What the President and the Past Can Teach us about Email Asks

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Cross-posted from AllThingsE.org

Looking for more people to open, read, and act on your e-newsletter because you are looking to raise money for your organization?

While the content of the email, donate button size, and from line are always important, focusing on the aspect that people see first (and often see last), the subject line, could just be the cure to your e- fundraising blues.

Instead of closing your eyes and typing, hoping and praying the first subject-line that pops into your head will do well, learn from the experts, those fabled people who can magically convert e-communications into dollar signs and who helped decide the fate of our recently inaugurated President.

While the Obama campaign harnessed a dedicated staff of over a dozen writers to help them decide things like subject-lines, even one person dedicating a few hours to e-communications preparation can use the campaign’s most successful technique to advantage: segmented testing.

Bloomberg Business Week de-mystified how the Obama’s team raised $690 million through fundraising emails. The answer: test variations of subject lines with small groups of recipients – and record how they react – before sending out the mass message.

The Obama team looked at how much money was raised based on up to 18 different subject lines. One clear winner in these tests: “I will be outspent”.  Another was simply, “Hey”.

Those of us who work for non-profits, causes, and small businesses don’t have the resources to test 18 different subject lines, but we do have the ability to plan ahead, segment, and test 2-3 different ones.

What else can we learn from the Obama campaign’s successful subject lines?

  • Try subject lines that are used often among the friend groups of your constituents. Things like “Hey” are seen often in inboxes, so are more likely to be perused
  • Incorporate (harmless) profanity when trying to get attention (ex: “Hell yeah, I like Obamacare”
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Image via CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Here are a few tips we can learn from MailChimp’s analysis of 40 million emails sent through their system. They pulled out top and bottom open rates for email subject lines and there are some common denominators we can learn from:

  • Keep the subject line stupid simple
  • Indicate exactly what is going to be in the email (if you’re sending a newsletter, include the word “newsletter” in the title)
  • Make it seem like it is a hyper-local or internal email
  • Don’t use the words “Gift” or “Free” – or exclamation points
  • Do use the words “Party” and “Invitation”

Of course, testing is the best way to determine what is best for your audience, but it doesn’t hurt to gain inspiration from the experts. As this infographic shows, no one word will make or break you.


What are some of your tips or tricks for writing an ideal subject line? How have you gained the most return on your email asks?


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