Be ruthless: 5 tips for short, effective fundraising emails

You may have heard this urban legend: Ernest Hemingway bets a group of his writer friends that he can write an entire story in just six words. His entry, “For sale, Baby shoes, never worn,” wins the bet and is touted by English teachers everywhere as an example of succinct yet potent storytelling.

While it’s most likely myth, Hemingway’s story still contains inspiration for fundraising writers. We spend our days figuring out how to edit interviews, mine annual reports, and boil down a nonprofit’s mission to its bare essentials—and then we have to make sure we ask people for support, too.

So, in the spirit of the six-word story, here are five key ways you can craft short fundraising emails people will want to read:

  1. Identify the information you can live without (be ruthless). With shorter attention spans and the trend towards reading email on mobile, we have very limited space to get a message across—about 200-250 words max. Take a hard look at your background, and separate out the key elements of the story (especially those that will connect with the reader and inspire them to give) from the flowery details.

  2. Know the goal, and get to it quickly. This one is obvious but fundamental. Strike a balance between telling a story that engages readers and telling them what you want. Get to the point within the first 2-3 (short) paragraphs or your audience will lose interest.

  3. Focus on the opener. The length of the email won’t matter if the reader doesn’t get past the first sentence. Find a way to connect with your specific audience right from the beginning. Here are a few tips on how to lead with a question.

  4. Don’t forget the little things. Your subject line, pre-text, and headlines aren’t just areas of content you have to fill in—they get people to open the email and keep reading. Consider them bonus areas that you can utilize to tease out part of your story and/or briefly sum up exactly what you’ll be writing about inside the email.

  5. Go back. Now that you’ve gotten the first draft down on paper, it’s time to do the thing every writer dreads most: edit. Refine your sentences by cutting out any unnecessary words or phrases and then read through as a whole to make sure you’re still telling a cohesive story.

What are your tried-and-true methods to write effective, short fundraising emails? Share them with us on our Facebook page!

Aliah O’Neill


Aliah O’Neill

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