I’m back with a bonus post of my annual Giving Tuesday (GT) email review. (Read part one part two and part three for more fundraising and marketing tips and takeaways.)

Plenty of topics to cover in this post. I’ll be sharing fundraising and marketing takeaways to help your organization grow.

Before we dive in, sign up today- for FREE!- for my new Email 366 project. You’ll learn how to send nonprofit emails that your audience is eager to open, read, click and ACT UPON! First tip will be delivered to your inbox next Monday, January 1.

And now for more GT emails. Let’s get to it!

Who’s Recommending You?

When we need to buy something and we’re not sure what type or where to purchase it, we turn to our network of family and friends. We solicit recommendations and testimonials and yes, bad experiences they’ve had.

Why do we do this? Because we trust them.

Similarly, we read, watch and listen to what others are recommending. If so and so says buy product X, we’re more inclined to do so if that person is someone we trust and/or know.

It’s called social proof. And it’s relevant for nonprofits as well.

When people see someone they know is a donor, volunteer or staff member at your organization, that could help them make a giving decision. “If my friend has vetted Save the Snails and gives to them, I trust they’ll do good things with my gift. I’ll consider giving to Save the Snails this year.”

(“Save the Snails” is not mine. The copyright belongs to nonprofit expert Jess Birken. She used it in her short essay on how nonprofits can go from scarcity to growth mindset.)

This is why you should be sharing a variety of stories in your storytelling. Yes, tell people about your beneficiaries but what about volunteers? Board members? Donors? Corporate partners? Family and friends of beneficiaries? Grant givers?

Get all of those in front of your audience. Rotate their recommendations, quotes and testimonials.

When I looked at the GT emails I received, the majority did not use social proof. At most, they included a story of a beneficiary. That’s a GOOD thing! But for some of your campaigns you want to share multiple views and angles on the issue you’re asking donors to solve.

Take a look at this from Make-A-Wish:

A mother of a Make-A-Wish kid explains what life is like

Logan’s mom shares a little behind the scenes peek of what Logan’s life is like. When told from her perspective, many readers- especially parents- can identify with what she writes and will understand her ask.

The quotes you use matter. Who it’s from does as well.

Bonus takeaway: According to the 2019 Millennial Impact Report (from the Case Foundation and Achieve), the number one influence on Millennials engaging with your organization is peers. They highly value what their peers say, buy and do.

This is why social proof is so important. If you have Millennials connected to your organization, shine a spotlight on them! Their peers will see this and it could influence their decision to get involved with your charity.

Capture My Attention

The average read rate of an email is nine seconds.

Yes, you read that right.

People don’t have time. They’re bombarded with emails. So if they choose to open yours, you better capture their attention quickly so they stick around long enough to skim your content and decide if they should take action.

One way to get them to stick around? A captivating hero image.

An image at the top of the email that captures my attention will get me to stop, think about the image and convince me to read the content below it. All of that happens in a fraction of a second.

The hero image can be the difference between a read and an immediate delete. 

Here are 4 hero image examples from GT emails I received.

Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger says thank you to its donors

American Lung Association

American Lung Association with a good Giving Tuesday hero image

American Kidney Fund

American Kidney Fund shows off who will benefit from Giving Tuesday donations


Make-A-Wish with a great hero image

Take time to consider which image to use as your hero image. It’s critical to email success.


Emails with personalized subject lines generate 50% higher open rates. Adding the subscriber’s first name in the subject line will increase email opens.

More email opens = more opportunities to encourage people to take action.

Only 6% of the GT emails I received had my name. I was generous here because I included the usage of “Friend” as personalized. (It’s possible they don’t have my first name so they substituted Friend for subscribers where no first name is listed.)

Do you have to use a person’s name in every subject line? Absolutely not. But if you’re sending multiple emails during a campaign and wish to increase the chances of an open, use the first name in some of the emails you send.

To quote Dale Carnegie: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Bonus takeaway: On your email sign up form on your website, I’m a big fan of only asking for an email address. That creates the least amount of friction in the signup process and will get you max subscribers.

However, if you want to ask for first name, make sure you use it! Your welcome email should be personalized and so should most of your subsequent emails (that could be subject line and/or the email itself.)

But don’t ask for first name at sign up if you have no intention of using it.

The Cup Of Coffee Question

I’m sure you’ve seen campaigns where they ask supporters to forego a Dunkin coffee a day and donate that money to a charity. The cost of a coffee over 7 days is X. Instead of buying, donate the equivalent of those coffees.

