5 Best Practices For Writing Emails to Major and Legacy Donor Prospects

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

1. Be truthful, no tricks! Ever!

You cannot build relationships upon lies. Not even white lies.

2. Be relevant. 

To do that, you must consider where each supporter resides in the consideration process for giving and what they might be thinking. Absent relevance, your outreach will sound like some kind of a sales pitch. Personalization and relevance are essential.

3. Keep it short; make it clear and to the point. 

People are busy. They don’t have time to figure out what you are saying. So be sure to edit unnecessary words and needless bullet-points. Plus underline words or phrases of special interest to make it easy for your supporters to scan your message (since that’s what they will do anyway). Also make sure it sounds colloquial and not too overly professional because that makes people feel uneasy. Just sound like yourself. Be professional but don’t over-do it. Too much professionalism (sophistication, long paragraphs, challenging words) actually creates friction for people because they start wondering, “What’s the catch?” Remember, you are a facilitator and your job is to make it easy for THEM. If it takes up more of your time to do all of that, so be it! You work for THEM. Don’t make them go to work just to understand what you are trying to convey.

4. Focus on the value THEY can gain. 

When they receive your email, they’ll instantly wonder, “What’s in it for me?” So, be sure to make it easy for them to recognize the benefits they’ll gain from engaging with you and your messages. However, remember, value is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, you must think carefully about each supporter and where they reside in the consideration process. Then you must clearly communicate some sort of value they’ll appreciate because it aligns with their consideration stage and with what you know about their needs.

5. Avoid multiple options.

Think about what you ultimately want the supporter to do. Then make it clear that that’s what you want. More than one option confuses people and they always go with the easiest option (which is usually not what you really want). If you are truthful, relevant, and concise and you focus on the value THEY can gain from one recommended action, they will be more likely to take it.



Too often we focus on the content of the email while the subject line does 80% of the work. So it’s important to focus 80% of your strategic thinking on your subject line. If you write a confusing or unclear subject line, they’ll delete your email right away. If you write a misleading subject line, they’ll click to read the content of your email but, in the end, they’ll think you’re a liar who is not worthy of their trust. Then they’ll delete it. But if you write a clear, interesting, value-oriented subject line, they’ll appreciate the fact that you removed friction for them and they’ll be much more likely to engage with you further.

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David Barker
2 years ago

Good advice. I will take this to heart.

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