Sometimes, sending a cold email to a potential donor who does not know you yet is a great idea. You have the chance to tap into funding opportunities that otherwise would not be accessible for you. With the right research, you can find donors who might be a very good fit for your NGO as a partner or donor. But there are some rules you have to follow to make sure your cold email results in a success and does not stay cold. In this article we give you some examples of how to write a cold email and how not to.
Why is sending a cold email a good idea?
Let’s say you are an NGO based in Nepal, working on wind power and you find out about a small donor in Canada who is supporting renewable energy in Nepal. If you can see a potential fit, it doesn’t hurt to send a cold email to the donor. It is cheaper than a phone call, and you won’t have to deal with time zone coordination issues.
Email is also superior in this scenario, because it is a very non-intrusive form of communication. If you call them out of the blue, they might be annoyed, starting your conversation off on the wrong foot. With a cold email though, they can take the time to think and respond.
What is the risk of sending a cold email?
A cold email, by definition, is not expected. If a marketer sends it, it is sometimes called spam or junk. So your email has a high risk of never being noticed or opened, unless you do it right.
Let me give you an example of a cold email that an NGO might send, with little or no results.
Subject: Request for funding
Greetings to the Green Climate Fund, from the beautiful Himalayan country of Nepal. We would like to take this opportunity to introduce our NGO, Wind Farm Nepal.
We appreciate your vision of supporting the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenge of climate change, and to promote a paradigm shift to low-emission and climate-resilient development, taking into account the needs of nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Nepal is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts from glaciers melting, and high mountain ecosystems rapidly changing. To promote climate-resilient development, we have been working in the renewable energy sector in Nepal for 10 years now, with major accomplishments in setting Nepal on the path of climate-resilient development. We have even higher ambitions for the coming years.
We hope to get funding from the Green Climate Fund so we can continue our work. Thank you in advance for your support.
Wind Farm Nepal Team
See if you can point out the ways in which this cold email FAILS. Think about the context (sender/recipient/subject line) as well as the message in the body of the email.
Here are some obvious FAILS in this cold email, together with tips on how to correct them. Read on till the end to see a revised version of this kind of email that is more effective.
FAIL 1: Barking up the wrong tree
Popular donors receive thousands of cold email requests like this every day. If you are sending a cold email to one of the bilaterals, multilaterals or big funds and foundations like the one in the above example, they might have an intern who reads and responds to their public email address. You are likely to get no response, or a preset apologetic response. Sorry to say, but your chances there might be close to zero.
To make sure your cold email stands a chance, you need to first do your homework, and use this tactic to approach someone who is otherwise obscure, but relevant to your area of work. It is best if that donor doesn’t provide their support through well-known formal processes yet. In the introduction, I gave an example of an NGO in Nepal approaching a small donor in Canada. Generally, if you hear of the potential donor through your social or professional network, and not through popular media, that is the first good sign.
FAIL 2: Not talking about the specifics of each other’s work, values or priorities
This is again about doing your homework. Donors (the small, niche ones) could also be looking for NGOs that are doing good work, and will be pleased to hear from you, even if it is via a cold email.
You do need to be able to sell yourself, your work, and where you see the potential for partnership. The email above talks about areas of common interest, but uses a lot of meaningless vague terms that do not provide any additional information about the NGOs work and how it is unique or important.
Think about common values, beliefs or priorities in concrete terms.
To keep on with our example, let’s say you google, and find out that your donor has already supported solar energy in two villages in Nepal, but has a broader interest in renewable energy. You also find out that the founder’s day job is piloting cutting-edge technologies for wind farms in Canada. Well, you have a lot there that is concrete, and you can use the specifics of your own work to make a much stronger case.
FAIL 3: Completely ignoring the human touch
Your potential donor will only open your cold email if it scores high on the human touch. Here we have one faceless organizational email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), sending a message to another faceless email (email@example.com). This is a cold email that was meant to get lost.
To be effective, your cold email should not be an organization talking to another organization, but a person talking to another. That starts from the email address you send it from. Send it from the email address of the founder of your organization. In our example, we would send it from (firstname.lastname@example.org) to the email address of the founder of that organization (email@example.com).
In the body of the email, focus on your own priorities for the organization, as well as how it made you feel (as a person) to hear of this potential donor. Do not use jargon.
FAIL 4: Pushing hard, and with specific demands
Our faceless sender did not use the cold email to sell the potential of the partnership or the value they bring. Yet, they already hoped “to get funding from the Green Climate Fund so we can continue our work,” and provided thanks “in advance for your support.” This kind of hard push is counterproductive. It shows that the sender does not really understand the recipient and how they work.
Remembering that the other party is a person who is part of an organization, which has its own procedures and timelines will stop you from pushing too hard for funds or with any other request. This is not the time to make unreasonable demands. Instead, leave the door open for any possibilities that might arise.
FAIL 5: Using a blah subject line
The subject line “Request for funding” does describe the nature of the cold email. However, it is not only bland but also a demand for money, and thus immediately off-putting to a donor. You can see how this subject line would discourage your potential donor from even opening the email.
Once you have done all the hard work and prepared an effective email, you need to make sure that to donor actually reads it. To stand out, you need the subject line to arouse your donor’s curiosity, yet make sure you don’t sound like every other marketing email in your recipient’s inbox. To pique interest without resorting to marketing tactics, just keep it honest, specific and personal.
Here are two example of specific, personal, and non-pushy subject lines that would arouse your potential donor’s curiosity:
“Looks like we are both interested in piloting wind power technologies in Nepal”
“Reaching out to talk about possibilities for the future of wind power in Nepal”
Writing an effective cold email to a potential donor
Let’s incorporate all these tips to create a cold email that a potential donor is likely to open and read. Who knows, this cold email might even lead to a future partnership.
From: Nisha Koirala <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Patricia Stephens <email@example.com>
Subject: Reaching out to talk about possibilities for the future of wind power in Nepal
I stumbled across your cutting edge work in wind power when I was searching online for wind power technologies that could work well for extreme temperatures in Nepal’s mountains, and wanted to get in touch.
My name is Nisha Koirala, and I started Wind Farm Nepal ten years ago, with two other renewable energy engineers. We started with in-depth studies on the potential for wind power, and worked with Dutch Technologies to pilot two wind farms in the southern plains of Nepal, which have both been hugely successful. We are now looking to expand our work into the mountains of Nepal.
I was greatly pleased to find out that you are also a strong supporter of renewable energy in Nepal. In fact, I have visited a solar farm in Bardiya supported by Renewable for Nepal. It was amazing to see how well the team had blended modern solar technology and local knowledge. It would be great if we could do something similar in wind power, and I wanted to get in touch to explore the potential for working together.
I am also sharing an article I recently wrote on the future of wind power in Nepal. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Wind Farm Nepal
Can you see how this cold email is so much more specific, personal, non-pushy, interesting, and open to all sorts of future possibilities? So much better than the first one? If you can, congratulations! You are on your way to sending successful cold emails to potential donors.
It is best to write these emails without high expectations. Think about it as exploration, as extending your reach for future growth, not as a sure channel of funds that will help you cover staff salaries for the next month.
If you want to learn more about how to write good emails, make sure to check out this guide to writing more effective emails.