There is much to take from Daniel Pink’s book “To Sell is Human.” It’s a short and useful read for anyone in the persuasion business, from teachers to healthcare professionals to fundraisers to parents, and yes, salespeople.
In a section on how to develop a pitch for yourself, your organization, or your thoughts, he discusses the email pitch and quotes a study done at Carnegie-Mellon University on the effect of subject lines as they relate to getting email messages opened (which is the most important, but not only, purpose, of a subject line).
Two types of subject lines work well: those with usefulness to the reader, and those with intrigue. Useful subject lines promise information sought by the reader, and the more specific, the more likely they are to result in an opened message. So, “Three important facts about our upcoming gala” is more specific than, “What you need to know about our upcoming gala.”
Curiosity is another motivation, so messages that hint at a subject also rise to the top of the “to open” list. “What’s on the menu?” or “Who else might be at your table?” could be other ways to tease an email about the same gala.
The Carnegie-Mellon study also discovered that the motives have different results under different conditions. When time is tight, usefulness outweighs curiosity. When time is more available, curiosity does well. So, an email planned for arrival on Monday morning might get better results if its subject line promised useful information, but one sent to homes on the weekend might have a better open rate if it piques curiosity.
Remember, when writing emails that will be reviewed by others, to explain the reasons for your draft copy. Someone not understanding the reason for your intriguing email might say, “That’s too vague” and rewrite it, when vagueness is exactly what you strove for!
Test, Measure, Analyze, Repeat. The key to good subject lines, and better fundraising.