Nonprofit Fundraising email guide – Tailored templates to get donations

Digital FundraisingEmail

When giving season comes around, nonprofits are in overdrive, working to increase donations with fundraising emails so meaningful work can be done in the new year. It’s exciting! And stressful, which is why Whole Whale has created a free AI fundraising email writer for nonprofits this season.

In that moment, nothing sounds better than just sending out some automated, one-size-fits-all fundraising emails. However, that knee-jerk reaction should be reconsidered in light of broader email fundraising trends. Email list sizes for non-profits decreased by 2% in 2022, reversing growth of 8% and 9% in the previous two years. This list decline coincided with a 4% decrease in email revenue across the non-profit sector (MRBenchmarks 2023). Automating email outreach might seem like easy money, but does it make sense given the data?

Not exactly. Email has proven to be really valuable, but only when done right. Yes, you are typing words on a machine and sending those words to another person’s machine. But the keyword there is person.

Remember that you’re engaging with human beings — and very different ones at that. You wouldn’t send your mom the same gift you’d send your nephew. You don’t call your friends just to ask for a favor (and when you do, you don’t ask every friend in the same way). You tailor your gifts and your appeals based on the person and on your relationship.

To really connect with your supporters — and drive them to donate — consider sending highly segmented fundraising emails this giving season. Divide your list based on donation amount or donation behavior. Consider tailoring messages in the following ways:

Segment Fundraising Emails by Donation Amount

  • 0
  • $
  • $$
  • $$$
  • $$$$

Segment Fundraising Emails by Donation Behavior

  • Users: Have never donated
  • Lapsed donors: Haven’t donated in 1 or more years
  • Active donors: Donated in last year
  • Repeat donors: Have donated multiple years in a row or to more than one campaign
  • Top donors: $$$$ or more donors

Some of you may be thinking, “why don’t I just reach out to my top donors for the big bucks and save myself time to catch up on The Great British Bake Off?” I feel you. As valuable as those top donors are, a lot of small donations can add up! Plus, it helps to remind your supporters of your amazing work, and unite them towards driving real impact. Best case scenario: Motivated supporters become repeat donors, which is one of your most valuable segments in the long term.


End of Year Campaign Guide

Make sure your next giving season is better than the last with our guide to end-of-year fundraising.

Now, dividing your list into these donor segments requires some work, but it will pay off (no pun intended) in the end. To help you out on the writing side, we’ve created templates for the different donor audiences we mentioned above, plus a little description of the content choices we made. For these fundraising emails, remember to always include plenty of links to your donate page, visual content (images and/or videos), and a clear call to action at the end. Sign up to get the templates below.

Fundraising Emails by Donation Amount


Italicized Text = Tips from the Whole Whale team 

Highlighted Text = Organization-specific customizable language

Email Setup

From: Your first name at Your nonprofit

Tip: Try testing the names of your CEO, Executive Director, or celebrity influencers connected to your organization, which could drive higher open rates.

Subject Line: Eye-catching subject line

Preheader: Build on the subject line in the preheader, which can increase open rates by up to 30%

For $0 donors or Users

These are your subscribers who have not donated in the past — use this segment to turn subscribers into first-time donors.

This list calls for less personalized content and lighter asks than the other segments. The messaging should be positive and provide opportunities for what subscribers can look forward to in the future.

General email subscribers may be less familiar with your organization than donors, so take time to tell them about the amazing things you do and what their contribution will help you accomplish. Ask for a small donation amount or offer a smaller range of donation amounts to ease them into it. 

Email Content Template


For the $-$$ donors

This segment is your smaller and/or newer donor pool. These people have expressed interest and engaged with your organization by giving in the past, but are not among your “all-star” donors (yet).

Thank this segment for their past donation and support, and ask for a donation amount or range that is just slightly above what they donated before. Framing project or campaign updates as “thank you” messages can create feel-good moments of inspiration for your donors.

Consider adding a list of programs/items that can be paid for with even the smallest donation. Highlight the value of each donation amount, describe where the donations are going, and how close the project or campaign is toward reaching its goal.

An example from UNICEF:

UNICEF donation ask example

Our template:

Fundraising Emails by Donation Behavior

For the Donors from Last Year

These people engaged with your organization’s campaign in the last year. Specifically reference that campaign in your fundraising emails to tell donors that you remember and appreciate their gifts. Show them what you were able to accomplish with the money donated from that campaign, and share your goals for this year. Consider adding multiple donation levels and listing how much of an impact each gift would contribute. Including multiple donate buttons, with different eye-catching calls-to-action, could help to increase clicks.

For the Lapsed Donors

These individuals donated in the past, but haven’t donated in the last year or two. Thank them for being a part of your community and donating in the past, and remind them why they donated either to your cause in general or a specific campaign.

Appeals to lapsed supporters should be authentic and concise while sharing the impact of your organization’s work so donors can visualize what their renewed support will go toward. Tell them what you were able to do with the past donations, and outline your goals for this year. If applicable, share non-monetary volunteering and other engagement opportunities.


For the Repeat Donors

Send to the top accounts who have repeatedly donated over time. These donors have shown high engagement with the organization. Contact each of these donors with personalized fundraising emails. Send a direct ask, don’t be shy! Notice this email is not sent from an email platform but from an individual’s email account.

Show you care about the donor’s consistent engagement by sending personalized messages on the anniversary of the donor’s first donation. If you have their personal information, think about sending customized messages without monetary asks to celebrate their birthday. These personalized emails can be used to strengthen the relationship with the donor over time, and eventually as an opportunity to ask donors to increase their monthly or repeated gifts.

Additionally, consider how you can leverage gifts from recurring donors using corporate matching programs to maximize the impact of their donations.

For the Top Donors

Send individual emails to your top 25 major donors in single value donations. Each of these people have made a generous donation (determine your exact $ amount range based on your past individual donations) within the last 5 years.

Contact each of these major donors with personalized fundraising emails to appeal for high value gifts. Remind them why they donated before, whether it was at an event, to support a specific campaign, or just to your cause in general, and ask them to contribute to your goal. Your top donors will want reassurance that their previous gift has been used effectively. Thank them again for their generosity, and communicate the real-world impact of their donation.

If they have a personal connection to a particular employee at your organization, have that person reach out to them individually. Some of your top donors may be on your board: If your organization has set (or previously communicated) expectations for donors, send an email announcing the campaign and reminding them of the board’s goals. If your organization does not have set or clear expectations from donors, send individual fundraising emails thanking them for being on the board, outlining your fundraising goals, and asking them to contribute.

Don’t be shy, and say those numbers. Like repeat donors, this email is not sent from an email platform, but from an individual’s email account.

After you’ve worked these tailored email templates into your fundraising work flow, check out our donor thank you templates and more awesome fundraising tools and techniques on Whole Whale University.

Want to get your site checked for inclusive language this year? Click here to learn more about our Inclusivity Tool!