Avoid Stress-Inducing Subject Lines

When writing subject line for a critical email blast, be careful not to stress out your supporters. Here a few of my favorite alarm-inducing subject lines that caused me to instantly hit “archive”:

  • “Video: torture – to the dark side” from Amnesty International USA. To the dark side?! I’m sipping a latte and entering numbers into a spreadsheet! STRESS! Delete.

This fundraising series from the League of Conservation Voters included:

  • “Dont Wait – the Heat is On”
  • “24 hours left – we can’t wait any longer”
  • “Don’t pass up this chance”
  • “Dollar for dollar – don’t miss this chance!”
  • “Not another chance”

You know, something tells me there will be another chance to donate to your organization. Delete.

The “No on 8” campaign had some gems, too. My favorites were:

  • “Armageddon” – No, I’m not kidding. This is the email subject line for a “No on 8” email on 10/27/08.
  • “URGENT APPEAL” – Apparently it wasn’t urgent enough to tell me about it in the subject line.
  • “We are under attack!” – Needless to say, this is not the kind of subject line that inspires confidence in your organization.

So, when you’re sending a critical email blast to supporters, try to avoid these common pitfalls:

1. Don’t use exclamation points (and if you must, make sure they’re exclaiming something positive, like “We’re so close!” and not “Urgent: Deadline Approaching!”)

2. Don’t use the word “URGENT” unless it’s really truly, super dooper, um, urgent. In fact, you’re probably better off not using it at all. We’ve all included that alarmist word in email blasts before, and I’m beginning to think that users now scroll past “Urgent” subjectlines  just as they do with the “15% off tulip bulbs” emails from Garden Express.

3. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t berrate us or try to shame us. And definitely do not take the user on a guilt trip. We have mothers for that.


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