10 Tips for Email Best Practice

August 14, 2018

Emails are a fundamental channel for fundraising and marketing that everybody uses. Due to its popularity, it’s more important than ever to have an email strategy that stands out from the countless lackluster strategies out there. We’ve all received emails with boring subject lines, content that doesn’t encourage you to engage with it and bad segmentation that sees you receiving irrelevant or non-bespoke emails. Here’s some advice to bear in mind whenever you plan your next email campaign.

Writing Subject Lines

Subject lines are so important and shouldn’t be an after thought. If your subject line doesn’t intrigue your reader, they will not open it and see your email content. Here are some good pointers to follow:

1. Keep it short and sweet, around 50 characters maximum, including spaces. Don’t worry about length straight away; get the idea on paper, then cut it down.

2. The reader should know what to expect in the email. Don’t try to hook them in with a false or provocative subject that doesn’t relate to the content inside. But this doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. Just because it’s your April newsletter, your subject line doesn’t have to be ‘April Newsletter’. If you’re talking about a new breakthrough or initiative, or success story in your newsletter, reference that in the subject line instead.

3. Use the recipient’s name. e.g. “Karim, your gift is changing lives in your community.” If you’re not using personalization, try to use second person pronouns, like ‘you’ and ‘your’.

4. When in doubt, test your subject lines. Some good factors to test are:

5. Avoid using excessive exclamation marks and caps lock.

6. If you ask a question, the answer must be in the body of the email. Again, don’t mislead people otherwise they may view your emails as pointless click-bait and unsubscribe.

7. If the email has a story, the subject line can be an introduction to the characters or key issues. Make sure the subject line is still gripping and exciting.

8. Create urgency using words like ‘now’ and ‘today’ to encourage readers to take action immediately.

Engaging Your Audience

Engagement is the number one factor used by ISPs to determine if your email lands in the inbox or the spam folder. The more engaged or higher quality your list is, the better treatment you’ll get from those ISPs. Act-on recommends a minimum ratio of 70:30, meaning out of 100 contacts you mail, at least 70 should be recently engaged. 50 – 70% of messages that Gmail receives are spam. Ensure your emails are what your audience wants to read and don’t mislead them with your subject line.

You should always include a call-to-action in your email. This should be clear to see and repeated numerous times (towards the beginning and at the end of an email, at least) to reinforce the messaging.


Well-segmented emails produce 77% of email marketing ROI. Yet shockingly, 42% of marketers don’t consider email segmentation, and only 4% segment using multiple audiences. Consider your goal and how you want your different email audiences to respond. Will the action differ for each audience group? Are some groups more familiar with your brand than others? Do some groups need more background information? Is one group already familiar with your campaign?

Emails personalized to different audiences are more likely to receive positive reactions. Your email sender reputation will improve, and your emails are less likely to reach spam folders. Customize your copy for each of these different audiences as much as possible and enjoy improved response rates!

Here are 2 tips to keep in mind when segmenting your audiences:

9. Separate your groups logically. Divide them into the audiences that want the same information from you or by the stage they are at in the conversion funnel.

10. Keep analyzing your campaign results and use the data to see if your segments are reacting as you expect. Do some segments react better than others? If a segment appears unreactive, it may not be worth separating it out at all.

Email strategies should not be static. You and your team should keep testing competing ideas and reassess your entire overall strategy every few months to create best practices that work for your organization. You’ll become an email wizard in no time.

About the Author

Karim has more than 10 years’ experience in the non-profit sector and is responsible for leading the implementation for many of hjc’s online projects. His skills involve, but are not limited to, business analysis and technology audits, strategic planning, project execution, and needs assessments.

Karim draws on his experience as the Application Manager at Canadian Cancer society – National Office, where he managed the digital presence for online fundraising, independent fundraising events, third party events and electronic communication. His client list includes Trillium Health Partners Foundation, YWCA Calgary, and Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors without Borders Canada.