10 ways to get more people to read your non-profit email newsletter

Despite all the online marketing channels available to non-profits today (Facebook, Twitter, SEO, Adwords), only email consistently delivers a steady ROI (return on investment) and tangible results.

But Facebook! you say. Well, check these stats out:

But how do you create an email newsletter that is appealing enough that people will want to subscribe? And as important as getting people to subscribe is also getting them to stay subscribed: for every 15% of new subscriber growth, 16% of an email list unsubscribes (Source: eNonprofit Benchmark)! Yikes, that’s a scary stat.

Here are 10 tips that are easy to implement that can help make a world of difference to your non-profit email marketing campaigns. Make sure to scroll to the end where we have a list of email delivery providers that provide special rates (i.e. free) for non-profits.

1. Frequent is better. And include the date.

Don’t worry about sending newsletters too frequently. I’m not saying to send every day but better to send monthly than quarterly. Otherwise, you risk people forgetting who you are and then being all ‘Hey, how did this get in my inbox?”.  Now if only we took our own advice and sent out newsletters more often…

Also, if it’s a monthly newsletter, include the month and year, ex. November 2014. If it’s more often, just include the full date. It will come across much more professional and give more context than using “7th newsletter” or “newest newsletter”.


2.  View this email in your browser. Not displaying correctly? These shouldn’t be the first words people see. Use teaser text.

Is your email about how to view emails in your browser? No, that would be silly. Wouldn’t it? The way that Gmail and other email inboxes are set up is that they let you see the subject line, and if there’s enough room, the first few words of the email itself. You should use this to your advantage and get in some eye-grabbing content to make sure people read your email.


3.  Don’t rely on one huge image/graphic as your “email”. Use real text.

Even though beautiful graphics and images are ideal for branding purposes, they are not ideal for people’s inbox because images may be turned off by default, resulting in people not being able to see anything in your newsletter. Users with disabilities will find your email extremely frustrating, as many won’t be able to read the text on the image whether images are turned on or off in their email client!

Better to have both images and real text, even though the design may need to be adjusted.  Also, only using images also makes the text harder to read, and can’t be copied and pasted.

4. Sidebars are pretty much over (gasp!). Don’t overwhelm people.

The idea of look here! no, look here! No, no, over here! is just too overwhelming. People want you to lead them through your recent efforts and help them focus – what you are most proud of, what do you want to make sure people pay attention to. Along the same lines, only have a maximum of 2-3 calls to action.

5. Bleep Bloop. Use mobile-friendly, responsive email newsletter templates.

People are increasingly reading email on their mobile devices, so look into using a mobile-friendly or responsive template. To get you started, here are 32 Responsive Email Templates.  And make sure the call to action buttons are large enough that they are finger-click friendly.


Also, if you have a mobile-friendly version of your newsletter, make sure your website is also mobile-friendly for consistency and better user experience.

6. Get personal. Ask for people’s names.

Otherwise, you are going to kick yourself later on. And then you’d need to learn self-defense against yourself, and that could get weird… so might as well just think about asking for someone’s name now and save yourself the pain down the line. True, when people see more than one field to fill out in a form, they may avoid it altogether. But. You can ‘trick’ people by only putting the email field in the signup box on your site, and then when they click submit, they’ll be taken to another page that asks them for their first name as well. Then, when you’re crafting your newsletters, you’ll be able to say “Hey Jane!” instead of “Hey you!”. Chances are that people will feel more connected to you if they are being addressed by their first name.

7. Graphic Appeal. See how boring good ol’ point number seven would’ve been without an image.

If you’re trying to wing it yourself, and don’t have a designer on call, you can use Canva or PicMonkey to create and edit funky graphics. You can also find free stock photos here, though obviously it’s better if they’re original photos that capture your organization’s activities.


8. People are not thinking about you all day, every day. Even though that would be nice.

Remind people who you are and why they subscribed. In the footer of your newsletter – include text that says something like ‘Thank you for being a part of our efforts to help sustain the whatever it is we’re trying to sustain’. People may forget what the core of the organization is with the new stories and initiatives that keep popping up in each newsletter.

9. Ask people what they want to hear about.

Ask people for their feedback or if they have questions about a certain topic or initiative. If people feel you’re open to their comments and concerns, they’ll be more open to hearing what you have to say too.

10. To intro or not to intro.

I think this is up for debate, but something to consider asking. Before jumping right into the latest update from your organization, it might be nice to start off, even with something brief, like “In this edition, we’d like to share our latest xyz with you. Thanks for reading!” to help re-introduce yourself to your reader who may not have heard from you in a while.

Inspiration from real newsletters

That all sounds great, but it can be hard to know where to get started. There’s nothing like inspiration to…inspire, so here are some examples of successful newsletters to help you out. Not all of these newsletter examples are from non-profits, but in general, they are all very nicely done with clear sections, calls to action, and good balance of images and real text.





Litmus Newsletter

Boys and Girls Club




University of Newcastle



Inspiration galleries

Free Email Marketing for Non-Profits

We have encountered many non-profits that send mass emails to their lists through Outlook or Gmail. This is a bad idea for the following reasons:

  1. Your email may be identified as a spammer since sending so many emails at once is unnatural.
  2. You are managing your subscribers via Excel sheets. That is craziness. You can end up with double email addresses, and when users want to unsubscribe you have to remove them manually, and hope you didn’t forget them in some other Excel sheet.
  3. You can’t track delivery rate, or click-through rate, so you have no idea who’s getting your emails, what content is most interesting to your users, etc. You are running on no data, and in the age of the internet, there is no excuse for that.

Email marketing services take care of all of the above and more for you. There are many good ones out there, and some of them offer special deals for non-profits. Here is a selection:

  • MailChimp – if your list has fewer than 2,000 subscribers, you can send up to 12,000 emails per month for free. If you have more, you get a 15% discount off their standard pricing.
  • Vertical Response – up to 10,000 emails per month for free.
  • Constant Contact – Save 10%-30%.

So, to wrap things up, despite the increase in social media activity, email newsletters are still proving to help raise money and keep close ties with your community, since you have been given permission to arrive at their doorstep on a regular basis. You might as well use it.