Good Email Subject Lines

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    People may not judge books by their covers, but they certainly judge your email before they open it.

    If your email message has an uninspiring subject line, it will never get opened. Go into your “deleted items” folder in your email program, and scan the emails that you never opened. Odds are, none of those subject lines appealed to you.

    What makes a good subject line? It needs to entice the reader into opening the message. That’s all. Think of a great “teaser” line on an outer envelope you mail to your donors. It provokes the reader through emotion or humor to see what’s inside.

    •   Really bad subject lines ensure that your email message doesn’t even get into the readers’ inbox, but instead goes straight to the “spam” folder. Avoid all caps and more than one punctuation mark.

    •   Don’t give away the story in the subject line. Hint at what’s inside, but make them open it to find out.

    •   A good headline might read like a newspaper story headline. “Seniors may get no Social Security COLA next year” will interest seniors and make them want to see what’s inside. “Seniors will get no Social Security COLA next year,” tells them what’s in the article, and eliminates the need for them to open it.

    •   It needs to be concise. The first 30 characters need to convince them to at least read the rest of the subject line.

    •   “Video: 4 ways to save the planet” will not only get more people to open the email, but more of them will click the video link inside. The same is true for “Survey:” and other calls for their involvement.

    Network for Good recently published a great guide for subject line writers (and tweeters) called Big Impact in Small Places that I recommend for all involved in this process.

    Tell us your best and worst subject lines, and ask us your additional email fundraising questions!

    Rick Christ has been helping nonprofit organizations use the internet for fundraising, communications and advocacy since 2009, and has been a frequent writer on the subject. He delights in your questions and arguments. Please contact him at: or at his LinkedIn Page