5 Design Tips for Nonprofit Emails and E-newsletters

New email graphic on wooden block over laptop keyboardEvery organization aims to reach the highest numbers to readers of its email blasts and newsletters. It is not easy to know how to achieve this. According to SuperOffice.com, the good news is that the opening rate for emails has been going up since 2015 to a rate of nearly 25%. So, if you send a newsletter to 500 of your constituents about 125 of these individuals will open your email. Of course, with the goal of reaching as many people as possible, it is important to implement relatively simple ways to use design to your advantage. The following five tips are based on best practices detailed at DonorBox.com, with additional guidance from me.

  1. First, if your email appears cluttered with too much content packed into a relatively small space, it is difficult for people to not become lost (or even confused) in a sea of articles. In other words, the use of white space is essential. Do not be afraid to leave spacing throughout your content. If you want your articles and calls to action to be read (and hopefully, acted upon), it is not enough to have images or visuals. White space is important so the human eye can take in your content. Too little space makes the flow look haphazard and even unprofessional. White space is your friend in design. Use it!
  2. Fonts are another element that can make your content stand out. In choosing a font (or a few, but be careful of using too many), you must consider what typeface works with your organization’s branding, the “feel” you want readers to have about your organization, and the content remaining clear and concise for readers. Besides picking out a font family that appeals to readers, you must also remember to use appropriate sizes, whether that is in titles of articles (I recommend at least 14 pt.), the body of the email articles (12 pt. is common, but may be larger, depending upon style and readability), or calls to action (larger and often bolded). Choose a font family and stick with it. Making the mistake of using numerous fonts throughout your communications, email filters could consider it spam as with its lack of white space and unprofessional. Your emails should always reflect professionalism throughout every message you send to your constituents. One more thing: Ages of your constituents is a factor. Your fonts must be large enough that older (or visually impaired) readers can appreciate your message without requiring major augmentation.
  3. Use of Color! This tip is my favorite. First, do not use too many colors. Choose a palate that is easy on the eyes (for example: using a dark purple with red may not be pleasing and could be tricky to read). Use a dark color for your text. Staying to black text in articles and titles is common, but if used correctly, other colors can enhance your agency’s presence. A rule of thumb is to create and use a style guide, specific to your organization’s brand. Colors come in shades. Do not be afraid to use a few colors to accent your content. If you use too many, your design will become busy and will cloud your overall messaging. Many tools exist to help design the most appropriate palate. I located a simple color generator from co, that can be used in app form or as a stand-alone tool. Many tools are out on the web and in print to help you choose a palatable scheme for all of your communication mediums.
  4. Using images adds impact to your emails. When telling a story or publishing an article, the placement of an image can draw the reader into the content. I like to use an example of an organization that uses some form of a “Donor Spotlight” (a timely article in email blasts or e-newsletters to highlight the gifts of specific donors). An image of the donor(s) adds to the content. One can visualize who these people are, see how they are connected to the agency, and can even motivate an individual to seek more information about the organization. Without an image present, the content may not seem to be as rich as with an image. It is best to use impactful images that reflect what the agency is doing for its clients and the community. If the image does not jive with the article’s content though, the message may be muddled or even lost. Pick images that flow within your style and branding guidelines. Another best practice is to not use too many images in one email. Constant Contact conducted a study with 2.1 million emails of its customer base that showed the highest click-through rates used three images. Do not drown out your messaging with too many images.
  5. Did you know that over half of the emails sent are opened and read using a mobile device? In fact, according to Return Path, devices are preferred when reading an email. Therefore, your email must be mobile-friendly, which means your email design must consider all types of screen sizes. A whole group of tips and best practices exist about how to incorporate the essential components of designing for mobile audiences. For more information, Copyblogger has a useful list to make your emails friendly to your device readers.

As you see here, it is important to consider design in every email blast or e-newsletter your organization sends. Following these basic tips will put you well on your way to higher open and click-through rates. Can you think of additional best practices when it comes to email design? If so, add additional tips as you see positive results in your digital campaigns.

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