By Nancy E. Schwartz
Publisher – / President – Nancy Schwartz & Company

High-Return Marketing Tools

Email signatures (a.k.a. signature lines) are powerful, low-cost, high-return marketing tools (a virtual business card or ad) for your foundation or organization. What’s interesting is how seldom signature lines are used.

Consider this: If your organization has 30 employees, each of whom sends 15 emails daily outside the organization, then (assuming 250 business days) that’s 112,500 business cards or ads distributed annually, at no cost. If you have 100 employees, that’s 375,000 cards or ads annually.

What Is an Email Signature?

In general, your email signature is information automatically added as the last few lines of your outgoing email to let people know who/where/what you are. Consider your signature line as your online business card with “callback” abilities.

Here are a few examples:

Alison N. Smith
Inside NGO
Operational Excellence for Global Impact
19 South Compo Road
Westport, CT 06880

Julie Stofer
Nonprofit Marketing Manager
202.270.1339 (cell)
AIM: jestofer

Nancy E. Schwartz
Helping Nonprofits Succeed through Effective Marketing
Nancy Schwartz & Company
Getting Attention Blog & E-News

Holly Ross, Executive Director
NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network |
p) 415.397.9000 f) 415.814.4056

What a Strong Email Signature Does for Your Organization

Making the most of your signature lines, for yourself and every colleague in your organization, is analogous to leaving your business cards — but even more powerful.

Most importantly, in this age when we’re all inundated with too many emails, your email signature is a clear signal to your recipient that the message is from you and provides the context (e.g., job title, organization name, and web site) that reminds that person who you are and enriches their understanding of your message. That’s a lot more than can quickly be deciphered from your email address in the “from” field.

Beyond this most basic benefit, your email signature is a business card or ad that alerts the recipient to special news and enables them to have direct access to your web site or send email back to you with the swift click of a mouse.

How a Consistent Email Signature Style Benefits Your Organization

What’s critical is that everyone in your organization uses the same signature line format. Specifics such as name, title, email, and direct phone line obviously will change. However, certain elements (organization name, web site address, tagline) and the order of elements should be standard for all staff signature lines.

Signature line consistency benefits your organization in the following ways:

  • Builds a brand or recognizable identity for your organization. The signature line becomes a key element of overall branding.
  • Serves as a cognitive flag, enabling email recipients to make connections among emails received from various members of your organization.

Case Study

Here is an example of a good email signature and a recommendation to make it even stronger. To protect the innocent, I’ll use a generic version of the sample I was analyzing for this example.

Example (9 lines):

Organization Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code


I recommend cutting the street address (2 lines), line space, fax number, and email address and adding the organization’s web address.

Recommendation (6 lines):

Organization Name
Organization Web Address (URL)
Twitter, Facebook and/or IM here (optional)

How to Create an Effective Email signature line

First of all, keep it brief. A general rule of thumb is that a good signature line is four-six lines in length. Eight lines is the maximum length, but that is pushing it. Remember, those to whom you email frequently see your email signature line again and again.

  • Musts include:
    • Name
    • Title
    • Organization name
    • Phone number
    • Web address
  • Optional elements include:
    • Tagline (organizational or specific event, campaign, etc.
    • Social media contacts (Twitter, Facebook) and/or IM
    • Graphical elements such as a horizontal line to distinguish your signature line from the rest of the email.

Inclusion of your email address is not recommended, since it’s in the “from” field of the email and gets forwarded with an email that’s passed on. Best to drive audiences to your web site for more contact information details such as your mailing address and fax number.

More Creative Uses for Your signature line

A signature line can be used much like a classified ad if you’re trying to motivate clients to use your services or register for your workshop. Add one line and/or a link. Examples include:

  • A quotation to share your organization’s point of view.
  • A call to contribute to a capital campaign or other fundraising focus.
  • An issue-oriented tagline to promote an advocacy campaign.
  • An announcement of a new program, service, or publication.
  • An invitation to a special event, conference, or to subscribe to your organization’s email newsletter.

Just make sure to keep signature lines up to date.

Adding Your signature line to Your Emails

Once you’ve decided on signature line content and format, you’ll need to add it to your email program. Remember to train all staff members in creating their signature line as per organizational style and in adding it to the email program.

Check your email program’s HELP menu and search for signatures. You should be able to find some information there about how to set one up on your program.

Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update at