Fundraising email guide – Tailored templates to get donations

When giving season comes around, nonprofits are in overdrive, working to increase donations with fundraising emails so meaningful work can be done in the new year. It’s exciting! And stressful!

In that moment, nothing sounds better than just sending out some automated, one-size-fits-all fundraising emails. Especially since email accounted for more than 26% of online revenue for nonprofits in 2016. In 2019, email fundraising response rates increased for the first time. Automating the process sounds like easy money, right?

Not exactly. Email has proven to be really valuable, but only when done right. Yes, you are typing words on a machine and sending those words to another person’s machine. But the keyword there is person.

Remember that you’re engaging with human beings — and very different ones at that. You wouldn’t send your mom the same gift you’d send your nephew. You don’t call your friends just to ask for a favor (and when you do, you don’t ask every friend in the same way). You tailor your gifts and your appeals based on the person and on your relationship.

To really connect with your supporters — and drive them to donate — consider sending highly segmented fundraising emails this giving season. Divide your list based on donation amount or donation behavior. Consider tailoring messages in the following ways:

Segment Fundraising Emails by Donation Amount

  • 0
  • $
  • $$
  • $$$
  • $$$$

Segment Fundraising Emails by Donation Behavior

  • Users: Have never donated
  • Lapsed donors: Haven’t donated in 1 or more years
  • Active donors: Donated in last year
  • Repeat donors: Have donated multiple years in a row or to more than one campaign
  • Top donors: $$$$ or more donors

Some of you may be thinking, “why don’t I just reach out to my top donors for the big bucks and save myself time to catch up on The Great British Bake Off?” I feel you. As valuable as those top donors are, a lot of small donations can add up! Plus, it helps to remind your supporters of your amazing work, and unite them towards driving real impact. Best case scenario: Motivated supporters become repeat donors, which is one of your most valuable segments in the long term.
Now, dividing your list into these donor segments requires some work, but it will pay off (no pun intended) in the end. To help you out on the writing side, we’ve created templates for the different donor audiences we mentioned above, plus a little description about the content choices we made. For these fundraising emails, remember to always include plenty of links to your donate page, visual content (images and/or videos), and a clear call to action at the end. Sign up to get the templates below.

What are your email subscribers doing on your site? Shed light on important users with Lighthouse by Whole Whale. Learn more at 

Fundraising Emails by Donation Amount

For $0 donors or Users

These are your subscribers who have not donated in the past — use this segment to turn subscribers into first time donors.

This list calls for less personalized messaging and lighter asks than the other segments. General email subscribers may be less familiar with your organization than donors, so take time to tell them about the amazing things you do and what their contribution will help you accomplish. Ask for a small donation amount or offer a smaller range of donation amounts to ease them into it.

giving campaign email template for users

For the $-$$ donors

This list is your smaller and/or newer donor pool. These people have expressed interest and engaged with your organization by giving in the past, but are not among your “all-star” donors (yet).
Thank this list for their past donation and support, and ask for a donation amount or range that is just slightly above what they donated before. Consider adding a list of programs/items that can be paid for with even the smallest donation. An example from UNICEF:

UNICEF donation ask example

Our template:
donation email template $ or $$ donors

Fundraising Emails by Donation Behavior

For the Donors from Last Year

These people engaged with your organization’s campaign in the last year. Specifically reference that campaign in your fundraising emails to tell donors that you remember and appreciate their gifts. Show them what you were able to accomplish with the money donated from that campaign, and share your goals for this year.

last year donor email template

For the Lapsed Donors

These individuals donated in the past, but haven’t donated in the last year or two. Thank them for being a part of your community and donating in the past, and remind them why they donated either to your cause in general or a specific campaign. Tell them what you were able to do with the past donations, and outline your goals for this year.
lapsed donors email template

For the Repeat Donors

Send to the top accounts who have repeatedly donated over time. These donors have shown high engagement with the organization. Contact each of these donors with personalized fundraising emails. Send a direct ask, don’t be shy! Notice this email is not sent from an email platform, but from an individual’s email account.
Repeat donors email template

For the Top Donors

Send individual emails to the top 25 single value donations. Each of these accounts will have made a large donation (determine your exact $ amount range based on your past individual donations) within the last 5 years.
Contact each of these donors with personalized fundraising emails to appeal for high value gifts. Remind them why they donated before, whether it was at an event, to support a specific campaign, or just to your cause in general, and ask them to contribute to your goal.
If they have a personal connection to a particular employee at your organization, have that person reach out to them individually. Some of your top donors may be on your board: If your organization has set (or previously communicated) expectations for donors, send an email announcing the campaign and reminding them of the board’s goals. If your organization does not have set or clear expectations from donors, send individual fundraising emails thanking them for being on the board, outlining your fundraising goals, and asking them to contribute.
Don’t be shy, and say those numbers. Like repeat donors, this email is not sent from an email platform, but from an individual’s email account.

top donors email template

“What are email users doing on my site?” asked every nonprofit ever. With Lighthouse by Whole Whale, we’ve created a virtual handshake between your email marketing provider and your Google Analytics to better understand the online activities of high-value email subscribers. Get more information and sign up for a demo at