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Introduction

A nonprofit’s goals can look completely different from those of its corporate counterparts.

Consider, for instance, businesses that adhere to the model of growing fast and breaking things. These companies have the intention of taking risks and dealing with the consequences later, all in the name of growth. This is often where nonprofits and for-profit companies diverge.

Rather than risking things, nonprofits seek solutions to systemic issues, often requiring donations and volunteers to accomplish their mission. Because nonprofits are different than businesses, they also require different marketing techniques.

Because of this, we’ve built an in-depth guide outlining email marketing benchmarks for nonprofits based on our original research taken from billions of Campaign Monitor emails. You can see the benchmarks for all industries here.

Here’s a brief summary of our findings:

While nonprofits aren’t companies, they are competing for something—interested, engaged supporters. Like marketers, nonprofits need data to make smart decisions regarding what messaging to send and what goals to achieve.

We’ve discovered that, while nonprofit open rates trend higher than other industries, their click-through and click-to-open rates are lower. This shows that audiences are likely interested in news from their favorite nonprofits, but inciting click-throughs still need help. The bottom of this guide outlines some tactics nonprofits can utilize to encourage higher click-through engagement in their emails.

Chapter 1

Email benchmarks for nonprofits

1. Nonprofit email open rate

These rates can vary depending on the subject line and the relevancy of the subject matter for subscribers, but we found the average open rate for nonprofit emails to be 20.39%.

Email open rates for nonprofit marketing had an average of 20.39%

Email open rate is the percentage of the total number of subscribers who opened an email campaign.

Tips on how to improve your email open rate:

  • Try out new copy tactics in your subject lines.
  • Test subject line length, tone, and content.
  • Optimize for previews with preheader text.
  • Test sender name and email address (e.g. your nonprofit’s name vs. your executive director’s name).
  • Test send day, send time, and send cadence (e.g. daily vs. weekly).
  • Ensure relevant content by personalizing and segmenting.

Explore more resources on open rates »

 

2. Nonprofit email click-through rate

Your click-through rate offers insight into how many of your total subscribers visit your website and ultimately convert because of email. Comparing your open rates, click-to-open rates, and your click-through rates can reveal where your email marketing campaign is weakest, and thus where you have the greatest chance to see a major improvement.

We found an average click-through rate of 2.66% in nonprofit emails.

Click through rates for nonprofit emails had an average of 2.66%

The email click-through rate is the number of subscribers who click on a link or image in your email out of all the total emails delivered, regardless of whether or not the subscriber opened the campaign. Your click-through rate will be smaller than your click-to-open rate since it’s calculated using the larger number of total emails delivered (versus just those that have been opened).

Tips on how to improve your click-through rate:

  • Create stronger segments so you always send the most relevant content.
  • Maintain your brand voice throughout your messaging.
  • Improve your calls-to-action through clear copy and better design.
  • Offer strong incentives to capture subscribers’ attention.
  • Ensure your subject line accurately reflects the content of your emails.
  • A/B test what works.

Explore more resources on click-through rates »

 

3. Nonprofit email click-to-open rate

This is often a key metric used to measure the success—or lack of success—of a specific email campaign, as it reveals how many people who read your email were inspired to act because of its content.

We found an average email click-to-open rate of 12.99% in nonprofit emails.

CTOR for nonprofit email marketing was 12.99% on average

The email click-to-open rate is the percentage of email viewers (those that open an email) who click on a link or an image within the email. The click-to-open rate may be considered a measure of the immediate response rate of an email’s content.

Tips on how to improve your email click rate:

  • Make sure your email renders well across devices (i.e. test thoroughly before sending).
  • Collect the right data to segment and personalize your content.
  • Optimize your email design and copy to inspire your specific audience.
  • Include an irresistible, easy-to-click call to action.
  • A/B test each email element individually.
  • Automate your emails to scale what works.

Explore more resources on click rates »

 

4. Nonprofit email unsubscribe rate

Your unsubscribe rate is an important number to study on every campaign. It may reveal certain topics, subject lines, or templates that drive up your unsubscribes, as this is an indicator of an unhappy or uninterested audience.

We found an average unsubscribe rate of 0.17% in nonprofit emails.

Unsubscribe rate for nonprofit emails was an average of 0.17%

Unsubscribe is the action a user takes to opt out of getting any more emails from you. The percentage of people who unsubscribe is often displayed as a reporting number on each email campaign you send.

Tips on how to improve your unsubscribe rate:

  • Grow a healthy list from the start, including gathering specific opt-ins from subscribers.
  • Use automation to build long-term brand engagement.
  • Segment your audience to send more relevant emails.
  • Re-engage your audience to maintain list hygiene.
  • Remember that some list churn is normal and healthy.

Explore more resources on unsubscribe rates »

 

5. Nonprofit email bounce rate

A bounced email is an email that couldn’t be delivered. There are two types of bounces: hard and soft.

We found an average bounce rate of 1.09% in nonprofit emails.

Bounce rates for nonprofit email marketing averaged at 1.09%

Specifically, a bounced email is an explanation of delivery failure related to server or spam issues, whether these issues are permanent or temporary. Typically, bounce rate is a metric expressed as a percentage of subscribers who didn’t receive your message.

