13 tips for writing emails that get results

You want more donations? Email your donors. You want more activists or volunteers? Email them. More customers? Email.

Whatever your goals, email marketing is one way to reach your audience that you should not ignore.

Here are 13 tips to help you write awesome and authentic emails that work two ways: they get you what you need, and they create connections with your reader.

1) Make your reader the center of attention.

Make your reader the center of the message by writing in the 2nd person. That means using the word YOU as often as possible.

It’s not easy. We’re trained to write in either the first person or the third person. But speaking directly to your reader makes your reader the center of attention. It helps establish connection and relevance.

You could start by talking about what you share. Maybe you share similar values, goals, worldviews, work interests, hobbies, desires … speak from common ground and put your reader (not yourself and not your organization) in the center of that conversation.

For example:  “I know you care about the kind of world we’re leaving for the future. So do we, and that’s why we’re [briefly explain your work, organization, or activities]. For you, this means….”

2) Decide on ONE call to action and stick to it

Do you want your audience to donate? Write to their congressperson? Volunteer? Read your blog post? Like you on Facebook? Contact you? Sign up for your newsletter?

Decide on one thing – the most important thing – you want the reader to do. Just one. If you try to get two, you’re more likely to get nothing. One primary call to action results in better click-through rates than emails with two or more competing calls to action. You can google that.

3) Include your call to action early and often

Your call to action should be in the email at least twice. The first time you include your call to action, it should land “above the fold” – meaning people reading your email on their phone don’t have to scroll down to see the first call to action.

Later in the email, include it as both a button (probably at the bottom), and as a simple link around the middle or near the bottom. The simple links will appear on everyone’s email, while sometimes the buttons get blocked as images so they show up as a blank box that cannot be clicked (unless you specify “alt text” for your buttons).

4) Use a VERB in your subject line

You want your subject line to be actionable. So you should use verbs to make it clear what you’re about to ask the reader to do. You might even consider including your call to action in the subject line.

5) Use brief subject lines

Mobile devices tend to cut off your subject line. Be as brief as possible.

6) Be brief in your email

You’ve heard it before: the briefer your writing, the better. The fewer words you use to get across your point, the more people are likely to stick with you. You need to include enough information to engage the reader, but not so much that you overload them.

7) Use centered and/or bolded text

Using centered and/or bolded text helps emphasize important points or calls to action. But use it sparingly and judiciously.

8) Make it mobile friendly

Most people are reading your email on a mobile device. (You can google that, too). So, make your email mobile friendly.

Sidebars usually crowd an email and make it very difficult to read the main text, so use sidebars sparingly and judiciously – if at all. Usually, your calls to action are best placed with your text, not to the side.

Also, make sure the font shows up large enough on a phone. Test it yourself and if possible, ask one or two other people to look at a preview on their phones as well.

9) Show your personality

Don't be afraid (or forget) to show your brand personality. Are you spunky? Serious? Passionate? Opinionated? Knowledgeable? Trustworthy? Don't tell it. Be it and show it. 

10) Don’t get too fancy

Simple is better than fancy. Some of the most effective emails are short, simple, and in plain text – without even photos. Also, don’t forget those plain text emails. They still work. Make sure you edit your plain text emails for people who don’t use html emails. Those readers are still important!

11) Send your email from a real person

Open rates increase when your email is sent not from your company or organization, but from a real person with a real email address. Industry best practice is to also set the reply-to address as a real, human email address (not just info@example.com or marketing@example.com but natalie@example.com).

12) Automatically email new contacts within 24 hours

Set up an automated welcome message – or series – for new email subscribers. This is when you and your brand are at the top of your prospects’ minds and they are expecting to hear from you. You’ll get an idea of their future engagement as well. Send them your origin story; send them your most popular blog post; send them a useful white paper or tip sheet. The possibilities are broad and will be unique to your organization.

13) Segment your list – if applicable

Your customers are not the same as your prospects. Your long-time donors and supporters are not the same as new members. Not all of your messages should go to your entire list. Make sure you segment your list appropriately, and send them the appropriate messages – the messages that put the reader at the center of attention (see tip #1). Some messages will go to your entire list, but a lot of them will not.

Good luck and happy emailing!

Email Natalie Bennon for more tips about reaching your target audience with your best stories to drive advocacy, engagement, donations, and sales.