5 Ideas for Increasing Open Rate of Nonprofit Emails

If you have been emailing to your list for a while, chances are your open rates may be starting to stall.  It may be time to experiment with some new ideas in order to re-engage your subscribers.

1. Split Test

Do you do any split testing? That can be a great way to find out what improves email open rates. During the presidential campaign the email with the highest open rate was from Michele Obama with a subject line of “Hey”. Go figure. Most of us rely on what we like and what we think will work and ignore the fact that digital media gives us the opportunity to check our assumptions. Make sure when testing to only change one thing at a time – a different subject line or picture but not both.

2. Change the Look

If official, methodical testing is too cumbersome or your technology doesn’t allow it, (or you just don’t have the patience). I have also had good luck sending the exact same email with the same subject line and a totally different design. For example sending an event invite in a totally professional designed email then following it up a week later with a plain version that only had minimal letterhead-style graphics. Guess which one had better open rates and closed more sales?

3. Fresh Format

A third thing to try is different email content approaches. We were doing an email newsletter with full-length stories that didn’t get much response. The client wanted it switched to a brief postcard style piece that was much more commercial. That got so many unsubscribes we almost got banned from the email service. Then we switched to a news brief style with three pictures each with a short clickable blurb. That one had the best open rate and lowest unsubscribe level, so it was the winner. It took about 9 months to go through the iterations, but it was worth it.

4. Link Like a Web Page

Consider treating your email more like a web page. A good web page gives people lots of ways to get to the same thing. With text links, navigation, clickable pictures and “hot buttons” all as different places to click through. We tend to write a story and then add “Read More” at the end to get people to jump to the web. But current websites don’t work that way any more. We are dropping “Click Here” in favor of text links that make meaningful works the active link, like: Our Upcoming Fall Gala rather than Our Upcoming Fall Gala >CLICK HERE. People are now trained enough on web use that they don’t need or want instructions and are more likely to click though on interest based language.

5. Its not Failure, its Information

Finally, I’d say you have to be up for some risk. We tend to be more worried about the 2 people who got miffed rather than the 100 who said nothing and presumable liked or didn’t mind your email content. The goal of testing is to find out what works best and to do that you usually have to go through some versions that don’t work at all. You will learn more from that than anything, but I do suggest you introduce the concept of testing on something less critical than the annual fund or your biggest event.

Members, donors and prospects get bored and begin to ignore any messaging that stays the same. Trying some new ways to look at your email content could really improve your open rates and conversion.