The Nonprofit Guide to Email Strategy

Email provides a direct connection to supporters, focusing on moving interested audiences to engaged and engaged audiences to committed. This is why email marketing strategy can have an ROI of 122% — 4x higher than that of social media, direct mail, and paid search. With a sizable email list, your organization can drive real impact, foster community, and create loyal ambassadors.

Email is also a different form of interacting with your constituents, offering both greater capacity for personalized interaction and what Seth Godin calls Permission Marketing:

“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.”

According to M+R Benchmarks for 2019, email revenue accounted for 13% of all online giving in 2018. This represents a decrease in revenue by email of 8% from the previous year. Yet, when broken down by industry, Mailchimp reports that nonprofits achieve among the highest open rates with an average open rate of 25.17%.

So how do we stay ahead of the curve? Read on for our resources on nonprofit email strategy.

Step 1: Grow Your List

Whole Whale’s approach to nonprofit impact is anchored on building a list of people that want to hear from you via email. This list is best built through honest acquisition tactics executed online and through live events. Other digital efforts via organic social media, paid social advertising, or free in-kind advertising via the Google Ad Grant can then be used to amplify giving opportunities, or help to further grow your list.

With email marketing, sometimes it can feel like you can make the horse drink, but you can’t bring it to the water: You have solid content and you’ve mastered email open rates, but you aren’t reaching a wider audience. So how do you grow your email list? First: We have the basics for all things email with our email marketing glossary. Then check out our strategy on how to grow your email list — plus information on one of our favorite lead magnets, the content locker, how to confirm your subscribers are human, and what to do once you receive a new email subscriber

Step 2: Keep Your Email List Clean

A hygienic email list is a successful email list. By focusing on keeping your email list structure clean, you can save time and money and also see higher open rates, click-through rates, and engagement.

Step 3: Write Content That Works

Once you have a healthy email account structure and a robust list, it’s time to make sure your content is living up to expectations. Check out our favorite nonprofit emails, learn more about what subject lines get opened, and learn more about effective fundraising email strategies and what to do after your fundraising emails worked (hint: it rhymes with ‘dank ewe‘).

Step 4: Optimize your emails

As they say, ABABT: Always be A/B testing. And with nonprofit email strategy, there are a number of elements you can continually A/B test in order to continually optimize performance for open-rates, click-through rates, and email donations

Step 5: What are email subscribers doing on your site?

In Google Analytics, it’s easy enough to see what subscribers do on your site when they click through from your email newsletters. But how do you know what those same subscribers are doing when they come to your site from other sources, like organic search or social media?

Tying sessions from different sources together to see an email subscriber’s full journey can be challenging in Google Analytics. In this episode, we will show you how to make these connections using a combination of campaign segmentation in Google Analytics, reporting in Mailchimp, and Lighthouse, a Google Analytics add-on tool that ties email subscribers on your site to Google Analytics, shedding light on important users.

There’s a lot more you can be doing with your email data and your Google Analytics data — it’s a little bit creepy, but we only use these powers for good. Test out Lighthouse by Whole Whale, an integration between your email marketing tool and your Google Analytics, that gives you this info — and more. Sign up at