11 Subject Line Tips For Charity And Nonprofit Emails
A strong subject line is the bedrock of any nonprofit email. That’s because strong subject lines mean strong open rates. And strong open rates mean more opportunities for recipients to engage with the content.
But what counts as a strong subject line?
Here’s a run down of 11 tried-and-tested ideas that we often suggest to the nonprofit organisations we work with.
1. Short vs long(ish)
Try testing short subject lines (two or three words) vs longer subject lines (7 or 8 words). Avoid exceeding 41 characters – the length at which subject lines are clipped on some mobile devices, anything longer won’t be seen by the recipient.
2. Try a single word
Sometimes the best performing subject lines get to the point in a single word. For example “Sign the petition to demand equality” could be shortened to just “Equality”.
3. Pick a phrase from your email
Once you’ve written a draft of your email content, try scanning it to see if there are a few words – or phrase – that’s intriguing but doesn’t give too much away. Choosing a subject line in this way can generate a curiosity gap, which drives opens. For example, by applying the practice to this paragraph, the phrases “Picked at random” and “Don’t give too much away” could both work as subject lines.
4. Borrow ideas
Try creating a new email account and using it to sign up to 20 other nonprofit email lists. When a flood of emails arrives in your inbox, take notes on the subject lines that interest you and trigger you to open the email. Look for patterns in the subject lines and keep a tab on what catches your attention. Then use that to come up with ideas of your own.
5. Make it personal
If you’ve got the recipient’s first name on file, try adding it to the subject line – as doing so makes the email more personal. So the subject line “Have you seen this?” becomes “Have you seen this, NAME?”
6. Make it local
Similar to the last point, if you have a record of the city or town a supporter lives in, try adding that. So the subject line “Protect the NHS” becomes “Protect the NHS in Birmingham”. This is another way to make an email more relevant to the recipient. Ideally, the content should reflect this too – so if the email name checks the recipient’s city, make sure the content within the email contains local info too.
7. Use emojis
Emojis are a huge part of how people communicate with each other nowadays (if you don’t believe me, open WhatsApp and see how many emojis you’ve received this week). Using them in emails can generate intrigue too. A few recent examples from environmental groups are “Save the bees 🐝” and “Help protect whales 🐋” and even just three shark emojis (🦈🦈🦈). Emojis aren’t appropriate for every email. But in the right context, using them can trigger interest and drive more opens.
8. Use a famous name
Humans respond to things we recognise. Famous faces, celebrities, household brands, well-known places or landmarks – these can all trigger a reaction by association. If your email content references something like this, like the name of a well known politician, add it to the subject line to see if it increases your open rates.
9. Deadlines and dates
If you’re running a fundraising appeal and there’s a deadline for donations, you can increase the urgency by using the subject line “48 hours to go” a couple of days before the fundraiser closes. Or try referencing a date, such as “This November” if you’re sending an email on 1 November. Or the subject line “2023” if sending an email at the start of 2023.
10. Brainstorm in your team
If you’re lucky to work as part of a communications or digital team, try sharing a draft of your email with a few colleagues – then ask them to suggest ideas for subject lines after they’ve read it. Before you know it, you could have 10 new ideas you can whittle down to test.
11. Avoid these
While adding an exclamation mark (!) to your subject line might seem a good idea to generate urgency, it can also trigger the recipient’s SPAM filter – especially if using multiple exclamation marks (!!!!) together. The pound symbol (£) and dollar symbol ($) can do the same too. As can using block capitals letters LIKE THIS. If you can’t avoid these completely, use them sparingly.
Bonus idea: test the sender name
If you’ve tested all the above and want to try something different, try testing your email sender name next. So for example if your sender name is usually “My Organisation”, try switching the sender name to match your website URL (eg ‘‘myorganisation.org”). Or you could add the author’s name, so the sender name becomes “Name, My Organisation”. Though this idea isn’t a subject line test, it’s similar in that it could lead to higher open rates.
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