Email Campaigns: Know Your Audience and Get Results


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This presentation includes research and data from the 2011 eNonprofits Benchmarks Study from NTEN and M+R Strategic Services. Learn more at

It was presented by Amy Sample Ward at the May 2011 PRSA Nebraska luncheon.

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  • Messages Sent. This is the number of outbound emails sent as part of a particular mailing. Messages Delivered. This is the number of sent emails actually delivered to recipients’ inboxes. If they’re not delivered, that means they’ve “bounced”. Hard and Soft Bounces. A hard bounce is a permanently undeliverable email—for example, one sent to an invalid email address (joesmith@yahoo.con) or to an address that no longer exists. A soft bounce is an email that is only temporarily undeliverable—for example, to a recipient whose mailbox is full. Ideally, you should track both. Unsubscribes. This is the number of individuals who unsubscribe from your list in response to each mailing sent. Messages Opened. This is the number of recipients who open your email to read it. Due to the way open rates are tracked and the rise of image-blocking software, this number will never be accurate, but can still be useful. Click-Throughs. This is the number of times any recipient clicks on any trackable link within the email. Ideally, each link should be counted only once, even if it is clicked on multiple times.
  • For every sector and across all organization sizes, we evaluated three distinct types of messages: fundraising appeals, advocacy alerts and email newsletters. Advocacy emails had the highest open, click-through, and response rates of any type of email, as well as the lowest unsubscribe rate. Fundraising emails had the lowest click-through rate. Changes over the last year: From 2009 to 2010, the open rate for organizations of all sizes and sectors declined by 12% on average. The fundraising response rate fell by 19%, while the advocacy response rate fell by 7%. Meanwhile, unsubscribe rates held steady from 2009 to 2010.
  • List churn means turnover – people or addresses that unsubscribe and/or aren’t real to begin with. 18% turnover each year is a significant number though – and one that is better to accept and work with, than ignore.
  • Good Open Rates range between 10 and 16 percent. However, open rates are declining across all organizations as a result of changes in how email clients are handling images. Because software packages can’t know whether someone actually opened an email, they calculate the Open Rate based on whether the recipient views a tiny image file hidden in the body of the email. Because more and more email clients default to blocking all images, or showing only plain text, people can open the email without being counted by the software package.
  • On average, open rates decreased by 12% from 2009 to 2010. Health organizations saw the biggest decline, with a 17% drop, followed by Rights (16% decrease), International (14% decrease), and Environmental organizations (13% decrease). The median open rate for Wildlife / Animal Welfare groups held steady with no change from 2009 to 2010.Small groups in our study continued to have a higher open rate than Medium and Large organizations, but the gap has shrunk since 2009. Large organizations, which are more likely to have significant numbers of long-time, lapsed subscribers, had the lowest open rate. Small and Medium groups saw their open rates decrease on average by 14% in 2010, while the open rate for Large organizations declined by only 5% – likely because already-low open rates left less room to fall.
  • Email unsubscribe rates represent the rate at which recipients unsubscribe from specific email messages. Email unsubscribe rates held steady overall from 2009 to 2010.
  • It is important to note that higher unsubscribe rates are often indicative of a highly responsive email file because both responding and unsubscribing indicate that people are opening and reading emails – so an organization with higher unsubscribe rates often also sees higher response rates. Those unsubscribe numbers don’t indicate that you should stop or change that message, but that you should work to more closely segment your list and target your messages.
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • This metric is defined as the number of gifts in response to a particular email, divided by the total number of delivered emails. The International sector far out-performed others, with a response rate near triple the median for all sectors – likely due in part to the emergencies in 2010, including the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan. Overall, fundraising response rates dropped 19% from 2009 to 2010. The International sector response rate declined just 3%, while other sectors saw drops ranging from 16% (Environmental) to 29% (Wildlife / Animal Welfare). The Health sector, as in 2009, had a response rate half that of the all-sector median.
  • While the Small sector showed higher response rates than either the Medium or Large sectors, it also saw the steepest decline from 2009 to 2010. Fundraising response rates declined by 19% for the Large sector and 20% for the Medium sector between 2009 and 2010, but declined by 36% for the Small sector over the same time period.The opportunity: Email fundraising asks are completely under your control vs people visiting your website etc. This means you can target and segment really deliberately. Environment sector’savg gift is low but they are successful getting the gifts.
  • Advocacy response rate is for all messages that are asking for people to take action like sign a petition, join the campaign, sign up to get involved, all the way through click to call etc.
  • Across all sectors, advocacy response rates declined by 7% from 2009 to 2010. That’s a much smaller decrease than in the fundraising and shows that a lot of the fundraising spikes in the previous year from disaster response, weren’t sustained, whereas actions aren’t falling off to the same degree.
  • We traditionally see higher click-through rates from organizations whose primary mission is advocacy. This held true for Environmental and Wildlife / Animal Welfare organizations – these sectors had almost twice the click-through rates of others.
  • There’s a lot you can test with clickthrough. Have images linked, put the link as a button, link text more passively; try having many things linked to the same place or have only one link in the message; etc. You can also track clickthrough even if your email client doesn’t track that for you by putting in a source code to the end of the URL so that your google analytics picks it up, or send people to unique URLs or shortened URLs.
  • Advocacy actions and items of personal interest tend to result in more click-throughs from newsletters. Accordingly, advocacy-focused Environmental and Wildlife / Animal Welfare groups had the highest click-through rates in this year’s study, followed by Health organizations, where many subscribers may have a personal connection. International organizations once again stood out for their low newsletter click-through rates.
  • Again, you can see the lower numbers for large lists where, especially with newsletters, there may not be as much strategic segmenting and tailoring of the content.
  • which is more important to you: new names/tell a friend or passive donation?
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • best practice for getting people into your database/signed up/etc.- short forms! you just need their email, ultimately, and you can start building out their profile of what actions they take and how they engage- give contextual ways to join, from a blog post about a certain topic, give people option to sign up for alerts about that topic etc.
  • Defenders of Wildlifevs League of Conservation Voters
  • As an indication of where things are headed as organizations start building lists across the web, the eNonprofit Benchmarks Study found that for every 1000 email subscribers, organizations had 110 Facebook fans, 19 twitter followers and 19 mobile text subscribers. Email is still king! But, Facebook is growing at 14%/month vs 20%/year on email lists.
  • Email Campaigns: Know Your Audience and Get Results

