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5 Criteria for an Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing System

Nonprofit Email Marketing
Sketch of email marketing system

Email is one of the most powerful tools available to nonprofit organizations.

Email can and should be used by nonprofit organization to:

  1. Build a community of support,
  2. Mobilize that community to take action,
  3. And turn that community into lifelong supporters of your organization.

If your current email marketing efforts are not leading to the results you want in any or all of these fronts it means your email marketing is not meeting the 5 criteria of an effective nonprofit email marketing system.

Let’s take a closer look at how to establish an effective nonprofit email marketing system…

Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing Criteria #1: Correct Intention

The mindset with which you approach email marketing will influence it’s effectiveness.

In order to have an effective nonprofit email marketing system you must first approach email marketing with the correct intentions.

The correct intention is NOT to raise money.

The correct intention is NOT to increase your donor base.

If this is the intention behind your emails then you will only treat your supporters as means to an end.

You will only treat them as if all they have to offer you is their money.

Your readers will sense this in your emails and it is a major turn off to potential donors and supporters of your organization.

They did not express interest in your organization because they had money to burn.

There was something else they were interested in.

Do you know what that is? If not, you need to find out.

Then build your entire email marketing system around giving them what they actually want.

This is a shift in mindset. This should be the true intention of your email marketing.

You are not after their money.
You are trying to fulfill their needs.

Once you understand this, it changes everything.
Once you base your email marketing on this principle, then suddenly you start treating your donors differently.

They will notice this because so few nonprofits make the effort.

They will appreciate this. They will appreciate YOU.

This will lead to a long-term relationship with your community of support.

So do you have the correct intentions?

Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing Criteria #2: All messaging is through storytelling

Everyone knows storytelling is powerful.

Everyone knows or has at least heard that they should be telling more stories.

But often times it seems harder to tell a story than to just give the facts.

This is a mistake.

Facts by themselves are emotionless . Stories are emotional.

In order to give your readers what they need you have to make them FEEL something.

They want to feel close to your work.
They want to feel the pain of those in need.
They want to feel the joy of helping remove that pain.

Statements of fact…
Statistics of your success…
Your mission statement…
Your technical approach…

All emotionless. All worthless to your readers.

Instead, all of your messaging should be told through stories that are filled with emotion.

Only then will the importance of your work and the importance of their support be understood.

It has to be felt to be understood.

Are you writing emails that make your readers feel something?

Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing Criteria #3: Readers are segmented

You must not treat all readers in the same way.

Effective email marketing systems segment readers based on their past actions and current relationship with the organization.

Readers who just discovered your organization need to be properly introduced to the work of your organization through great stories before they will make the decision to volunteer, become a member, make a donation, or whatever else you want them to do.

Readers who have already made a donation need to hear stories about how their money was put to use.

They need to hear stories that make them feel the impact of their contribution.

Readers that have signed up to volunteer need to hear stories about other ways people have chosen to help to remind them that there are other ways to get involved.

Readers that have made large donations should be given the VIP package.

Treat them like a small-time donor at your own peril.

An effective email marketing system is designed to segment readers so that you can continue to provide them with the content they need in order to continue to be fans of your organization.

When done well, your email marketing system will guide them through the donor journey.

Convincing them to make their first donation.

And convincing them to continue to support your organization again and again.

Are you treating your readers differently based on their past actions and current relationship with your organization?

Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing Criteria #4: Emails are Automated

You cannot and should not be writing new emails every time you want to communicate with your audience.

You don’t have time for this and it doesn’t allow you to control your message or improve your email system.

This is one of the biggest problems of the nonprofit e-newsletter.

Effective email marketing systems control the content their readers receive by pre-writing and scheduling when content is delivered.

This allows you to control your messaging because you will send the same emails to everyone, in the same order.

You know what everyone reads and when they read it.

In this way, everyone gets the same introduction to your organization when they sign up to learn more.

Everyone gets the same thank you series when they make their first donation.

All of your large gift donors are immediately treated differently.

Oh, and another great aspect of automating the system…

Once the emails are written and loaded, you never have to write that email again.

Build the system once and it runs forever.

Are your email sequences automated?

Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing Criteria #5: You Act on Email Metrics

Every effective email marketing system will pay close attention to their email metrics.

Open rates, Click-through rates, subscription rates, conversation rates, etc.

Then, based on the data, make decisions that will improve your automated email system.

Are people unsubscribing during your welcoming email series?

Now you know you need to improve the stories you are telling in that series.

Do you achieve a high rate of donations after the welcome series?

Great! Now leave it alone, let it do it’s work and focus your energy on improving other aspects of the system.

Email metrics will tell you where the weaknesses in the system lie.

Then you can work on improving the emails to strengthen the entire system.

Are you tracking your email metrics and responding to the data?


  1. Email marketing is your most powerful tool
  2. An effective nonprofit email marketing system follows these 5 criteria
    1. Correct Intention
    2. All messaging through storytelling
    3. Segment all subscribers
    4. Automate all email messages
    5. Track your email metrics

Keep doing good work,
Jeremy Signature



P.S. I’ve developed an Introduction to Nonprofit Email Marketing Course that will walk you through each step of this system in much greater detail.  As an added bonus, if you sign up now you will also receive my nonprofit email marketing checklist. This checklist teaches you the 12 essential elements of an effective nonprofit email.

Sign up below and get access to my training course and my checklist today for FREE.

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