Good subject line tips 

Tips for a good subject line

Six things we as fundraisers can learn from the US congressional election campaigns.

Now that the dust has settled in America and the camps seem to be even further apart, I wanted to take a look at the communication during the campaigns.

I know from the past that you can learn a lot from this communication. There is a large budget to spend, there is a large target group. And, important to us, there is extensive testing. Direct marketing and fundraising in optima forma. A free source of inspiration for subject lines and envelope texts.

From all the e-mail messages I received in the months leading up to the elections, I have obtained a number of tips that we as fundraisers, can learn from.

Tips for a good subject line:

1. Ask people directly and personally

This was the most used by far.

This tip definitely works best for people you already have a bond with. A personal request from someone you know works well (although we are not all called Barack Obama of course).

There are several ways to ask people directly.

I am needed

I need your help / I need your help (Florida recount) / I need your help to fund emergency digital ads


I have been asked

I am asking for your help/ Obama: I am personally asking for your support/ I am asking you directly/ I am asking you today/ I am asking you to make a contribution/ What I am asking you right now, Bas

I am part of a team:

Can you chip in/ Join me in the final push, Bas/ I am counting on you, Bas/ Join me on team ’18, Bas

2. Use urgency

Urgency is one of the most important parts of promotional communication. It helps you stand out from all other communication. A deadline helps encourage people to take action instead of putting your message aside.

“We need your help: Make an urgent donation to help fund our emergency response fund and…” / Before midnight tonight / I have an urgent request / We have three days left: / In three days, we have a change to… / 100 hours / This is it – our last chance to make an impact / Can you donate before tonight’s deadline? / Last chance:

3. Get people back

Re-writing to people who are no longer donating is an effective tactic.

It is even better to try and prevent people from giving up donating (giving again within a year). A good (neuro) way is to remind people of their previous behaviour. Here are some tactics for doing this.

Can you chip in for the first time this year right now?/ You haven’t donated yet this year -> can you chip in today? >/ Look at your official supporter record/ Your supporter record: / Can you make your first contribution of 2018 today?/ You haven’t donated yet this year -> Can you contribute before Friday’s deadline?

4. Use authority

Director, founder, physician, authority works to make you trustworthy. But also in making people feel important.

You have to be more careful with famous people. I’ve seen a study showing that a famous person works best if s/he has a personal connection with the organisation (Maarten van der Weijden and KWF Dutch Cancer Society).

Joe Biden: we literally couldn’t have done it without you, Bas/ President Obama on the midterms: / John Kerry: I am asking you one last time/ Madeleine Albright: I’m worried: / Barack Obama. I’m personally asking for your support/ I am counting on you / FW: I’m counting on you (Obama’s email forwarded)

5. Take a small step first

To ask for a bigger step later

An effective neuromarketing principle is to let people take a small step before asking for a bigger one (people like to show consistent behaviour).

They also know this principle in America:

Can you chip in today?/ volunteer this weekend / get involved this weekend / Have you signed President Obama’s birthday card? / Will you contribute $ 3 at this critical moment / Can you attend a GOTV event? / Confirm your polling place before Tuesday

6. People want to belong

They don’t want to miss out on success, important moments, records:

This year’s voter turnout may break records (but only with your help): / 14 supporters from San Antonio -> will you be one of them? > / Our party needs grassroots donors from San Antonio / We’re 83.47% to goal – can you help? / Can you chip in to help the DNC reach 50 million voters by Nov 6? / Bas: ready to make history with us? / Stacy + Andrew + Beto + Phil + Bas /

These were 6 tips for a good subject line. Subject lines that you can immediately apply in your own communication.

My biggest conclusion from all these subject lines is: you are better to be direct about what you want.

Good luck!



PS: are you interested in the email behind the subject line? Mail me at: and I will share the email with you.

Bas van Breemen

Senior Strategist

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