Do’s and Don’ts for Donor-Centered Subject Lines

subject lines, standing out, donorsMany cities and states now have a day dedicated to getting lots and lots and lots of people donating to local organizations on the same day. Greater Washington Give to the Max, Idaho Gives, GiveBIG. Whatever you call it and wherever you may be, these days all have one thing in common–they are an exercise in cutting through the noise so donors hear your message.

Part of the trick is to get donors to pay attention to your emails among the sea–truly a sea–of email appeals flooding into their inbox. They are being blasted with emails from dozens of nonprofits. You absolutely, positively must stand out. But how?

In a word: words. And specifically, the words in your subject lines. Because it doesn’t matter how good the content of your email is if no one opens it.

Subject lines can be tough, so here are some do’s and don’ts to help you out.


  • Use the subject line, “Give to [insert name of your org] today!” It’s not about you and your organization. It’s about the change you’re creating in the world. Never forget the wise words of Peter Drury, “Donors give through you, not to you.” What will their donation do? What change are you facilitating on the donor’s behalf?
  • Use the same subject line everyone is. For instance, in Seattle, our event is called GiveBIG. Here’s a subject line that is highly likely to get instantly deleted because of its blandness, “GiveBIG today!”
  • Use the same subject line over and over and over again. No, no, no. Put yourself in your donor’s shoes–they’re busy and bombarded. Don’t add insult to injury by boring them on top of it!


  • Map out all your email subject lines in advance. Info and inspiration for you from Hubspot, Kivi Leroux Miller, Razoo, and Copyblogger.
  • Run the words you’re planning to use through The Wordifier. Remember–the Wordifier is based on a huge data set. So the results are seriously legit making them seriously actionable for you. If you get a red light, try to find another word  or, if you have to use that word (e.g. give or community) ask yourself what words you can surround it with to make the over-used word stand out more.
  • Get creative. Be clever. Take a risk or two. Experiment. Giving days are not the days on which you should play it safe. The riskiest thing you can do is not take a risk.

Seen a click-worthy subject line recently? Share it in the comments!



Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?