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Published March 26, 2024 Reading Time: 6 minutes

This blog was written in collaboration with Evan Arcoria, Senior Digital Strategist at RKD Group.

There are 4 billion daily email users across the globe, making email an excellent place for nonprofit organizations to reach a broad donor audience.

The challenge is that it feels like we receive about 4 billion emails daily in our inboxes.

Understanding key email metrics is essential for engaging your audience effectively and achieving a strong return on investment. In this post, we’ll explore how to identify the factors behind email traffic fluctuations and optimize your email marketing strategy for future success.

Fundraising Email Metrics Explained

Let’s begin with a brief overview of various email marketing metrics nonprofits should report on and what each means.

  • Delivery rate: The percentage of emails delivered to the recipient’s inbox.
  • Bounce rate: The percentage of email addresses/recipients that didn’t receive the email because their email server returned it. These can come in the form of hard or soft bounces (more on this later).
  • Open rate: The percentage of recipients who opened the email.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of recipients who clicked a link in the email relative to the number of emails delivered.
  • Click-to-open rate (CTOR): The percentage of recipients who clicked a link in the email relative to the number of emails opened.
  • Unsubscribe rate: The percentage of recipients who unsubscribed from the email.
  • Spam complaint rate: The number or percentage of recipients who marked and/or reported the email as spam.
  • Conversion rate: The percentage of recipients who completed a goal or call to action (CTA) from your email (such as donations, survey responses, or registrations).
  • Revenue per 1,000 emails delivered: The total revenue collected, measured against the quantity of emails delivered to recipients.

Where Should I Start?

Enhancing your grasp of email metrics allows you to track trends in your nonprofit marketing efforts more effectively and inform your future fundraising campaigns more strategically.

Step 1: Deliverability

Although it’s tempting to dive directly into email engagement metrics like email open rate, new email subscribers, and CTR, ensuring your emails land in inboxes is the best place to begin. Let’s start there.

If your delivery rate starts to drop, here are some areas to focus on:

  • Spam: Is your email ending up in spam folders? Learn how to avoid this before pressing send. Spam checks are easy, and plenty of free email marketing tools, like Mail Tester, can help ensure your emails won’t get flagged.
  • Soft bounces: Soft bounces are temporary failed-to-deliver incidents and can be as simple as a full mailbox or a recipient turned on a vacation responder.
  • Hard bounces: Hard bounces are worse, and you should record them. Often, the email isn’t a real address or the email server blocked you from delivery.
Pro Tip
Most email platforms don’t offer a safety net to remove bounce addresses before sending, so ensure you select valuable contacts.

Be proactive and monitor both types of bounces closely. Soft bounces can become hard bounces if not addressed, and hard bounces, especially if they increase suddenly, may require effort to rebuild trust with the email service provider.

Ultimately, too many bounces will impact delivery, so lower your bounce counts for a higher inbox delivery rate and higher overall opportunity of reach.

Bounce issues can happen to even the best email program. So if you see high bounce rates, here are some action items:

  • Inspect your email list for invalid or faulty email addresses, which are more common if you’ve purchased cold lists (which we don’t recommend).
  • Leverage third-party tools like ZeroBounce to help clean up your database and remove invalid email addresses.
  • Keep an eye on your email domains and IP addresses using third-party tools like Google Postmaster Tools and MxToolbox. This helps ensure you’re not on any email blocklists and your spam score stays low.
  • Collaborate with your email marketing platform representative to troubleshoot any issues.
  • Clean your email list regularly by removing hard bounces and running spam checks.

Together, these email marketing best practices can greatly benefit your engagement metrics.

Step 2: Engagement

Don’t spend too much time fretting over your open rate. It’s not always the most accurate measurement since email services like Apple scan delivered messages, which inflates open counts.

Open rates can be helpful when analyzed over short periods, such as week to week or month to month, to track immediate changes. However, analyzing open rates over the years can provide insight into long-term trends, especially when there are no significant changes in other factors like switching your email marketing software or adopting a new style of email subject lines.

Pro Tip
CTOR comes from the open rate, so it may not provide as much valuable insight as other metrics not dependent on the open rate.

So which metrics matter for email engagement? Let’s talk about clicks and CTR.

