How to Take a Successful Email to the Next Level

Next level.

Say you’ve sent out an appeal and it was successful.  And you’re sold on the strategy of “sending it out again at the same time next year.”

It’s like you’ve discovered a new “tool” that works really well, and you’re wondering how to get the most out of it.

Let me tell you a story to tell you how we normally do it…

A decade ago we were serving an organization that helps mothers and children who are experiencing homelessness.

They didn’t have any fundraising planned for summer, and we didn’t want them to “go dark” for a couple of months.  So we asked them if they did anything for the children of their beneficiary families when it was time for them to go back to school.

Turns out the organization provided each child with a new outfit, new shoes, and a backpack filled with school supplies.  (This organization knew that kids who had been homeless had experienced more than enough trauma, and didn’t want the kids to feel like “the poor kid on the first day of school.”  We love them for this!)

The organization was low on budget, so direct mail wasn’t an option.  We put together an e-appeal that asked donors to provide an outfit and backpack for a child. 

It worked great.

And we worked under the assumption that if more people saw this offer, more people would give.  So here’s what we did in the subsequent years to turn a successful piece of fundraising into a full-blown campaign.

  • Year #2, we sent the email again and we did a direct mail letter with the same offer.  We raised even more.
  • Year #3, we sent the email and letter, and added a 3-email series on the last 3 days before the first day of school.  We raised even more.
  • Year #4 we did all of the above, plus updated their website to feature the campaign for the entire month of August.  We raised even more.
  • Year #5 we did all of the above, plus we asked a major donor to provide a match.  We raised even more.
  • Year #6 we did all of the above and used the campaign as a way to increase major donor giving over the summer.  We raised even more.

Today, this campaign is a pillar of the organization’s fundraising plan.  In addition to raising several buckets of money, it raises awareness about what happens to kids who experience homelessness.  It’s brought new donors into the organization.  It brought some donors deeper into the organization’s programs.

And it all started with one email that worked. 

So if you send out something that works, do two things:

  1. Notice what the campaign asked for.  In this case, it asked donors to provide a new outfit and backpack with school supplies for a child.
  2. Then ask yourself how you can get that same ask in front of even more people, even more times, at the same time of year.

After you go through this process a few times. you’ll have multiple proven campaigns with predictable, increasing revenue.  These campaigns become very real “assets” that reliably raise money year after year.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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