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!



Marketing Game Plan for Idaho Gives

My marketing advice is...drink more coffee!
My marketing advice is…drink more coffee!

May 2, is going to be a big day in Idaho. It’ll be their first-ever statewide celebration of giving–aptly called Idaho Gives.

Thanks to the Idaho Nonprofit Center, the wonderful masterminds behind Idaho Gives, I have gotten to train nonprofits from all over the state on how to create a Marketing Game Plans for this statewide give-a-palooza.

These one day give-fests are awesome from nonprofits. Why? Because they force you to get your marketing in line with your mission and your goals. (The lure of free money and golden tickets can have that effect.)

Now, when people come to a marketing training, they usually think we’re going to spend most of our time talking about Facebook, e-blasts and, if we’re really, really lucky, Pinterest.

Instead, we talk a lot about what their goals are and who they need to engage to reach those goals. Why so little talk of Pinterest and Instagram and all the fun stuff? I like the fun stuff as much as the next marketing-obsessed speaker, but here’s what I’ve learned over the years: that part comes pretty easy once you know your WHAT (your goals) and your WHO (the people you should engage).

And you know what isn’t fun at all? Wasting your time and money. And that’s what you’re doing when you skip the What and the Who. Because without that information, you can’t make good choices. Doh.

At times, you might skip those two all-important first steps and get results by random luck. Good for you. But you can’t take random luck to the bank time and time again, now can you? No, you can’t. Not unless you’re George Clooney’s gang from Ocean’s Thirteen. (Oh but look, they did meticulous planning before taking their loot to the bank too, so scratch that!)

It’s through planning that you figure out how to tailor your messages. As Gayla Hatfield of Hope Preschool and Memorial Community Center told the Coeur d’Alene Press, they weren’t clear on who they really needed to reach and were “spewing too much info out.” Now she knows how to target her message and she’s “better prepared” for  fundraising in general and Idaho Gives in particular.

Planning may not be as fun as pinning and, as you can see in the picture above, it requires quite a bit of caffeine (note how many coffee cups are strewn across the table) and not everyone will find it riveting (note the woman on her mobile, who was actually very engaged much of the time, I swear, but happened to not be when this particular pic was snapped…what are the odds?), but if you’re serious about marketing advancing your mission, planning is the way it’s gotta be.

The Idaho nonprofits who rolled up their sleeves, filled up their coffee mugs, and did their planning will likely have a very good day on May 2. I can’t wait to see their plans turn into action..and engagement…and donations!

[For the record: In one of the trainings, the group was having so much fun, I laughed until I cried. I really, truly did. (Thanks to Dawn Burke of The Rat Retreat for being such a sport!) Proof that planning can be both fun and productive.]


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?