Whether writing eCommunications is your full-time job, or it’s occasionally added to your to-do list , you’ve likely come up against the age-old problem of staring at a blank screen, not knowing where to start 

In order to engage your participants and entice new supporters, you need to reach out. You need to communicate. But what, exactly, do you need to say? And how do you get from that daunting blank screen to a compelling email? 

First: Make sure you have something to say. It sounds simple, but you need a seed to grow a tree. Don’t send emails, whether they’re for recruitment or participant engagement, if you don’t have anything to say. They won’t get opened and they won’t get read, and you’ll be breaking the trust you’ve built with your supporters that you won’t spam them with unwanted or unnecessary information. 

However, you do want to keep the lines of communication flowing, right? So, if you don’t have something to say, create it. Make your own news. Want to send a recruitment email to get more registrants? Create a discount, a teambuilding challenge, a fundraising reward, an upcoming deadline, a new exciting feature on the event, or a new tool they can use to fundraise. Recruitment communications around deadlines, in particular, get higher open, click and action rates than recruitment emails with no sense of urgency. 

Want to send an email to participants to increase engagement? The same rules apply. Make up a fundraising challenge, even if the prize is as simple as a virtual badge or tagging them on social media. Unveil a new fundraising tool, include a webinar they can watch, or announce a success story from one of their fellow participants. 

Then once you have the seed — the thing you have to say — create a simple bulleted list of the information you need to provide including: 

  • Who’s the audience?
  • When are you sending this?
  • What is the desired action that you want from them?
  • What important details or information need to be included?
  • What is the absolute most important thing you want to convey?
  • Is it a deadline date they need to be aware of? An exciting breakthrough in your mission that you want them to share on social media?

Your bulleted list is now the outline for your email. The most important thing you want to convey is now your headline or first paragraph. Your call to action is your button. And your important details and information are your subsequent paragraphs. Keep it simple. Then, add some visual elements, such as photos to keep readers engaged. (But be aware of your image to text ratios — too many images and too little text will get your email stuck in a Spam folder.) 

Then, do a final pass for flair. Add some energy and some emotion. What’s the tone you’re going for? Excitement? Inspiration? Poignancy? Humor? Make sure your verbs and adjectives reflect that tone, as well as the tone of your brand in general. Then make sure you aren’t repeating those same verbs and adjectives multiple times within the email. There are a lot of different ways to say “amazing.” The thesaurus is your friend.  

Once you have the body of your email written, the final piece is crafting that perfect subject line. Ask yourself, do you want to make it mysterious and intriguing? Do you need to convey the incredible importance of what’s inside? Do you want to make it personal? Urgent? Informative? Fun? There are no wrong answers here. Different things will work for different audiences and different messages, so you can use A/B testing to figure out what works best for your organization and your audiences. Keep in mind that different approaches will often work better for your engaged and loyal supporter than for those who know little about your organization, so be sure to test on different audiences. With A/B testing results in your back pocket, you’ll have them as a reference to go to when you’re struggling to write that next subject line. 

And now you have a finished email, where there once was a blank screen. Congratulations!

Joann Buckley Collins

A graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Southern California, Joann Buckley Collins has been writing and implementing communications for nonprofits for more than 20 years. She’s been Event 360’s Senior Copywriter since 2004, bringing her expertise as both a writer and a strategist to our clients. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.

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