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!



3 Easy Ways to Super Size Your GiveBIG Success

TSF_GiveBig_logo_Theme_BLUGiveBIG is King County’s annual day of giving. Spearheaded by The Seattle Foundation, this is a stupendous opportunity for local nonprofits to get donors engaged and get in on some matching fund action.

HOWEVER, there are 1600+ nonprofits vying for people’s attention leading up to, and on the day of, this Give-a-Palooza. Standing out from the crowd is a must.

This is an online campaign, so eblasts are flying like crazy. You’ve got to nail your subject line. Not to sound alarmist, but it can make or break the success of your GiveBIG efforts.

Here are 3 tips for writing click-worthy subject lines:

  1. Make it a question: Subject lines written as questions have an open rate that is, on average, double that of other types of subject lines.
  2. Use ‘you and your’: These are called “self-referencing cues”. Using them makes it about the reader. And academic research tells us that’s a good thing.
  3. Use the word ‘why’: For example, ‘Why you should care about next Tuesday’. It suggests that by opening the email, the reader will find out why. Our brains feel out of sorts until we know the answer. And therefore your readers are motivated to find out.

Here’s how you could super size your success by putting these tips together (like combo meals for your subject lines):

Do you know why next Tuesday is such a big deal?

Why you’re our hero.

You and your awesomeness needed next Tuesday


Here’s the headline you should NOT write: “GiveBIG to [insert the name of your organization]”.

It’s not about you and your organization. It’s about the difference you’re making in the community, on behalf of the people you serve. Make it about them and how the donor can be part of that awesome work. They are the heroes.


5 Last Minute Tips to Get People to GiveBIG

Get them to GiveBIG!If you’re in throes of planning for GiveBIG, you’re probably wondering how someone could NOT know it’s GiveBIG tomorrow?!

Because they have a lot going on.

AND even if they know it’s GiveBIG, they may not have decided whether they’re going to give to you. Bear in mind they’ve been asked by a lot of non profits to give.

If you’re sending out a Day Of email (which you should), here are 5 tips to up your open rate–a critical step on GiveBIG day:

  1. Put the most important information at the beginning of your subject line: It’s now or not until next year. Make it happen today. Right now. Stat!
  2. Stand out: Again, lots of donors getting lots of email on a busy, busy day. That’s the scenario. Make them laugh. Make them pause. Shock them. Delight them. Make them see how they can play a Big Role on the Big Day. Don’t simply say it’s GiveBIG. That’s expected and they’ll read it a bunch of time. Say it in a way that’ll make them notice YOUR email.
  3. Keep it short: 40-50 characters max. This also goes for the content of your email. This isn’t a ‘getting to know you’  moment. It’s a ‘get on it’ moment. Quickly remind them why they should give and then get out of their way and let them do it.
  4. Use ‘You‘: By using ‘you’, you help people see how they fit in. Sure, it’s about all of us and you’ll be tempted to use ‘we’. In the subject line, it’s all about the ‘you’.
  5. One Call to Action (CTA): Don’t distract with other Calls to Action. In your follow up email (which, of course, you will also send), give them other ways to engage. On May 2, it’s GiveBIG or go home.

Good luck tomorrow! 


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?