Tips on how to improve your bounce rate:

  • Don’t send to stale lists, and never use purchased lists.
  • Remove invalid email addresses from your list.
  • Use confirmed opt-in.
  • Never use free webmail addresses.
  • Avoid spammy content.
  • Suppress previous bounces.
  • Get your domain authenticated with your email platform.

Explore more resources on bounce rates »

 

6. Nonprofit email spam rate

Email spam is also called junk mail, and it sometimes includes phishing links from sites that host malware and viruses. It is sometimes sent in large, bulk quantities, while other times it appears as unsolicited commercial emails.

Campaign Monitor nonprofit emails have an average spam rate of 0.00%.

Spam rate was 0% for nonprofit email marketing

The spam rate is how often the recipient marks your emails as spam, based on information that inbox clients report to email service providers via a defined path.

Tips on how to improve your spam rate:

  • Use a familiar ‘From’ name so subscribers recognize you.
  • Don’t send from email addresses like noreply@orgname.com.
  • Only email people who have given you permission to email them.
  • Send from a verified domain (one that you own and host a website on).
  • Avoid using spam-like formatting

Explore more resources on improving your spam rate »

 

What are the best and worst days for nonprofits to send emails?

Below are the best and worst days for nonprofit email marketing at a glance.

Best days for email marketing
  • Highest email open rates: Sunday
  • Highest click-through rates: Tuesday and Saturday
  • Highest click-to-open rates: Wednesday
  • Lowest bounce rates: Monday
  • Lowest unsubscribe rates: Monday
Worst days for email marketing
  • Lowest email open rates: Wednesday
  • Lowest click-through rates: Monday
  • Lowest click-to-open rates: Monday
  • Highest bounce rates: Wednesday
  • Highest unsubscribe rates: Friday

How nonprofit benchmarks compare to industry averages

Average open rate for all industries vs. nonprofits

  • Industry average open rate: 17.92%
  • Nonprofit open rate: 20.39%

Average click-through rate for all industries vs. nonprofits

  • Industry average click-through rate: 2.69%
  • Nonprofit click-through rate: 2.66%

Average click-to-open rate for all industries vs. nonprofits

  • Industry average click-to-open rate: 14.10%
  • Nonprofit click-to-open rate: 12.99%

Average unsubscribe rate for all industries vs. nonprofits

  • Industry average unsubscribe rate: 0.17%
  • Nonprofit unsubscribe rate: 0.17%

Average bounce rate for all industries vs. nonprofits

  • Industry average bounce rate: 1.06%
  • Nonprofit bounce rate: 1.09%
Chapter 4

Email tips for nonprofits

As you plan email campaigns for the future, there are specific steps you can take to increase engagement and effectiveness.

Elevate the messaging for each email you send with these powerful nonprofit tactics.

Personalization and segmentation

You’re probably familiar with personalization and segmentation. If you aren’t, these are simple elements you can add to your email strategy that will strengthen your relationship with subscribers and donors.

Personalization and segmentation often go hand-in-hand, especially since they influence and inform each other. You want your emails to feel personal and approachable, right? Especially when driving donations.

There are manual steps you can take to achieve personalization, but segmentation is also an automated step that allows you to make each email feel tailored to every single subscriber and donor, without actually having to design emails for every single constituent on your list.

Personalization

When personalizing your subscribers’ experiences, try to to use their names: This can easily be done through your email service provider. Not only are subscribers more likely to read emails that address them by name, but it also promotes a sense of familiarity. This sort of familiarity is vital for nonprofits, which promotes a sense of belonging that can inspire donations

Another way to improve the personalization factor of your emails is by giving subscribers the chance to communicate with you. This means you should try out sending from a consistent person (e.g. “jane@yournonprofit.org”) rather than a no-reply address or generic “hi@.”

You should also include accessible options directly in your email, such as support availability and a detailed preference center. Encourage subscribers to utilize these options or reply to your email directly so your audience knows you’re available and ready to listen.

Segmentation

Segmentation allows you to separate your list into several groups based on subscriber differences. That preference center we mentioned above? It’s a perfect way to segment your audience based on how they self-identify.

What sorts of segments can I use?

You can segment based on gender preference, location, donation amount, loyalty, and much more. By paying close attention to your segments, you can easily create dynamic emails and localized content for your subscribers.

This Red Cross nonprofit email example is perfect for your 2019 nonprofit marketing.

Notice how the American Red Cross segments emails based on blood type, as well as by donors who are eligible to give.

With just a bit of personalization and segmentation, this subscriber receives a highly tailored email: The messaging addresses them by name, notes their blood type, and outlines why their donation is critical at this time.

Automation

Automation can sound impersonal as a concept, but quality automation actually allows you to have consistently personal messaging, without the risk of forgetting subscribers at a crucial time in their relationship with you. And automation isn’t just for transactional emails like donation receipts.

