I don’t have a complete answer for you, but perhaps, as head of a private school that also sends out appeals for gifts, I can shed a little light on the matter.
First and foremost, most people give based on relationships. Therefore, we focus most of our efforts on building and sustaining genuine relationships with those who give to the school or may do so. Building relationships takes significant time and energy and must be genuine and never manipulative. In short, most of our advancement efforts focus on building authentic relationships rather than appeals for money. Significant gifts follow relationships.
Second, people give because they believe in an organization’s mission—its impact for good, especially in helping others. Accordingly, appeals for gifts should be focused on telling stories of changed lives brought about by the organization’s people and programs and how donations will advance the organization’s mission. Appeals should not focus on the organization’s needs.
Third, people want to give where the gift will serve as an investment that will continue to produce results. In other words, while people certainly give as “one-off gifts,” those giving significant gifts want to know how their donation will yield lasting results, not merely fill a funding gap. They consider their contributions to be an investment for the future that will advance the organization’s impact and mission.
Fourth, people don’t respond well to repeated appeals to “crisis,” guilt, or mere emotional appeals.
Fifth, an organization must make a priority of thanking those who give. Thanking donors is a challenge for email appeals for funds. The request for gifts is more prevalent than genuine expressions of appreciation. To be successful over time, organizations need to focus throughout the year on sharing stories of impact and thanking prior donors.
Email campaigns for financial support are necessary for most non-profit’s advancement efforts. They do produce results. But creating effective email campaigns is complex. They should focus on telling stories of changed lives (not the organization’s needs), be authentic, and not try to manipulate through guilt and emotion. Emotions ebb and flow. Emotional appeals will produce short-term giving but not significant, sustained giving.