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One simple way to control your readers’ actions

Nonprofit Email Marketing

Would you like to have more control over the actions of your email subscribers?

If so, I have a tip for you today that might help you out.

But before I get into it, let me give you a little background on why I’m writing this today.

The other day I received an email from a large international nonprofit organization.

And, as usual, it was a massive newsletter bomb (sigh).

And while I was looking through their newsletter I kept wondering,

“What exactly is it they expect me to do?”

Here’s what I mean…

There were Call-to-Actions (CTA) asking me to read five separate stories.

One CTA asking for a donation.

One CTA asking me to complete a survey.

One CTA asking me to download something.

One CTA to share all of this on Facebook

And one CTA to share it on Twitter

That is a grand total of 10 CTAs.

So I found myself wondering, what exactly do they expect me to do?

Do they really think I will do all 10 of these things?

Do they think any reader of theirs is prepared to do all 10?

Do they think that I will appreciate all of the choices and options they are providing me?

If so, they should watch this Ted Talk…

As it turns out, having 10 CTAs can cause your readers to NOT act.  And even if people do choose to act on some of the CTAs in the email, you have no control over what they choose.

Let’s discuss one simple adjustment you can make to your email messages that will increase engagement and give you more control over what actions your readers take…

What is a call to action?

A call to action is when you give the reader an opportunity to do something that takes them away from the email.

It can be anything, really.

“Like our Facebook page”

“Follow us on Instagram”

“Become a member”


Every email should have a call-to-action.

After all, you are not only trying to educate and inform your readers, you are trying to motivate them to take action, no matter how small, in support of your cause.

CTAs are important. They’re essential. But…

Here’s the problem…

Nonprofits have a tendency to put way too many calls to action in their emails. This is partly due to the dominance of email newsletters in the nonprofit sector (sigh).

When you only email your list once a quarter you have to ask them to do everything in one email because you never give yourself another chance.

But, when you give your readers 8, 9, or more calls-to-action in one email, how many of those actions do you think the reader will take?

Many readers will actually feel overwhelmed by everything you want them to do and so they do nothing (did you watch the video above?).

And maybe there is a handful of people that will do two or more of the things you ask, but only a handful.

The vast majority of people that do decide to take action will only choose one of the many options you gave them.

But if you’ve given them 10 different things they can do, how do you know which action they will take?

You don’t.

Different people will choose to do different things. And you have no control over which option they choose.

So what should you do instead…

Now, what if you put only one call to action in your email?

What if you gave them only one option?

Now how many actions will the readers take?

That’s right. The answer is still one.

But now you know exactly what your readers will do. And you know a lot of people will do it!

Think about this…

Say you sent out an email that was opened by 2,000 people.

This email had 10 calls to action.

Say 30% of your list took some action after reading your email. That’s 600 actions.

Now, those actions are divided up among 10 possible options. The most popular action is always the easiest to do so maybe a third of those 600 simply “click to read more” of the story on your website.

That is about 200 visitors to your website.

The other 400 actions were then divided up by the remaining 9 possible options.  If they were spread evenly, that would be around 45 people doing each action.

You see, providing 10 different options all at once limits the potential of every single call to action.

Now let’s say your email only had one call to action.

Guess what all 600 actions were.  Yep, that one thing.

Would you rather have 600 views of your website or 200?

Would you rather have 600 likes added to your Facebook page or 45?

Would you rather have 600 donations or just a handful?

If you want bigger numbers than you have to reduce your CTAs.

Engagement Momentum

There is another reason to limit the number of CTAs you offer your readers.

It allows you to strategically build engagement momentum.

Engagement momentum is the idea that the more actions people take in support of your cause the more willing they will be to take additional and larger actions.

This means that when most people first subscribe to your email list their level of commitment and willingness to support is limited.

So, asking them to make a donation right out of the gate will not lead to a high conversion rate.

But, ask them to watch your YouTube video? Sure, that’s easy enough.

Then ask them to like your Facebook page, and to follow you on Twitter.

In the beginning, you ask them to take small, simple actions in support of your cause…

But then, as they do more and more for you, they will be much more willing to take larger more public actions in support of your cause.

That is called building engagement momentum with your readers and it can be quite powerful.


  1. A call to action is when you give the reader an opportunity to do something that takes them away from the email.
  2. All emails need a CTA
  3. Control the actions of your readers by reducing the number of CTA
  4. Be strategic about building engagement momentum

Keep doing good work,

Jeremy Signature




2 comments… add one
  • Great article. I simply tell my nonprofit clients: ” A confused mind takes no action”.

    • Jeremy

      Thanks, Paulette. That is a great line.

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