Boosting Donor Newsletter Open Rates with Subject Lines

    August 21, 2006

The last time I checked, which is to say, yesterday, the average open rate for an email donor newsletter was 37%.

That means 63 percent of donors are not opening the email newsletters they’ve asked to receive.

If they’re not opening them, then they’re not reading them. And if they’re not reading them, then they’re not clicking any of the links, including the ones that lead to online donation pages. Thus, one sure way to boost your online donation rates is to boost your email open rates. One way to do that is to write good subject lines. Here are some proven methods.

1. Put your newsletter name in the subject line

With email donor newsletters, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Familiarity breeds trust. And trust is the single most important ingredient of online fundraising success. Donors who receive your emails need to see in a split second that your email is from a source they trust and contains a message they want.

The most predictable subject line is the name of your publication. Donors who see the publication name month after month will easily recognize it and look forward to reading each issue.

2. Put your organization name in the subject line

If you received an email today with “July 2006 E-Snapshots” in the subject, would you know for sure who the message was from and what it was about? Only if you knew the charity well. Or had a terrific memory.

If the name of your organization isn’t in the name of your newsletter, then consider putting your organization name in your subject line. This is especially vital when your email newsletter has an obscure name that only makes sense when paired with your organization name. Some examples of obscure newsletter names:

Organization: Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Email newsletter name: Bullet Counter Points Blog

Organization: Trans World Radio

Email newsletter name: E-Snapshots

Organization: World Wildlife Fund Canada

Email newsletter name: Panda Mail

These newsletter names can all be improved dramatically as email subject lines by simply adding the name of the organization. “E-Snapshots from Trans World Radio,” for example.

3. Use donor-centered keywords

If you are still concerned that jumpy donors will mistake your email newsletter for spam~, then write your subject using words and phrases that describe your mission and the cause that your donors and members support. Here are three examples:

From: Greenpeace Canada

Subject: Driftnets, dolphins and your chance to tell us what you think…

From: Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA

Subject: Supreme Court Delivers a Victory for Human Rights

From: Insight for Living Ministries

Subject: A Message from Insight for Living

Just make sure that the keywords in your subject line, even if they appeal to your donors, will not set off spam~ filters. Phrases like “free,” “prizes” and “save,” and symbols like “!” “$” and “XXX”) will trigger spam~ filters and route your newsletter to the trash folder.


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Alan Sharpe is a direct mail copywriter and lead generation specialist who helps business owners and marketing managers attract new clients using direct mail marketing. Sign up for free weekly tips like this at