Looking to repurpose your direct mail appeals into email? Kerri has some great advice for you! ~Kivi

1. Thou Shalt Make Email SHORTER Than Direct Mail.

Cut cut cut!

Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/6D43LQ

Direct mail appeals clock in at well over 1,000 words, sometimes double and triple that. If you do that in email, no one will like you.

While I’ve seen super short (150 words) and super long (500 words) e-appeals that work, my sweet spot has always been between 250 and 350 words. Feel free to go shorter for the “last chance/deadline approacheth!” mails at the end of a multi-email campaign (year end, membership month, etc.).

2. Thou Shalt Get to the Point FASTER.


Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/3NjAEd

I once had a conversation with a direct mail writer who said he hated email. He liked to stretch out and tell a good story.

I said the exact opposite. I can’t stomach direct mail because it doesn’t get to the point fast enough (please note I am NOT declaring direct mail dead).

I guess we are each in the right business.

This I know…NO ONE wants to read a 2,000 word e-appeal. Email is task-oriented. When someone opens your email (lucky you, they opened it!), your reader is thinking, “What do they want from me? What do I need to do with this information?”

Don’t take forever to get to the point: the need for a donation.

3. Thou Shalt Honor Thy SUBJECT LINE.

rock your subject line

Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/8fs4tQ

With open rates for appeals hovering at 14 percent, you bet your sweet petunias that you need to obsess over that subject line. Do not write just one. Here’s a handy slide from our friends at Upworthy, who know a thing or two about attracting attention.


Do you need to write 25 subject lines? Nope. More than 5? You betcha! Unless, of course, you don’t want anyone to read what’s on the inside.

4. Thou Shalt Get to the First Ask AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

ask soon

Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/pcsLQ8

Here’s a secret. Very few people read everything you write in an email. It’s just the reality.

What they ARE doing is scanning, looking for something to catch their eyes as soon as possible. You need to pause or interrupt the story you’re telling to make an ask.

This will feel very awkward at first, but here’s a technique that might help. Imagine you are at a sermon and the preacher pauses for a response, “Let us pray” or “Hear our prayer.” Or if music is your better metaphor, think of a call-and-response pattern.

Your pauses could go something like this:

This life-saving work is only possible through the generous support of people like you.

Will you help?

You can fix this.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Chip in to make this trail a reality!

Donate now to help monarchs bounce back from devastation.

Strengthen your commitment to equality. Become a member right now.

You can be that hero today with a contribution to families in need!

5. Thou Shalt Make Multiple ASKS.

Is your call to action a can't-miss feature of your email?

Is your call to action a can’t-miss feature of your email?

In a 300-word appeal, make about 3 or more asks. Hyperlink large phrases or entire sentences to help mobile users easily click your link and draw eyeballs to the ask. And, if possible with your email and donation service, track which link garners the most clicks.

6. Thou Shalt Make Small Paragraphs.


A big block of text is deadly in email. No one’s got time for that. Embrace the white space…it is your friend.

When I teach writing for the web to college professors and program folks, this is the thing they struggle with most. In email, it’s OK to make one sentence paragraphs. The ultra-short paragraph is one of my favorite techniques to transition AND to draw attention.

7. Thou Shalt Mind the Micro-content.

Are you using your alt text to its maximum potential?

Are you using your alt text to its maximum potential?

Details, details!

In addition to the subject line, there are a lot of little bits of copy in an email that can entice readers to keep reading and click over to the donation landing page — the preheader, headline, alt text, from line, etc. All these little details add up. If you want to increase your odds of succeeding, write good supporting micro-content for every e-appeal.

I wrote a whole post on this. You can read it here. 

8. Thou Shalt Honor Thy Donation Landing Page.

Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/bVFyjw

Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/bVFyjw

Did you obsess over the response card in direct-mail, but have generic or default copy on your donation landing page? Do you spend tons of energy (and often time advertising dollars) getting people to the donation landing page, and then turn them away with a generic, dense or confusing form?

Never again!

Some nonprofits that have tested and optimized their donation landing page have seen 20 and 30 percent jumps in donations. Check out this article on donation landing page tips.

Published On: May 12, 2015|Categories: Fundraising, Writing Skills and Content|