In fact, you can automate your email marketing at every stage. For instance, let’s say a subscriber signs a petition you’ve sponsored, providing their email address and opting into your list. If you have a quality automation strategy, you hit donors and subscribers at crucial points in their journey. In this instance, you want to welcome them with a welcome email (and a drip series if possible) upon signup. This is a perfect opportunity to outline your mission and show them how they can be a part of it.

Source: Classy

The above email from Save the Children is an example of welcoming new subscribers while also outlining the goals of the organization.

You can also automate based on the time of year, whether it’s one annual email that describes the year’s successes, or a monthly newsletter with timely updates. End Slavery Tennessee outlines important July information in its August newsletter.

This is a monthly newsletter from ESTN that has monthly updates. This is part of Campaign Monitor's email benchmarks guide for nonprofits.

No matter which emails you automate, you always have the opportunity to include a bold call-to-action encouraging subscribers to take their next step.

 

Chapter 5

Which emails should nonprofits be sending?

In addition to automated emails like transactional messages, welcome emails, and newsletters, your nonprofit should consider sending a few key emails throughout the year.

We’ll cover five emails your nonprofit should be sending, along with email examples of each.

Event emails

Chances are, your nonprofit puts on one or several events during the year. Email is a great way to update people about the special happenings you’re sponsoring and encourage volunteers to join in. What’s more, email can offer an accessible call to action, unlike some other forms of promotional material.

This nonprofit email from Hands On Nashville is a perfect example of a nonprofit event email. This is from

Hands On Nashville facilitates numerous volunteer opportunities within the Tennessee area. In this email, several events are outlined, and subscribers have the opportunity to learn about each event and get in touch with coordinators. The email simplifies volunteering for subscribers.

Surveys

Nonprofits often provide critical research that inspires and encourages change, sometimes on a global scale. Your donors can be a wonderful resource for information, which is why surveys are an important part of the subscriber journey.

This nonprofit survey email from Plan International displays how nonprofits can easily do surveys with a personal touch. This is from the Campaign Monitor 2019 nonprofit marketing guide.

Notice how this survey email from Plan International attempts to connect with subscribers based on the women and girls in their lives, then prompts them to take a survey.

Annual reports

As we discussed above, annual emails can be a thoughtful way to communicate your nonprofit’s successes over the previous year. This type of email is especially crucial for donors, as it provides insight into how their money is being spent, giving them a sense of where they fit into your nonprofit’s broader mission.

This is an annual report from the Sundance Institute. This is one of the email types your nonprofit can send. Read the above nonprofit email benchmarks for the metrics you should aim for.

This example from the Sundance Institute provides a CTA for the 2018 annual report, as well as inspiring images and quotes from artists and filmmakers, driving home the idea that supporters make an impact.

Nurtures

Subscribers can be your biggest advocates, which is why you should nurture your relationship with them after they take action. Once someone volunteers or attends an event, encourage your active subscriber to take more action, by spreading the word or donating to your cause.

This is a nonprofit nurture email from the ACLU.

This email from the ACLU first thanks the subscriber for signing a petition, then goes even further, asking them to share the information with others on social media. By providing ready-made links, this email simplifies taking action.

Naturally, the email ends with a donation call-to-action, but not before outlining messaging the subscriber can use to encourage others to get involved.

Giving Tuesday campaigns

For nonprofits, Giving Tuesday campaigns are perhaps the most crucial emails you can send. These emails serve as the final push for nonprofits at the end of each year, encouraging donations and often providing financial matches.

Because Giving Tuesday is such an important holiday, and because subscribers will be expecting to donate, it’s critical that you provide amazing Giving Tuesday messaging. Your email might be a detailed summary of the nonprofit’s goals, providing images and quotes, like this email from Amazon Frontlines. This is a thoughtful way to remind donors why they began giving in the first place.

This is a Giving Tuesday email example from Amazon Frontlines. This is part of the Nonprofit email benchmarks guide from Campaign Monitor.

Alternatively, you might keep it short and sweet, with one or two impactful statistics, like this Giving Tuesday email example from The Belcourt Theatre.

This is a Giving Tuesday email example from the Belcourt Historic Theater. This is a perfect example of nonprofit marketing in action.

Another option during your Giving Tuesday campaign is to extend your Giving Tuesday offer. In this International Rescue Committee email example, the giving opportunity is extended thanks to a generous donor.

This is a Giving Tuesday email example from the International Rescue Committee. Use nonprofit email examples like this one in your 2019 nonprofit marketing.

While the above email is a unique situation, consider extending your Giving Tuesday donation period, and provide additional promotion around it in a similar style.

Chapter 6

Wrap up

If you’re building a nonprofit email strategy from scratch, or even if you’re just revamping an existing one, you don’t have to go it alone.

With this guide, you can easily measure where your nonprofit stands compared to the industry standards, and you can build out your upcoming campaigns with established examples from successful nonprofits, big and small.

Want to see more in-depth resources available to nonprofits just like yours? Check out Campaign Monitor’s nonprofit page, where we discuss nonprofit customer stories, helpful integrations, and more.

Elevate your nonprofit marketing. We surveyed 1,000 donors and 500 nonprofits to uncover false perceptions and see what actually works with donor communication. Read the guide
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