Yasmin Islam

Yasmin Islam

Senior Marketing Executive, Charities

Charities Aid Foundation

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Why email is a timeless tool for charities

30 September 2019

Isn't email dead already? Not by a long shot. With more emails sent each day than Facebook and Twitter posts combined, Yasmin explores how to harness the power of a channel that shows no sign of abating.

More emails are sent everyday than Facebook and Twitter posts combined, and this number continues to grow.

Email is the one of the few channels which cuts across all age groups, and most people tend to have more than one registered email address that they use for different purposes.

Plus, in this day and age, email and social play very different roles in our lives. Whilst social media has fast become a platform that people use to keep up with news, interests and stay in touch with friends and family, most users use email to stay engaged with their favourite brands.

So whether it's to get the latest offers and discounts, or to be the first to know about a new campaign, email has become an action-focused channel with a higher chance of converting than social media. 

Why should your charity use email?

Well, if the above wasn't enough to make a case for email marketing, here are some crucial stats from HubSpot

73% of millennials prefer businesses to contact them via email
99% of consumers check their emails every day
59% of respondents say that emails influence their purchasing decisions
Emails are great way to not only raise donations for a fundraising campaign or raise awareness of your work, but to engage and on board your supporters and volunteers.

If you are a membership charity, or have an active volunteer network, automation tools provided by email platform providers is a time and cost-efficient way to engage or reactivate these audiences. 

Email hygiene: make sure your data is right 

Maintaining an up-to-date mailing list lays the foundation for a successful email marketing strategy. This list, cleaned of invalid email addresses, opt outs, deceased contacts etc, will help you to identify who is responding to your emails, and pave the way to segmenting that data to send more targeted emails.

With the GDPR regulations, maintaining this up-to-date mailing list is also a legal requirement. Here's a handy guide to make sure your charity's email marketing activities are compliant.

The Email life cycle

Understanding the email life cycle will help you to plan how to drive your desired activity at each stage, and give you useful metrics to measure the success of your email. 

The 'see' stage is when your subscribers will first lay eyes on your email. This could be seeing your email sitting in their inbox, or the popup that appears on the far corner of the screen as soon as your email comes in. Measuring open rates is the key metric to see if you are doing well at the 'see' stage.

After the second stage of opening your email, subscribers will go on to read the body of your email. Your copy should be written in a way to lead subscribers to the final stage in the cycle to act. 

So, let's take a look at what it takes to produce a great email to get your subscribers to complete every stage of the email cycle. 
email life cycle

5 ingredients for a great email

1 A consistent sender name

Have you ever received an email with an unknown sender name and forwarded it straight to your spam folder? Your email recipients are no different.

If a supporter has subscribed to your mailing list, they want to hear from your charity. So make sure every email you send is from your charity's name in order to foster consistency and trust. The exception may be when contacting major donors who'd prefer to have a more personal contact name. 

This will make your emails look less spammy than if they were sent from lots of different colleagues.

2  Well thought-out subject lines

It's a huge shame to put together great copy for an email, only for it not to be opened because of an uninspiring subject line. 
Subject lines which use urgent language, evoke an emotional response or correlate with real-life events (Brexit?) can all help to get your emails opened. 

"Well, this is about to get awkward..." is a unique subject line Scope used for their campaign to help people feel more comfortable around people with disabilities. The subject line rouses curiosity and prompts the reader to open the email. 

To improve your email open rates, it's always good to test a variety of subject lines to find which resonate with your audience. Adding emojis to subject lines is also worth testing, to make your email stand out in a text-heavy inbox.


Most people tend to read emails on their mobile phones, so try to make sure your subject lines aren't more than 50-70 characters long. 

3  Personalisation

It’s clear when you’re just another contact in a mass email campaign. Personalising your email subject line, greeting and sign off can make your donor’s feel that bit special and more receptive to the rest of your message.

For example, the subject line in the example image may encourage the recipient, Fran, to open this email more so than is she was to use a generic and less urgent one like, 'Make a difference'.
The Arnold Rosewater Trust email subject line
Example of a personalised email
Personalisation can also be brought into the body copy as well, by adding first names in the email headline, rather than use the standard 'Dear Sarah.'

4  Compelling copy

When donors are inundated with charity emails, attention spans can be short. So keep your email copy concise, emotive and to the point.

Make sure your emails have a beginning, middle and an end, with your most important points at the beginning. Also, avoid using the passive voice, and use active and actionable language instead. The purpose of emails is to get readers to complete an action after all.

Having said that, make sure to keep a conversational tone and write in plain English. This could be a little harder when talking about for example, complex medical issues, but try to avoid loading your emails with jargon. 

All the while think 'mobile first.' Your copy should be able to be easily read on a mobile device without the need for zooming or pinching - all the more reason to keep your emails as short as possible!

5  Single call to action

Whether it's to donate to your latest fundraising campaign or register for an event, having your email direct your subscribers to complete a single call to action increases the chances of them doing so. This should be bold and clear, and ideally placed in a thumb-friendly button for mobile users. 

If you must include more than one call to action, try to include your primary call to action in the button, and secondary call to action in a hyperlinked sentence to avoid detracting attention. 

Remember to use minimal text, and clear and direct verbs in your call to action such as 'change a life today' or 'register your place now'. 

Don't forget

Always make sure to have your charity's contact information, a clear unsubscribe option, and links to your charity's social media pages at the bottom of the email.

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