mind) and you don’t want to be associated with those emails.

3. Names

Using names in a subject line can actually reduce your open rates. People think this type of personalization is creepy.

4. Use numbers

Don’t use numbers in the subject line. Your email will look really salesey and donors may not click through.


These are some of the most important fundraising best practices. Follow them, and you’ll see drastic improvements in your open rates. But there’s one thing that will improve your results that wasn’t mentioned above: testing. Split test different subject lines and find out what works best, because data always trumps best practice.

What are your fundraising email subject line best practices?


For more insights like this,


More Resources

Email Fundraising Done Right (It’s Easier Than You Think) (Read Time: 3.5 mins)

My Favourite Email Fundraising Thank You Broken Down (Read Time: 3 mins)

Achieve Greater Giving Online By Optimizing Your Calls-to-Actions (Read Time: 3.5 mins)


Image Cred:

Image 1: gino borio, flicker, Image 2: Joey SparksImage 3: guercio, flicker