A bunch of years ago I asked a fundraising expert about these campaigns. Their response: “Don’t do it. People don’t like to give up certain habits. You’re asking them to take a negative action (not buying coffee). Why do that? Share with them the impact of a gift and ask them to help solve a problem.”

I tend to agree with that opinion. I have not done a deep dive into existing data on these types of campaigns and whether they work or not.

Some GT food for thought: Should you mention Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday as a reason to give?

For example, Feed the Children sent me an email with the following subject line on the day after Black Friday: 🥱 Tired of shopping yet?

On Black Friday, an email from Covenant House had this subject line: The most meaningful Black Friday deal of all.

On Cyber Monday, an email from Americares started with this: “Ephraim, you won’t find a buy-one-get-one offer in this Cyber Monday email.

What you will find is even more meaningful: For a limited time we’re offering you the chance to make EIGHT TIMES THE IMPACT to bring better health to people affected by crisis, poverty and disaster.”

(Good personalization!)

Got a question for you: Do these types of campaigns work or not? Leave a comment at the end of this post or email me your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think!

Good Shoutout

Have a corporate partner? Make sure you give them a shoutout via email and let subscribers know they have partnered with you.

On GT, a couple of organizations did just that. This is from a World Wildlife Fund email:

WWF lets subscribers know who their corporate partner is

Or this great hero image from Conquer Cancer:

Conquer Cancer uses their hero image to shoutout a corporate partner

Let people know you have a partnership with a business, agency or corporation. It can certainly help drive donations.

The Bad Part One

On December 1, Easterseals sent me an email containing this subject line: We did it. YOU did it.

The second half? Great! The first half? Not great.

The “we” could mean the organization or it could mean the organization plus their supporters.

But for some readers, it’ll give them a feeling like the organization did all the work and donors just gave money. Sure they have the “YOU” but they led with “we.”

The “you” is what you want to emphasize.

The Bad Part Two

I’m not gonna get all soapboxey about overhead. I’m not gonna rant about the sector shooting itself in the foot by publicizing how low they keep their overhead.

Here’s what I’ll say: Don’t do what you see in the two examples below from Doctors Without Borders and PSI (from their email footers):

Doctors Without Borders shows off low overhead in their email footer

PSI lets you know they have low overhead

As a former grant writer, fundraiser and having worked for a global family foundation, I know that some funders demand organizations keep overhead below a certain percent. I understand that some organizations are proud to share that “every dollar goes to programs” yada yada yada.

To quote a leader of a very large organization: “The only overhead I know about is the ceiling over my head.”

There are a whole host of reasons why you should not share overhead information in you email footer. One of which is salaries: Salaries in our sector are already low compared to the for-profit sector. Showing that you keep your “overhead” low tells me you don’t pay your workers a competitive wage… and you’re proud of that fact!

Workers are NOT overhead! They run your programs! Without them there is no organization.

Stop calling them overhead. They are an integral part of your organization’s successful awesomesauce.

And finally…

These caught my attention.

➡️ On December 1, Action Against Hunger emailed their subscribers to let them know they had reached their GT goal. After thanking everyone, they wrote this:

As a way to show our appreciation, we would like to invite you to “Research Breakthroughs” – an exclusive online conversation featuring Action Against Hunger’s senior researcher, Dr. Heather Stobaugh, on December 19th at 12pm EST.

In this engaging Q&A, we will discuss recent breakthroughs to treat malnutrition more effectively, how research is carried out in challenging contexts and how supporter donations are being put to use.”

The idea is a good one! It’s adding value to subscribers and will educate them.

But I read it and I wondered: They say that in appreciation they’re sending an invite to an event. If they hadn’t hit their goal, would they still do that?

I assume yes. Not sure connecting the two was a great idea.

➡️ This was a P.S. in a GT email from Environmental Defense Fund: “P.S. The best way to keep the momentum going all year is with a monthly donation. And if you start your monthly gift by midnight tonight, two long-time EDF donors will match it for an entire year! Make your Giving Tuesday donation now to claim this special match!”

This was an interesting CTA (knowing that people read the P.S.). I like the idea! Excellent incentive to have a match for it as well!

Do you want to learn how to send effective nonprofit emails that subscribers are eager to open, read, click and act upon? Sign up today for Email 366 and learn how! You’ll learn email A-Z for free!