Are you sending emails and just feeling like you’re beating your head against the wall?

You’re not alone. So many of our fundraising emails go unanswered!


Because maybe the recipient doesn’t know you. Or maybe your subject line sucked. Or maybe the body of the email was really long and not logically set up, and they didn’t know what you wanted so they just deleted it.

There are lots of reasons people are not answering our fundraising emails. But since we have to send them, how can we make them better?

In our fundraising lives, there are several situations that come up again and again.

We send emails, and people do not respond. People, specifically, who could give our nonprofit money. Let’s go through some of the typical examples, and I’ll help you get people to respond to your emails.

1.  Here’s a typical situation. You’ve emailed a potential sponsor. How do you get them to respond?

First of all, what’s your subject line? Does it sound like spam? like “Opportunity to sponsor Cats with Kittens Gala”?

Is it so short as to be unclear, like “heyyy”?

Ideally, when you email a sponsor, you have tried to call them first, so saying, “Did you get my voicemail?” is a good subject line.

Why not try some subject lines like this? “Quick question: Do you want to get in front of 100 corporate decisionmakers?”  “Can we have a quick call?” or “How can we help you get in front of more potential customers?”

Why are these good subject lines for your sponsor? Because it shows that you’ve tried to reach out to them before, and that you’re interested in their business objectives, and in conserving their time. It shows you are focused on THEIR pain points, not YOUR pain points.

Have you ever done a phone-a-thon?

Have you ever called a sponsor?

2. What about the body of the sponsorship email?

Make it clear. Write something like: “We don’t want to waste anyone’s time. We want to see if there’s a fit between your business objectives and our sponsorship. Could we have a quick 5 minute phone call to chat about your marketing goals, your audience, and the actions that you want them to take?”

3.  So you’ve emailed a potential foundation funder. How do you get them to respond?

If you’ve emailed them, you probably want to know if there’s a fit between what your nonprofit does and their funding objectives. This means you’ve already looked at their website. So, unless you’ve looked at their website, don’t email them. If you have and you’re still not sure, ask, “Quick question: funding guidelines” or “Quick question: funding priorities for 2015” or “Accepting applications for 2015 grant cycle?”

These subject lines communicate urgency, and can easily be answered in a few short sentences. This means they’re more likely to be answered than a longer subject line like “Hey just checking in about your funding guidelines, could you please give me a call?”

See the difference?

4. You’ve emailed a potential board member. How can you get them to respond?

Potential Subject lines: “Are you coming to the open house?” or “Want to grab coffee sometime?” or “Let’s have lunch together!”

In the body of your email, ask something quickly, even bold it to get them to see what you’re asking. Something like, “Hey, would you like to come to our open house? We’d love to see you here and show you around!” Or  ” Would you like to go out for coffee with our board chair? He’d love to get your impression of our programs.”


5. What if your current board member doesn’t respond to your emails? How can you get them to respond?

Subject line is important. If this board member is checked out, are you starting to send whiny emails? like, “Why haven’t you answered my email yet?” Nobody wants to answer that one!

Is it unclear? “Board meeting 1/15/15”

Try this subject line instead: “We appreciate you Barbara. Thanks for being a board member! Quick question”

How about getting someone else to send them an email and see if they respond? That can work when other things fail. Remember, it may not be about you. It can also be sexism.

Are you getting to the point in 10 seconds or less? Can they understand what you want them to do in the first couple sentences? If not, this email is not going to get answered.

Also, don’t be afraid to fire board members. Simone Joyaux just wrote a book about this.

6.  You’ve emailed a donor. What can you do to help them respond?

In your subject line, maybe mention a person that they know, a mutual friend. Say, “Amy Nesbitt told me to contact you”

Bonus tip: Are they on Twitter? Tweet them and say hi! They love that.

7. You’ve emailed a potential nonprofit employer. What can you do to get them to open and respond to your email?

Tell them you will call them to confirm receipt of the email.

That usually does the trick. Everyone hates answering the phone. It disturbs their workday, yet they feel compelled to answer it. If you put this in the body of your email, I have seen this work at least 8 out of 10 times, they will email you back confirming that they got your email.

8. You’ve emailed a nonprofit blogger. What can you do to get them to respond to your email?

Okay, this one is for me. How can you get me to respond to your emails?

output_yOiDQzTell me a specific thing you liked about a blog post, which post it was, and what it taught you,  if anything. Or a webinar, or a course, or my book. Basically tell me that you’ve been paying attention. Then ask me your question. I WILL JUMP to respond. I might even make a blog post about your question.

If you send me a form email with your press release, or say, “I love your blog! Now, promote my stuff” I will not respond. NOPE.

WHY? Why am I so mean? Why won’t I promote your event/press release/film/kickstarter/website/help you get sponsorships? (BTW this is a gif of me saying NO!)


  1. I have advertising opportunities for this website and if the emailer does not want to pay for that, they obviously do not respect this blog or what I’m accomplishing or my readers. Nonprofit software companies and other sorts of vendors for nonprofits WOULD profit from sponsoring this site.
  2. I am not a newspaper. Therefore sending me press releases is kinda pointless. The chances of me amplifying a nonprofit press release/event and the nonprofit getting more money from donors or attendees or sponsors are slim to none. I have an international audience, but it’s fundraisers. It’s not (as far as I know) major donors. And it’s certainly not like people reading this blog only care about one cause. People come here with a variety of causes they care about.
  3. Emails that are irrelevant for the reasons above are wasting my time. Respect my time and I’ll do the same for you.


If you want to get more traffic and more attention for your nonprofit or business, you would be better off commenting on an article on Huffington Post or New York Times that has to do with your cause area. That will get you more traffic, which MAY lead to more donors.

Was this helpful? Is there anything else that you’ve found really works in your fundraising job? Good subject lines? Good email body copy? Please leave a comment and let us know so we can all learn from you!