How long did it take you to write your last fundraising email? Whatever the answer is, some experts say you should expect to spend the equivalent amount of time writing your email’s subject line.

Devoting so much time to a subject line sounds strange. In a given day, you probably send at least 50 emails and I’m betting you don’t think twice about the subject line. But if you take the same approach to a fundraising email don’t be surprised if your results suffer. 

A good subject line can be the difference between 10 percent of subscribers reading your email and 25 percent. In the world of email fundraising, that’s huge. It can translate into thousands of dollars in contributions. 

Knowing how to consistently maximize the potential of your email marketing campaigns by writing powerful subject lines will pay big dividends. Below are two categories of advice. First, five best practices that apply no matter what the situation. And then six proven strategies that will streamline the process of writing your email subject lines and increase those open rates.   

1. Write your subject line first: You might have to change your subject line later, but the subject will drive the tone of the email. By starting with the subject line, you’ll ensure it isn’t misleading. Deceptive subject lines often result in high spam complaints and opt-outs.

2. Keep it under 50 characters: Once your subject line gets longer than this, many email clients (Yahoo is one) will truncate your subject. In general, pithy subject lines that range between two and four words give readers a reason to open your email and don’t bog them down with verbiage.

3. Find inspiration from like minds: Subscribe to as many email lists as possible to see what other campaigns and organizations are doing. Another great way to spur your thought process is to scan websites like allows readers to vote on news articles they find interesting. Oftentimes, the articles that appear on the front page have compelling headlines and one of them may spark an idea.

4. Avoid “spammy” keywords and special characters: Words and phrases that have been associated with spam can cripple the deliverability of your email. Common words to avoid include: breaking, friend, free, reminder, hot, and click, just to name a few. Special characters that can trigger spam blocks include exclamation points (!), the plus symbol (+), and the ampersand (&).

5. Test. Test. Test: Many email marketing services offer the ability to easily A|B test your subject line. Find a service that has this functionality and use it to tailor the perfect subject line to your audience.

If you’re stuck with an email marketing service that does not offer A|B testing, try segmenting your email list. Randomly select 20 percent of your list. Split that into two, and then test two subject lines. After four hours, use the subject line with the highest open rate for the email to the remainder of your email list.