Small yet powerful: compelling subject lines

Part 1 in a series on important content that your nonprofit might be overlooking.

Micro-content, like subject lines, are more important than you may think

You can safely assume there are two types of readers looking at your nonprofit’s blog posts, eNewsletters and website – the deep divers and the skimmers. There’s plenty of tips on how to reach those deep divers with engaging narratives and strong storytelling. But what about those skimmers? How do you effectively convey a message to people who might just be checking your blog out for the first time or are quickly glancing through your eNewsletter? It’s all about the micro-content – those little snippets like captions and headlines that tend to get overlooked, but are incredibly valuable.

So valuable in fact that this is the first in a series of posts just on micro-content & how you can make yours better. Let’s start with one of the most important pieces of micro-content: email subject lines.

How to write compelling email subject lines

It takes 8 hours a month on average for a nonprofit to create their monthly eNewsletter. How much of that time did you dedicate to seleting your subject line? I believe that subject lines are the most important part of the entire eNewsletter. A compelling subject line will significantly increase your open rates and can also communicate a story or idea to those who don’t even open your eNewsletter.

In her book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, Kivi Leroux Miller says your subject lines should, “describe the candy, not the wrapper” and “emphasize the personal value of your content.” Describing the candy means telling your readers what’s inside the eNewsletter. If your subject line is often “DoGood Organization’s March Update” then you’re talking about your wrapper. To emphasize the personal value she suggests that your subject line answer the reader’s question of, “what’s in this for me?” Think about how full your email inbox is right now. What subject lines compelled you to open one email over another? Were they ones that addressed a problem you want solved or related to current events? Your eNewsletter’s subject line is competing for attention so make sure that choosing it is a rigorous part of your email newsletter creation and not something you tack-on at the end.

Test your email subject lines

Wondering which subject line is best for your next email newsletter? Test it! Grab a sample of email addresses and split them down the middle. Now send them each group one of your two best subject lines and then check your open rates. Whichever one performed better is your winner and you can now use it with your full list (minus those folks you just sent the test to). Congrats! You just did A/B testing of your subject line. Learn more about the how and why of A/B testing email subject lines here.

My favorite tips on writing email subject lines that get opened:

The 6 Step Secret Sauce for Awesome Email Subject Lines from HubSpot

 17 Things I have Learnt About Charity Email Copy from Sam Bueno de Mesquita. (Covers more than subject lines & distills his years of writing for nonprofits.)

Creating Extraordinary Email Subject Lines by Lyris

Year End Emails Subject Line Tip Sheet by Convio (Specific to year-end email appeals but relevant all year long.)


Next up in our micro-content series: Headlines & Captions. Don’t miss it – sign up here to get Mixtape Communications’ blog posts delivered directly to your email box.
Image  thanks to Flickr:JD Hancock 


  • webapptech

    Thanks for the hints. I’m all about simple, as there is always a lot to learn, but these suggestions to find a subject line powerful is definitely useful. Thank you!