Compete for attention in ever-busier email inboxes and improve the chances of getting your charity's email newsletter opened, read & acted on.

You’ve spent many hours (even days) lovingly researching and crafting your charity’s latest email newsletter, but people are suffering from information overload. Around 80% of charity e-mails remain unopened and only 3.5% of those opened result in a click through to your website.

How do you make sure your subscribers give your email newsletter the attention it deserves? Use our checklist to improve your next campaign…

1. Be interesting

  • Are you telling people the things they signed up to your newsletter to hear?
  • Don’t talk endlessly about your organiation. People are mostly interested in other people (or animals) not in the organisations supporting them. Nobody likes spending time with a friend who talks about themselves all the time.
  • Offer something your subscribers won’t get anywhere else, whether it’s an insight, an opinion or a freebie. Everybody likes to get something for nothing.
  • Invite contribution and feedback – make your subscribers feel involved.

2. Focus on your objectives

  • Don’t send out an email every month just because that ‘s what you’ve always done. Focus on the real reasons. Are you looking for a donation? To boost volunteer numbers? To get a petition signed?
  • If you’re not trying to do one of these things, is it actually contributing to your objectives?..
    • Captivate your readers by grabbing their attention, increase their trust or awareness of you or your cause
    • Capture their contact details so you can send them more information
    • Convert readers into advocates, volunteers or donors

3. Provide a call to action

  • Make calls to action short and easy to do.
  • Make them immediate. What can the reader do right now to help you achieve your goals?
  • Link the words describing the action you want them to take. “Write to your MP and tell them what you think” has more visual impact than “click here to write to your MP”
  • If you’re writing an email about a single topic with a single ask, make the call to action as clear as possible.

4. Be personable

  • You’re a real person, even if you’re emailing on behalf of a massive, faceless organisation.
  • Consider sending an email from you, rather than from your organisation, and adding your signature or email footer at the end – it’ll look more like an email from a friend.

5. Segment and target

  • How long do you spend looking through individual emails in your inbox? Probably not long. Why would your newsletter recipients behave any differently.
  • If the top news items are not relevant to a particular reader, they may not scroll down to read the rest and may unsubscribe altogether.
  • Consider segmenting your lists
    • by audience group. Are volunteers in Newcastle likely to attend an event in Southampton? Are commissioners likely to be interested in your employee of the month announcement?
    • by interest. Your supporters might only be interested in a very narrow scope of your work. Feed that interest and don’t bother them with details of everything else.
    • by engagement. Regular donors may be more willing to pay to attend a gala dinner than someone who donated £5 once. Regular volunteers may be more willing to travel further to an event or take part in a more laborious ask.
  • Look at using an email management programme that helps you segment your lists, such as Mailchimp.

6. Do it by the book

  • Make it easy to unsubscribe.Provide an “unsubscribe” or “mange your alerts” link to help improve the types of email they receive.
  • Respect your subscribers’ privacy. If they offered their details for a particular reason, don’t use it for a different reason without their consent.
  • Get familiar with your data protection obligations.

7. Time it right

  • There’s no ideal time to be sending messages, but your chances of hitting the target are improved if you send email when people are likely to be sitting at their PCs.
  • Emailing first thing in the morning may be better than last thing at night as you’re more likely to appear towards the top of your subscriber’s inbox.
  • Don’t send too frequently, people already suffer from information overload.
  • Don’t send too infrequently, people may forget you exist or that they subscribed to your list at all.
  • Intervals of between 3 and 6 weeks may be best for scheduled newsletters, but these don’t apply to emergency response or urgent alerts.

8. Monitor & optimise

  • Do you analyse the results of your email campaigns? Do you know how many emails were sent? How many were opened? How many bounced? If not, how can you verify the effectiveness of your campaigns?
  • Consider using a dedicated mailing list management service, like MailchimpConstant ContactExperian CheetahMail,DotMailer or Salesforce.
  • Once you’re using analytics, track the success of each campaign & its performance in relation to previous campaigns. At the end of the year, review your campaign effectiveness. Which messages were most clicked on? Which message generated the most unsubscribes? WHich segments of your list are the most engaged?

9. Don't talk about viagra

  • Your email will never be read if it gets caught in a corporate firewall or a user’s spam bin.
  • Spam filters and firewalls aren’t perfect, so be cautious about the words you use in your emails and be aware of how they could be interpreted out of context by machines.
  • If you’re a charity that writes about potentially controversial themes or use certain words or phrases, check up to make sure your subscribers are actually receiving them. The Lesbian & Gay Foundation have encountered problems with local authority firewalls blocking emails containing the words “lesbian” and “gay”.

10. Empathise

  • You’re probably a newsletter subscriber yourself. What do you love and hate about the emails you receive? Are you guilty of those same crimes against email?
  • Subscribe to your competitors’ newsletters. Try to identify what they do well and improve on what they do badly.
  • Don’t leave it at that, though, subscribe to what you’re interested in to simulate the experience of being a real newsletter subscriber.

If you have any comments on these points or have your own tips or tricks on improving email communications, please post them in the comments section below.

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