The annual M+R Benchmarks Study is out and there’s plenty of great nonprofit data to dive into. Last week I looked at online fundraising data. This week I’ll be exploring email.

Email Fundraising Data To Learn From

Your supporters and target audience of prospective donors are using email. Is your organization making use of email for your fundraising and marketing efforts?

Below are four data points from the M+R study with takeaways and what you can learn from them.

The data: List sizes increased by 3% since 2019.

The takeaway: That’s wonderful! More opportunities to convert subscribers into donors. This may be connected to the global pandemic and organizations discovering email as a way to stay in touch with people.

Why is that important: When you use email effectively, you can turn subscribers into donors. However, it’s NOT the size of your list that matters. It’s whether people are actually opening your emails or not.

When I work with clients, I stress over and over quality, not quantity. Large lists don’t impress me. High open rates and high click thru rates do. The more engaged your subscribers are, the likelier they are to positively answer your appeals.

This means constant data hygiene. If subscribers aren’t opening your emails, archive them. Sending to addresses that never open your email hurts your open rate and can cause your emails to be labeled as spam by certain email service providers.

email inbox

The data: NPOs send an average of 59 emails to subscribers during the year. Of those 59 yearly emails: 23 were fundraising (39%), 9 were advocacy (15%), 12 were newsletter (20%), 15 were other (25%).

The takeaway: Ask away! According to fundraising authority Amy Eisenstein, the number one mistake nonprofits make is not asking enough. 39% of emails asking for a donation isn’t bad.

Why’s that important: I wonder how many of those emails were sent prior to and on Giving Tuesday and in December for year-end appeals. Judging by my Inbox, I’m guessing a high percentage. Which isn’t great.

I know that year end accounts for a decent percent of your overall revenue. But if you check your database, you’re going to see that you have plenty of donors who are giving at other times of the year besides December (don’t forget monthly givers!).

Spread out your asks. You have events and other types of fundraisers running throughout the year. The barrage of year end emails is not how you connect with people. Steady wins the race.


The data: Email average open rate is 21%.

The takeaway: The nonprofit email open rate has been consistent for the last couple years. (See here for 2019 benchmarking data) That’s not great. Email is a fantastic opportunity to convert subscribers into donors. But that only begins if people actually click to open the email.

Why’s that important: For every 100 emails you send, only 21 people on average open it. Think about that for a second. 79% of your intended audience isn’t reading your email!

That means

  • Data hygiene! (see above)
  • Your subject lines have to catch people’s attention. 35% of people decide to open an email based on the subject line alone. Additionally, everyone’s Inboxes are overflowing. Want to stand out? Make sure your subject lines are catchy, ask questions, provide value and give subscribers a chance to WANT to click and read.

Email fundraising and marketing takes good strategy, planning, time and effort. But success starts with a clean list and a great subject line.

email data to measure

Data: Average click thru rate (CTR) for fundraising emails is 1.7%.

The takeaways: That’s not great Bob! The average nonprofit CTR is 2.66%, so fundraising emails are underperforming 56% less than the average.

Why’s that important: Obviously less click thrus on your fundraising emails means less potential donations! Now the question is why.

Let me offer 3 reasons:

  • Maybe people are receiving too many asks and they’re clicking thru less often. That could certainly be, as email Inboxes overflow.
  • Lack of a compelling case for action.

Your fundraising emails should use storytelling to help subscribers understand a problem and then offer them a chance to solve the problem, via a donation. People give because they want to help others, they want to do good, they want to solve problems in their community.

Is your nonprofit offering them that chance? Or are your email asks the virtual version of you knocking on their door screaming “WE NEED MONEY NOW!”

  • You’re not segmenting your list: If you’re sending the same appeal to everyone on your list, you’re doing it wrong.

You have new subscribers who have yet to donate, monthly givers, volunteers, staff and Board members, yearly givers and other supporters in your email audience. Subscribers who have yet to donate should receive a different ask than monthly givers or volunteers.

A good fundraising ask is tailor-made for the audience opening the email. It’s personalized and the language shows that you as an organization know where the subscriber is on their donor journey.     

Want to see higher fundraising email CTR? Segment.

Next week I’ll look at text messaging and website giving.