    1. 1. Email Campaigns:Know Your Audienceand Get Results<br />
    2. 2. Amy sample ward<br />
    3. 3. AGENDA<br />}<br />Data<br />Subject<br />Content<br />Ask<br />Confirmation<br /> Strategy<br /> Testing<br />
    4. 4. 2010 eNONPROFIT BENCHMARKS<br />Download the <br />report & more <br />for free at:<br /><br />
    5. 5. Data<br />
    6. 6. DATA<br />Messages Sent<br />Messages Delivered<br />Hard & Soft Bounces<br />Unsubscribes<br />Messages Opened<br />Click-Throughs<br />
    7. 7. Email Rates<br />
    8. 8. List churn<br />
    9. 9. OPEN RATES<br />
    10. 10. OPEN RATES<br />
    11. 11. UNSUBSCRIBE RATES<br />
    12. 12. UNSUBSCRIBE RATES<br />
    13. 13. subjects<br />
    14. 14. SUBJECT LINES<br />Defenders of Wildlife:<br />Headline: Congress Greenlights Wolf Slaughter (best)<br />Cryptic: Wolf Slaughter (better)<br />Generic: Take Action to Stop the Wolf Slaughter<br />
    15. 15. Content<br />
    16. 16. STRUCTURE<br />
    17. 17. Asks<br />
    18. 18. MESSAGE TYPE<br />Fundraising<br />Advocacy<br />Updates / Newsletter<br />
    23. 23. CLICKTHROUGH RATE<br />
    24. 24. CLICKTHROUGH RATE<br />
    27. 27. Confirmation<br />
    28. 28. THANK YOU + ACTION<br />
    29. 29. THANK YOU + ACTION<br />
    30. 30. How to get Started<br />
    31. 31. LIST<br />Short sign-up forms<br />Sign-up from anywhere<br />Create context for sign-ups<br />Provide options for more<br />
    32. 32. SEGMENT<br />Super Advocates<br />Events<br />Action<br />Source<br />Offline and Direct Mail<br />
    33. 33. TEST<br />From field<br />Subject line<br />Templates<br />Pictures<br />Content<br />
    34. 34. EXAMPLES<br />
    35. 35. CAMPAIGN<br />Target by audience/segment<br />Additional messages for those who don’t open, don’t click<br />Incorporate offers or exclusive deals<br />Change up the content<br />Make it personal<br />
    36. 36. What’s next?<br />
    37. 37. COMING TRENDS<br />Automated Campaigns<br />Mobile<br />Social Media Integration<br />
    38. 38. RESOURCES<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
    39. 39. NTEN.ORG NONPROFIT TECHNOLOGY NETWORK<br />Webinars<br />Online Groups<br />Reports & Research<br />Technology Leadership Academy<br />Nonprofit Technology Conference – San Francisco, April 3-5<br />
    40. 40. THANKS! QUESTIONS?<br /><br />@amyrsward<br /><br /><br />