I was reading the annual M+R Benchmarks Study recently and came across a few interesting stats around email marketing by UK non-profits. 

  • The average email list size increased by 17% in 2022, building on substantial increases in the previous two years
  • Overall email message volume grew by 49% to an average of 27 messages per subscriber
  • For every 1,000 fundraising emails sent, non-profits received £66 — a 19% drop from 2021

It struck me that despite non-profits increasing the volume of fundraising emails by 30% on average from 2021 to 2022, revenue from these emails dropped by almost 20%.  

The report’s findings around fundraising messages surprised me:

  • The 0.8% click-through rate represented a 17% decline from the previous year
  • The percentage of users who landed on the donation page and actually completed the gift was 32%
  • One in every 500 subscribers who received a fundraising email responded by making a donation – which is 0.20% 
  • The share of online revenue generated by emails dropped from 4% in 2021 to 2% in 2022

While the cost of living crisis is undoubtedly a major factor, in my opinion, it’s not the whole picture. The answers to these issues are complex and may vary by organisation and the causes they champion. 

In fact, the M+R Study found that disaster/international aid non-profits reported an increase in donor support, with 13% higher email revenue. For large non-profits, average email revenue was 160% higher in 2022 than in 2021. 

However, it’s fair to say that if only one in every 500 people who’ve chosen to receive your emails are taking the action you want them to, the reasons why need to be investigated.

Some other potential causes may include:

  • Email fatigue caused by the increase in volume
  • How engaging the email subject lines are
  • Message length
  • The suggested amounts requested 

With email marketing being more cost-effective and faster to reach supporters than many other channels, it’s an area non-profits can’t afford to let slide. 

While I don’t have a magic wand for every non-profit’s unique situation, here’s a list of 12 things I’d look at as a starting point if my organisation had seen a year-on-year decline, as mentioned above.

  1. Analyse the content – everything from email subject lines to message length and calls to action
  2. Storytelling is the email content using the Identifiable Victim Effect as a way to engage subscribers? 
  3. A/B test key elements one at a time – for example, if open rates were poor, I’d look at ways to improve the subject lines and experiment with the date and time the emails were sent out
  4. Segment my list – supporters who donate regularly would get different fundraising emails from those who have only donated once or not at all
  5. Review my welcome sequence what happens when someone subscribes? Do they get nothing for a while and hit with a donation request out of the blue? Are all the emails making some kind of ask rather than providing useful information? 
  6. Use social media statistics show that, on average, people get between 100 and 120 emails per day. Using social media to let supporters know when the next email is going out and what’s included could encourage them to look out for it in among all the others they get that day
  7. Carry out a focus group – relying on guesswork is never a good idea. Asking people for their thoughts on fundraising emails could provide insights and improvements to boost donations
  8. Volume – is there a direct correlation between sending more fundraising emails and a drop in overall donations? 
  9. Urgency – are the emails giving people a compelling reason to act straight away? If not, they’ll likely have another bunch of emails they need to read, and the message will quickly be forgotten
  10. Landing page optimisation – if the majority of people clicking through to the donation landing page are leaving without taking action, it’s critical to find out why and make improvements. For example, is it clear what donations will be used for? How many payment options are provided? How far down the page is the main call to action? 
  11. Explore how to stand out in a sea of sameness – the format and tone of voice of many non-profit fundraising emails are similar. Is there a way to go against the grain and be noticed for positive reasons?
  12. Benchmark against other channels – for example, is this solely an email marketing problem or something that’s happening across other areas, too? 

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s how I’d kick-start the process of trying to find the root cause of any email marketing issues. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it has the potential to help buck the trend amongst non-profits and breathe new life into your fundraising emails, even when times are tough. 

If you liked this article, please connect with me on LinkedIn or look at my copywriting services for non-profits and purpose-driven organisations.