Despite what you may think, higher unsubscribe rates for your email lists can actually be a good thing. In fact, higher unsubscribe rates directly correlate with increased fundraising: those who are uninterested in your cause unsubscribe, and those who continue to receive your messages are interested in your cause and are more likely to donate. Either way, both groups have been exposed to your message.

This concept is just one of many interesting ideas presented in the eNonprofit Benchmarks Study by NTEN and M+R. They studied 40 nonprofit groups and categorized them by sector, looking at the metrics behind nonprofit online messaging.

Email open rates are down 12 percent overall, but email is still the most popular form of online communication. For instance, for every 1,000 email subscribers, NTEN has about 110 Facebook fans, 17 Twitter followers, and 19 mobile subscribers. Although email campaigns have grown 20 percent, but the churn rate is 18 percent.

So how can your organization beat the odds?

Through rigorous A/B testing for content (layout, images, wording, headings/email subject lines), you can discover which emails are best received and actionable for your organization. Here are a few general guidelines:

  • Smaller email lists have higher open rates.
  • Pay attention to the timing of your emails. Your subscribers will be much more likely to read emails sent in the morning, on a weekday.
  • “Take action…” subject lines weren’t as effective as a more shocking statement of need.
  • Use graphics, especially in the header, that match and reinforce the message.
  • Bullet content for easy reading.
  • Consider offering deals. By giving a membership discount, nonprofits saw an increase of 140 percent in response rates.

Interested in learning about these tactics? Check out the eNonprofit Benchmarks Study. And to see how a nonprofit has put some of this into practice, check out our Susan G. Komen case study.


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