I get a lot of nonprofit email messages through subscribing to lists, working with lots of organizations, and being a donor. That means my inbox gets pretty flooded at the end of each year.

Back in 2010, I wrote about all the direct mail pieces that I had collected over a year. This time I collected all of the nonprofit emails that I was sent between December 15, 2011 and January 1, 2012. Here’s what I discovered after going through all the email messages.

subjects21 80 Email Subject Lines from End of Year FundraisingSo Different, Yet So Similar
Despite these organizations having a wide variety of missions and causes — it was surprising and a bit concerning how similar most of the subject lines appeared to be.

It was almost as if many organizations were reading from the same recipe book. It was very common to receive multiple messages from different nonprofits at about the same time with very similar subject lines.

I ran the subject lines of the 80 emails from 35 nonprofits through a text analyzer. Common words and the names of the organizations were removed. The result was that words like “give” and “gift” were used the most along with “deadline” and “midnight” in the subject lines. “Donate” and “support” were less common as was “thank” in the emails.

The subject lines also followed a similar pattern over 18 days. The emails began on December 15th with a holiday related message before shifting to gift or giving subject lines, and then a major focus on the end of year and tax-deduction reminders by December 31st. The frequency of the emails and sense of urgency also increased up until the end of the year.

Now, I certainly realize that the subject line is just one part of a successful email message. How you segment the message and the actual content and calls-to-action are also very important. But end-of-year and time-sensitive emails place a higher importance on the subject line. This is because a tremendous amount of email during this time of year is read on mobile devices and the subject line may be the online thing people see.

I may be an outlier because of the volume of emails that I receive and that I’m really paying attention to them — but imagine what potential donors are seeing.

Standing Out in the Inbox
The average donors gives to 3 or more nonprofits. By now, most nonprofits are engaged in email marketing. They might not all be sending a lot of email but you can guarantee that they use email as part of their end of year fundraising programs. This mad dash at the end of the year creates an attention crunch and nonprofits that don’t stand out are simply going to be ignored. The key to success is standing out in the in the Inbox.

From a completely subjective perspective, I would say that less than 10 of the emails subject lines stood out in some remarkable way. One email with a subject line of “Is it Friday yet? Email error” caught my attention enough to read the actual message. The organization was apologizing for sending members and lapsed members the same email appeal. It says something that they took the time to send another targeted message and that stewardship was important to them.

Some stood out for the wrong reasons. I’ve never been a fan of the “fake FWD” subject line — it’s a trick spammers use. And there are good ways and bad ways to highlight the possible tax deduction benefits of donating. I say “possible” because in the US, charitable contributions are deductible only if you itemize deductions. Less than 35% of Americans actually itemize their deductions.

Several nonprofits ran matching gift campaigns and others focused on outcomes. These work well when paired with good message content. Thank you messages from prior gifts also stood out in the inbox. Some simple A/B testing could tell you which subjects lines and messages will perform best for your organization.

80 Email Subject Lines from End of Year Fundraising
Here are all the subject lines beginning with those received on January 1, 2012 and moving backwards in time to December 15, 2011:

  • Happy New Year from _____
  • URGENT-Just a few hours left!
  • Last chance! Just hours left for year-end gifts
  • Only a Few Hours Left: Help Us Reach Our Goal
  • Midnight Deadline to Give
  • Hurry! Triple match ends at midnight tonight
  • LAST CHANCE to make your tax-deductible year-end donation!
  • It Ends Tonight at Midnight
  • Please Open! 12 Hours Left to Double Your Impact with _____
  • DEADLINE: Twice as Strong
  • Tax Deduction 2011. Close the year by offering struggling families self-reliance.
  • MAKE YOUR DONATION BEFORE MIDNIGHT
  • Midnight deadline for tax-deductible donations
  • DEADLINE: midnight tonight
  • It’s New Year’s Eve
  • Final hours to double your year-end gift
  • Don’t miss out on a tax deduction
  • So close
  • Happy New Year from the _____
  • Last Chance to Give in 2011
  • Only 1 day left–don’t forget to donate!
  • Let’s Rally Together
  • Last Chance to Make a Tax-Deductible Gift in 2011
  • MATCH: LAST CHANCE!
  • _____ Still Needs Your Help
  • URGENT: year-end deadline is tomorrow
  • Just one day left
  • Time is running out for your dollar-for-dollar year-end match
  • It’s not too late to give in 2011
  • It’s the end of the year, but just the beginning for many!
  • 73,000,003 reasons
  • Assurance, hope and stability
  • The perfect team?
  • A special message from _____ Co-Founder _____
  • In the New Year
  • Sharing light and hope with grieving families year round
  • Don’t miss your chance–donate before December 31!
  • An expression of your passion for birds
  • There’s Still Time to Give in 2011!
  • Make Your Tax-Deductible Gift and Save a Life
  • Make a difference in 2011
  • Maximize your 2011 tax deduction before December 31
  • Just a Few Days Left
  • Don’t miss the 2011 tax deadline!
  • Every surgery, vaccine, or meal
  • MATCH EXPIRES: HELP US MEET OUR GOAL!
  • Will our closest relatives survive this?
  • URGENT: TRIPLE Matching Gift Offer!
  • Happy Holidays from __________!
  • Double Your Impact
  • Finishing Strong – What Can We Do Together?
  • Thank You from the _____
  • _____’s year-end match will double your impact for the Bay
  • It’s not too late. Give gifts of hope from _____.
  • Meaningful Last Minute Gifts
  • Please don’t forget your gift for the birds
  • Make a Year End Impact by Supporting the _____
  • FWD: Give last-minute _____ gifts. Give long-lasting hope.
  • Why You Should Support _____ this Holiday Season
  • Make your gifts count in 2011
  • Invest in the future of _____
  • There’s still time to give a Gift of Hope
  • It’s not too late to give a gift that lasts a lifetime
  • Thank you for your support of _____
  • Give last-minute _____ gifts. Give long-lasting hope.
  • It’s a Last-Minute Gift that Makes a Difference
  • There’s Still Time to Give in 2011!
  • Donate to protect polar bears and your gift will be matched
  • MATCH: HELP US MEET OUR GOAL
  • Is it Friday yet? Email error
  • Thank You for Supporting the 58th Annual Free Care Fund Benefit Show‏
  • Give the Comforts of Home for the Holidays
  • A Very Important Message to Our Treasured Friends
  • Join Now, Get a Tax Deduction
  • Adoption Fees for ALL Adult Animals Underwritten by an Animal Angel!
  • Happy Holidays from _____
  • Happy Holidays from the ______
  • Happy Holidays from ____!
  • Shop today and your gift will be matched for maximum benefit
  • Holiday Greetings

Do you recognize any of these? How do some of your own subject lines compare to these? Are you standing out in the inbox?

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