Avoid Email Fatigue – How to Send Frequent Emails Without Burning Out your List

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I recently answered a question online about launching an email series for a blend of stewardship and direct asks. The questioner asked about the risks of over-saturating the donors versus the benefit of staying in front of the audience regularly.

I love when anyone has a plan to send more frequent communication and focus on actual stories. Its what donors want to hear about – the people and outcomes made possible through their participation. The key thing to focus on is the donor – the organization facilitated the donor’s goal rather than the donor funding the organization. Donors care about what happens because they gave, which is why a story plan is so terrific. Making it about the organization’s role as the leader instead of the conduit takes the focus off the donor. They want to know their involvement can and did make the difference.

Getting your Clicks

Everyone worries about email fatigue and over-saturating. With the right message to an engaged audience there are a surprisingly low amount of unsubscribes due to frequency. To start, include a really inviting emotional subject line. You can play around with this headline analyzer to test the emotional level you are hitting. Its fascinating.

Next I would make sure you have a great picture in your email and include a blurb that cuts off at a juicy point and makes them click-through to read the rest on your site. Short emails make it easier for mobile viewing and encourage readers to take action. This is the same methodology as putting a solicitation in an envelope to get donors to do something from the start.

Regarding how hard you can push direct donation, I would do a split test putting a donate button directly in the email on half and putting the donate button on the web page it links to on half to see if there is a difference.

As much as I love design, keep it simple and keep the key content near the top. The rates of mobile reading of email are rising. And people scan wherever they are. Check the stats on your website to see if your website has a lot of mobile visitors. Chances are your audiences read email on mobile if they visit websites on mobile. If your web visits are more than 25% from mobile, use a mobile optimized email template. And if your website isn’t yet responsive or mobile friendly, its time to start thinking about that too. In the meantime, send the complete story by email rather than linking to your website if you are concerned about mobile viewership.

In your email, give them at least 3 places to click. They can be a combination of buttons and web links, but don’t send them all over your website, make all the clicks go to the same web page with the full story and the donate button. Resist the urge to send them to your home page and link to all the other things you do in the beginning so you can really see how the plan works.

Re-Purposing Content

I’m all about doing something once and maximizing visibility.

Every quarter I’d send a round up with links to all the stories from the quarter. You can have a hard ask with this piece right in the email.

On your website, I would create a section for these stories. When your emails link to your site, at the bottom of each story, list other stories in the series to really build the connection to the people you serve. If you can’t do this on your current site, create a Wordpress blog. Blog functionality is great at directing viewers to related stories. You can include an email sign-up to be added specifically to the mailing list for the series. So it basically functions as a targeted, evolving publication and turns the whole project into a piece of content that you create once and get a ton of re-use out of. My favorite.

Using the website as a content hub also lets you turn your stories into social posts with a link back to your website – where they can donate.


If you do expand beyond just email and incorporate your website, make sure you install Google Analytics and have your search or web person run reports on where people go after clicking on the page.

Make sure you are using an email tool that lets you track what people do – opens, click-throughs, and what they click on. I happen to really like how MailChimp provides that information but many fundraising programs incorporate email.

Lessons Learned

When people feel they are part of a community, they want to be involved. I bet you’ll be surprised at the positive response you get.

If you end up getting a lot of unsubcribes, be grateful that email is such a fast response tool. If people are upset about what you do or say enough to want off your list, they are probably not your most loyal fans. You want to watch the volume or you can risk falling out of favor with your email provider. And huge amounts of unsubscribes will tell you that you are hitting the wrong note.

However, nagging the fringes to give will not be as successful as building a content pipeline that the people who love you can’t wait to get. In MailChimp, for example, you can see the names of your most active readers. You can check those names against your donation list to let you know if you are hitting the sweet spot with the right folks. The others, let em go. A big, inactive list is expensive and useless.