How to Write an Irresistible Email Fundraising Appeal (any time of year)


“SWEET, a fundraising email in my inbox”
-nobody, ever in history

The truth is nobody likes being asked for money and folks have developed incredible powers to detect when an ask is coming. The challenge when writing a fundraising email is to not only avoid this filter, but actually make it fun or interesting. 

Nonprofits offer the incredible opportunity to turn meaningless money into impact in the work. They are magical machines that take dead paper and actually MAKE the world a better place!  This is the energy and mentality that needs to live at the core of the writer before typing the first word. So, step 1 is to get your head in this place.

Your email list is one of your most valuable fundraising tools. It’s a direct way to communicate with your supporters, promote your campaigns, and generate donations.

With that in mind, writing an irresistible email appeal should be a top priority for any nonprofit. Unfortunately, not all email appeals are created equal. In fact, many fail to produce the desired results. Don’t feel like doing the work alone? Whole Whale has created a free AI fundraising email writer for nonprofits this season

Strategies for Great Appeals

1. Keep it short and sweet

No one wants to read a long-winded email, especially when it comes to asking for money. Keep your appeal short and to the point. Don’t include unnecessary information or try to tell your entire story in one email. Just give people the basics and let them know how they can help.

2. Be clear about what you’re asking for

People respond better to specific requests than general ones. If you’re looking for volunteers, tell them exactly what you need help with and how they can get involved. The same goes for donations. Don’t just ask people to give money – let them know how their donation will be used and what impact it will have.

3. Make it personal

Your supporters are more likely to respond positively to an email that feels personal and addressed directly to them. Avoid using generic phrases like “Dear Friend” or “Dear supporter.” Instead, use the person’s first name or a title like “Mother of three” if you have that information available. You can also include a personal story or message in your email to make it more relatable (just make sure it’s relevant to your cause!). If you keep track of your supporters’ key information in a central database (you should), you can use the donor data to make the ask personal whether it’s their name, length of time they’ve supported you, or where they’re located.

4. Use compelling images

People are visual creatures and tend to respond better to images than text alone. Adding a relevant image (or even just a photo of yourself!) can help make your email more engaging and appealing. Just be sure not to use too many images, as this can make your email look cluttered. You can use A/B testing to test which types of images your audience engages with more.

Tools like Dalle2 are going to make this a lot easier as AI will be able to produce any image you can imagine!

SOURCE: Created with DALL·E, an AI system by OpenAI (“sad sea turtle on island beach, 35MM photograph” | “painting of a woman infront of a medical clinic, in style of frida kahlo” | “canned food being donated in the style of Mary Cassatt” | “a fuzzy blue and yellow monster attacking play money photo” )

5. Make a good first impression

Your email subject line is your first (and sometimes only) chance to make a good impression on your recipients. So it’s no surprise that coming up with effective, eye-catching, and actionable email subject lines can be tough. Make it time-sensitive, exclusive, topical, personal, or punny—yes some of the best subject lines use humor to drive up engagement rates.

6.  Emotional journey

Consider what kind of feeling you want your email to evoke. Do you want it to be inspirational? Touching? Humorous? No matter what, your email needs to end on a high and positive note. Depending on the circumstances and timing of the email, you may need to address subjects that evoke negative emotions like anger, fear, and anxiety. If you do, be sure to take your reader from those high-energy negative emotions to high-energy positive emotions. How can you frame an angry or fearful situation as an invigorating and confident one? Empower your readers by showing them how they can use their power to support your organization and make a difference. Supercharge them with confidence in the work your organization is doing to make an impact. 

So that is the big picture, now let’s get into the nitty gritty

Writing tactics for a persuasive Fundraising email

You understand the big picture, but what does this actually mean when it comes to writing the email? Here are some super clear tactics to get from that cold to warm email. 

1. Win the subject line. 

Write 5 versions of a subject line and try to create a ‘curiosity gap’, what is hidden inside the email that they need to know? 

  • NO: “Make a difference today”

YES: “It wasn’t working until I heard this”

  • NO: “We need your help”
    YES: “What happened this Tuesday surprised us” 
  • NO: “Can we count on you?”
    YES: “1 Thing we know about {name}”

2. Get personal in the email body

Immediately satisfy the curiosity gap from the subject line and bring the reader into the story. Write as if you’re speaking to just one person, and make it about them and their interests, not just about your organization or cause.

Remember to use their {name} where possible, it makes it more personal because a person’s favorite subject is themselves ;P

3. Use urgency in the ask (without being pushy) 

A giving appeal that isn’t happening at the end-of-the-year needs to answer the question of “why now?”. Convince them that their action is needed now, but don’t be too insistent or demanding. Why will waiting be bad for the cause?


Similar to the urgency of “why now” but answering the WFIM (what’s in it for me) is another way to frame why to give. How can giving be positioned in a beneficial way to the potential donor? There are many reasons why people give, but most come from a root of altruism or social belonging (What motivates Americans to donate to charity? | YouGov). There are even biological benefits that come from the giving “glow” (Why Giving Is Good for Your Health – Cleveland Clinic). 

Find your hook and play with ways to frame this implicitly or explicitly. 

5. Make a simple and clear call to action

Tell supporters exactly what you want them to do, whether it’s making a donation, signing up for a event, or sharing your email with others. Don’t make two asks like sign this or donate. If it is a petition or letter signing, there is still a chance to put the donation ask in the confirmation flow of that process. 

6. Include a P.S. 

This is one of the most-read parts of an email, so make sure you include a brief statement that reiterates your main points and includes a final call to action. It also gives the chance to show personality and heart which can increase likelihood of giving. 

By following these tips, you can write an email appeal that will actually get results. So get writing and start making a difference!

7. Use english

There are no points awarded for sounding smart and using 7-letter esoteric scrabble vocab you memorized to beat your grandma in Words With Friends. 

Use english. English that can quickly be read.

Because people scan things quickly. 

“Conveying the emotion in appeals isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” – this article, just now. 

8. Trust us

How can you establish trust and credibility quickly? This is more important for 1st-time donor communication where people are still in the “get to know you” phase.. Some ways to convey crodibility:

  • How many people have trusted your org over the past? 
  • Which foundations have supported the org? 
  • What verifiable top-line impact numbers can be shared? 
  • Is there press/pr clips you can point to?
  • Testimonials from real stakeholders 
  • Links to certifications on sites like GuideStar 

Some Warnings:

P.S. The energy that YOU, the writer, bring to the email matters..

Remember that you are providing a chance to put money into a magical machine for good! This is the ultimate WIFM (what’s in it for me).