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"Want to see me ride the mechanical bull?" he asked

Of course I do . . . (insert evil laugh here). That’s why I opened his email – even though I had no idea who he was or why he’d want to undertake such madness. So, the next time you send an e-appeal to your donors, remember these lessons, writes Marisol Gutierrez.

There I was, minding my own Inbox business, when a saucy little subject line caught my eye. The question posed by Tim Kachuriak, Chief Innovation and Optimisation Officer at NextAfter, was: ‘Want to see me ride the mechanical bull?’

If you’ve ever been on one of those wonders of modern engineering, you’ll know what a mechanical bull can do to
your body – apart from breaking it.

It’s like a maniacal experiment to see if your spine can twist and turn enough to touch your brain while bypassing your bellybutton. (Actually, the choice to get on that thing in the first place was proof of a brain by-pass.)

But back to Tim’s provocative question . . .
once I’d been lured into opening his email – thanks to his great subject line – I was hooked into reading his letter . . . which brings us to lesson two: the very first line of Tim’s letter delivered an irresistible opener: ‘This is going to be fun.’

No sales pitch, no history lesson, just a fine example of 1) good copywriting; and 2) well-executed strategy.

Tim’s letter turned out to be about an upcoming conference in the US, but he had pinned fun and a unique approach onto the coat tails of his offer (the two-day conference).

Since I’m here in Mzansi, I’m not up for it – but dozens of people are sure to be, after reading his email.

So, here’s what we can take out of this to apply to online fundraising:

Subject lines

These have one job: to get your email opened. They should be enticing and interesting, so give them as much attention as the rest of your communication. Even the most brilliant copy and compelling ask falls flat if the subject line doesn’t get your foot in the door.


Personalisation is first prize, of course. Ensure that the salutation matches the tone of your subject line and the message. For instance, Tim’s subject line was playful and informal, so it would have been bizarre to begin with a formal ‘Dear Miss Gutierrez’. In this case, ‘Hi Marisol’ was perfect.

Also be sure to remember demographics . . . if you’re targeting more mature donors, say 60 – 65+, it would be common sense to address them appropriately.

Opening line

As any copywriter will know, the opening line is the throne . . . the rest of your copy sits at its feet, since the opener dictates whether the reader will be moved, inspired, outraged or interested enough to read on.

Tim’s opener, ‘This is going to be fun’ appealed to a universal need and was a good hook on which to draw the reader in.

Non-profits have an advantage in that their work is infinitely more interesting than any conference could be.

Brainstorm ways in which you can harness the power of the change you create and critically examine how you’re raising (or not) funds online. 

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