Analyze Clicks and Click-through Rate

To determine how effective your emails are at driving traffic to your website, pay attention to two main metrics: CTR and the total number of clicks. Here’s the process:

  • Set up Urchin Tracking Modules (UTMs): First, ensure you can track links within emails using UTMs or other tracking modules to capture your email site traffic. Tracking links allow granular tracking, enabling you to monitor each unique link within an email.
  • Check your email links: Next, review your links to ensure you’ve correctly formatted the UTM parameters included for Google Analytics tracking. Setting them up incorrectly, such as using the wrong source, could result in unexpected traffic fluctuations on your website.
  • Identify low-performing emails: Then, check the email performance report through your email marketing platform for any emails sent out during the period where the traffic fluctuation occurred. Identify any emails with an abnormal CTR.

Identify Email Variants

Once you determine the outliers (emails with an abnormal CTR), you can go deeper to determine what element of your emails may have impacted engagement. Here are some areas to check:

  • Audience: Did you target a new audience segment or combine segments for your email?
  • Email content: Did you promote new content in your emails, like upcoming events or webinars?
  • Email template: Were any emails sent during this time using a different email template than you typically use? Did you use an HTML template or a plaintext template? Using a different email template can affect click engagement for different reasons, like:
    • Your audience reacted positively to your new email design and may have engaged more.
    • Your audience reacted negatively because they didn’t recognize the email in the new design and chose to ignore it (or worse, they unsubscribed).
  • Email length: Did you notice shorter or longer emails than usual? In 2022, people’s average time viewing an email was less than 10 seconds. Therefore, it’s crucial to test different lengths to determine your audience’s preferences, allowing them to quickly understand the CTA. Some audiences prefer longer emails, while others prefer shorter ones. Finding a balance can be challenging, so consider using a layout that caters to different reading styles—whether they prefer to read thoroughly, skim, or get the gist of the content quickly.
  • Send day and time: When did you send the email, and does the send day and time differ from when you typically send emails? Finding your best send day takes a lot of testing, and you may see minimal insight to act upon. So when possible, and if your platform allows, leverage some assisted send-time tools to help gauge when recipients are more likely to click, but don’t lose any sleep over this. (Note: Take note of events like Amazon’s Prime Day and consider pausing your emails unless you’re confident you can get through the commercial brand message noise.)

Set Up Thorough A/B Testing

Once you’ve determined what aspect of your email may have influenced any changes in your click engagement and landing page traffic, utilize those findings to optimize future email series. Simply avoid what may have led to a dip in engagement or attempt to confirm positive results through A/B testing.

An A/B test is a good approach—better than not testing at all. However, correctly setting up your email A/B test is important to get significant results.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when setting up your email A/B test:

  • Outline the variables you’re testing and the expected results.
  • Use sample size calculators to determine the test’s sample size based on the baseline rate you’re testing instead of choosing a random percentage.
  • Be intentional about the variations you test. Testing too many variations that aren’t significantly different can muddy your results. Sometimes, less is more.

If there were no email outliers, and none of the emails sent during that period had any major changes listed above, you may be looking at more of a technical issue. Refer to some of the deliverability issues listed above and how to troubleshoot.

Measuring Conversion and Value

Now, let’s delve into some advanced email metrics that can elevate your understanding of email responses more strategically. We’re referring to metrics like gift/click conversion rate and revenue per 1,000 delivered, which are crucial for tracking email direct responses.

Conversion rate is an ideal metric for comparing the performance of one email against another. You can also apply this metric to survey responses, ticket registrations, or other actions you want to track. However, focusing solely on clicks, gifts, and revenue can sometimes blur the results, making it difficult to determine which email performed better.

Still, by tracking the gift/click conversion rate, you can uncover your audience’s preferences for certain offers, such as how they respond to a matched donation campaign versus a nonmatched one. This metric is also useful for analyzing how different links within the same email perform against each other, helping you determine the value of the link layout.

Revenue per 1,000 emails delivered is another great metric to assess audience value. Remember that an email’s offer influences this metric, but it’s great for helping to compare across industries and benchmarks (and against yourself). It’s also powerful in helping to assign value to an audience.

Use revenue per 1,000 delivered with an audience gift/click conversion rate to plan, budget, and anticipate how your emails will respond. Tracking your email content variations with both of these can help you sift through a lot of noise and uncover the drivers in your response messages.

Bring It All Together

Consistent reporting is the key to success in effective email marketing. By monitoring your performance regularly, you can quickly identify any fluctuations in traffic and take corrective action. Whether adjusting your content strategy or refining your targeting to inspire more potential donors, having access to timely and accurate data is essential for optimizing your email campaigns.

In addition to monitoring your metrics, it’s critical to maintain open communication with your email marketing platform representative. They can provide valuable insights and guidance on addressing any technical issues that may arise. By working closely with your rep, you can ensure your email campaigns run smoothly and reach your target audience effectively.

Copy Editor: Ayanna Julien

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