5 Ways To Improve Subject Lines for Email Appeals

Posted on 06/25/2017 - by Dan Allenby

In direct mail fundraising, an envelope has two jobs. The first is to get delivered to the right mailbox. The second is to get opened. You can say that the envelope is the battleground for an annual fund’s print appeals. Getting someone to open it gets you one step “closer to the castle” of getting them to make a donation. Similarly, getting someone to answer a phonathon call or getting someone to take a meeting with a gift officer is a key step in ultimately getting someone to make a donation.

In email, the battleground is the subject line. It’s the first (and quite possibly the only) thing that a prospect will see, which is why it’s so important to choose your words carefully. Keep in mind that your donors are likely getting dozens – if not hundreds – of other emails each day, so you need to make sure your subject lines stand out, get noticed, and resonate.

Here are five ways to create more effective subject lines and ultimately get your prospects to open your email appeals.

  1. Grab attention – Be concise and direct. Pull them in and make them want to read more. Try to make it read like a newspaper headline.
  2. Generate curiosity – Ask questions like “Is your name on this list?” or try numbered phrases “6 reasons you should donate today.”
  3. Make it relevant – The point is not to trick someone into opening your email. The point is to get those who will be interested in what’s inside to open it. It’s better to have a lower open rate and a higher click-through or conversion rate than the other way around. If you have a video to share, preview that with a subject line like “Watch this video!”
  4. Create urgency – Use deadlines. Let them know if “Time is running out” or if it’s their “Last chance” to get their gift matched. Year-ends and challenges provide natural opportunities to create a sense of urgency.
  5. Beware of spam filters – Certain phrases or characters can cause your emails to get flagged as mass emails and automatically dumped in “junk” or “spam” folders where it’s likely your alumni will never even see them. To avoid this, try not to use words like “free” or “exclusive” in your subject line and shy away from using special characters or capital letters. If it looks or sounds like something a sleazy salesperson might say, there’s a good chance it’ll end up in a spam filter.

Don’t underestimate the importance of compelling subject lines for your email appeals. And don’t try to figure out the right one all alone. In fact, come up with a few options and share them with others for their feedback. This might take a little extra time, but it’ll be worth the effort. Remember, the subject line is the battleground in email fundraising. Anytime a prospect opens your email appeal, your chances of victory (i.e., securing a donation) go way up.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Email Strategy for Annual Giving.