Before your email newsletter will be read, it has to be opened, and what your supporters see at a glance in the "from" field and the subject line will determine whether they'll glance at what's inside.
Here are my top five tips for writing the best possible subject lines for your email newsletter.
1. Describe the Candy, Not the Wrapper
Tell us what goodies are inside this email, not about the packaging. In other words, don't put "Go Green Association Newsletter, Volume 5, Issue 7" in your subject line. Instead, tell us what's in this edition of the newsletter, such as "How to Live in Harmony with Backyard Wildlife."
Here is another wrapper: "Agency Schedules Series of Parenting Workshops." What we really want is the candy: "How to Discipline Your Child, Pack Healthy Lunches." Even if you have multiple topics in your newsletter, experiment with subject lines that emphasize only one or two topics.
Always change your email subject line from edition to edition, too. "Simple Tips to Save Money and the Planet" may be a good subject line for one newsletter, but don't use it over and over. Instead, provide that consistency by using the same name/organization in the "from" field for each edition.
2. Emphasize the Personal Value of Your Content
It's the old "what's in it for me?" question. Why should I take precious time out of my busy day to read your email? I will, if you are providing information I want, need, or am curious about, or if reading your email will help me do something faster, cheaper, easier or otherwise make my life more pleasant, enjoyable, or meaningful.
Subject lines that make readers think "This is useful" or "This is timely" or "This is about me" will always work. For example, an environmental group might send out a message with this subject: "States Challenge Federal Drinking Water Regulations in Court." This may be an important public policy issue, but the subject line doesn't grab me. This, on the other hand, would: "Is Slightly Dirtier Drinking Water OK with You?" Now I immediately see the impact of this policy on me.
One study says the first two words of your subject line should convey that personal value. Questions can also make great subject lines, because they imply that you'll be answering that question and giving me information I want to know.
3. Don't Tell People What to Do
While I always recommend that you include a call to action in every email (and with every email article), some research shows that telling people what to do in the subject line itself can hurt your open rates. This is particularly true when asking people to "help" or "donate" or "register." Specific calls to action are great within the body of the email, but lean toward the "personal value" words for the subject line. For example, "Where to Dance All Night with Your Best Friends" will work better than "Register for Our All-Night Dance-a-thon Fundraiser."
4. Keep It Short
You'll find all kinds of advice on just how many characters are optimal for email subject lines. Some go as high as 60 characters, including spaces. Somewhere around 35 characters seems to be the ideal now, but some people argue that even shorter is better (more like 20 characters). You can play with subject line length and see what works for you, but do try to keep it under 60 characters tops.
5. Piggyback on Hot Topics and Brand Names
Think about what's hot in the news right now. What products and services are people talking about now? How can you relate your work back to big brand names?
The Humane Society of the United States uses this tactic often, as they did with a December 2, 2008 email subject line: "Will Obama create an animal-friendly administration?" Obama is a huge hot topic (and a hot "brand" too) - and the question format is especially intriguing. The body of the email urges supporters to write President-Elect Obama about his picks for Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture, both of which oversee federal regulations affecting animals. Note how that call to action was wisely not in the subject line.
Want More E-Newsletter Tips?
Check our webinar schedule for upcoming training on email marketing and fundraising.
Also see these articles:
- Steps for Creating a Nonprofit Email Campaign or E-Newsletter
- Quick Tips for Better Nonprofit Email Newsletters
- 12 Easy Ways to Build Your Nonprofit's Email List
- Interview Questions to Help You Write Great Donor, Volunteer and Client Profiles for Your Newsletters
- Online Writing: Your Top Five Questions
Read through some other articles I've bookmarked on writing email subject lines.