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Big Email Change Is Coming: Is Your Nonprofit Ready?

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On June 7, Apple threw a huge curveball at email marketers everywhere. In a nutshell, Apple announced a new privacy feature which can prevent senders from knowing when a user opens their email.

This means that when an Apple Mail user activates this new privacy setting, you may have no way of knowing if that user opened your emails. Additionally, information you may have been able to glean up to this point in time—a user’s location or other online activity—will be hidden from you.

The issue is more technical than that and won’t take effect until the fall. But what’s important to understand is that when this feature becomes available to users, your open rates will change.

The good news is that this is not a problem because open rates are fool’s gold.

Clicks and Conversions Matter

The open rate was never a great barometer of success (and neither are Facebook Likes for that matter). If people are opening your emails but not clicking your call to action (CTA), is that email helping you reach your goals? Probably not.

You want people to volunteer, sign up for something, attend an event, and advocate for your cause. And, of course, a big goal is to convert subscribers into donors.

The problems start when your organization claims your email strategy is a success based only on a high open rate. For reference, the sector average open rate is 20.39%. So while you might be proud of an open rate higher than that, if only a very small percentage of those openers are clicking and taking an action, that open rate doesn’t mean much.

What it does mean is that you need to review your email content, fundraising, and marketing strategy.

Analyze your email data and determine whether your content is mobilizing people to take action. How many people are opening the email, reading the content, clicking your CTAs, and taking action on the page where you take them?

Your goal shouldn’t be just to have a large number of subscribers. The value of that list is in the number of engaged subscribers.

Why Open Rates Matter—For Now

How do we use statistics about open rates right now?

  1. If someone fails to open your email, there’s no chance of them taking the action you asked them to take in the email. A high open rate to click-thru rate (CTR) ratio helps you determine the efficacy of your content. To ascertain that, divide the emails clicked by the emails sent.
  2. Open rates are helpful with A/B testing. You can send the same email but use two different subject lines to measure which one received a higher open rate. FYI: 35% of people decide whether to open an email or not based on the subject line alone.
  3. There’s also some value in a subscriber opening your email and skimming for a few seconds. Maybe they won’t react now, but you’ve planted a seed for future action.
  4. Open rates are also crucial for evaluating your send times. Your organization needs to test what day and time is best to send out your newsletter. A high open rate for an email sent on X day at X time can help you decide when your email will attract the most opens (and hopefully a higher conversion rate). Unfortunately, it will be tough to test this if you have no clue whether a large swath of your subscribers have opened the email or not!

Roomba the Data

Good data hygiene—maintaining a clean email list—is crucial. If you’re paying per subscriber, then you’re throwing money down the drain by emailing people who never open your emails!

I know that many of you are pressed for time and wear many hats. My suggestion is to do a monthly review of all subscribers and remove those who have not opened your emails during the last 3+ months. If monthly is too much, quarterly is fine.

Why do I suggest this? Because a low open rate can hurt your nonprofit.

Let’s say you have 1,000 Gmail addresses on your list, but the collective open rate for those subscribers is low. Gmail begins to wonder why that is and why people aren’t interested in opening your emails. Could it be that you’re sending spam and therefore people avoid opening your emails? That could lead to Gmail marking every email you send to Gmail users as spam, meaning none of your subscribers will see your emails in their Inbox.

So, although I’m not a fan of using open rates as a measurement of success, I understand its usefulness. However, with the changes Apple announced, your open rate numbers may prove to be inaccurate.

I’ll go one step further and predict that if this privacy setting proves popular with users, I expect Google and other email providers to introduce similar privacy measures.

You can check your subscriber list now and see how many people open their email in Apple Mail. Even if it’s a small number, each of those subscribers matters.

What will actually happen when Apple’s new setting becomes reality? There may be chain reaction, which could look like this:

  1. It’s possible you won’t know if Apple Mail users have opened your email or not. They might open every single email but Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or other email distribution platforms won’t be able to collect that open rate data.
  2. This may cause you to assume certain Apple Mail subscribers never open your emails and prompt you to remove them from your list.
  3. That could lead to numerous missed opportunities to communicate with subscribers, build more relationships, and ultimately raise more money and service more people in your community.

I’m not trying to make you panic. Just the opposite: I’m looking to give you an early heads up on an issue that will affect your organization.

So what should you do? What should you concentrate on and what data should you be paying attention to?

Building Relationships One Click at a Time

Email is a fantastic one-to-one tool that allows you to communicate directly with a subscriber. You can utilize it to build relationships and strengthen connections.

I firmly believe that Apple’s announcement will have a positive effect on your organization’s fundraising and marketing efforts. Forget open rates and concentrate on building relationships instead.

How can you do that?

  • Like you do with donors, strive to understand personal preferences. Get to know your subscribers better via surveys.
    • Learn what they value and why they’re interested in your mission and work.
    • Find out where they live, when their birthday is, and other personal information. For example, send them an email with a special birthday video greeting. It’s a simple way to stay in touch and make them feel the love.
    • Provide a short list of different types of content you offer and allow them to choose which one(s) they’re interested in receiving.
  • Send emails that ask questions of your subscribers, prompting them to respond. Those potential one-to-one email conversations can be gold!
  • Create compelling content. Learn what your subscribers consume and what fails to grab their attention. As you provide them with content they want, you will begin to see more clicks and hopefully more conversions. This offers you more chances to build these relationships.
  • A/B test parts of your email content and see what generates a higher click rate on your CTA. A/B test your CTA button verbiage, the button color. and even the images you place in your newsletters. Do plenty of testing to understand what subscribers respond to.
  • Stay on top of what people do when they come to your website. A subscriber clicks on an email CTA and comes to your site. Do they take action or not? Are they spending time on the webpage or exiting after 5 seconds? Your website content matters and if the pages you’re linking to aren’t converting, you’ve lost a chance at a possible donation, event sign up, volunteer, or more. In short, content that falls short of the target means lost opportunities for connecting with subscribers.

The Cause Marketing Angle

Joe Waters, a cause marketing authority, defines cause marketing as “a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit, for mutual profit.” Collaboration with a business or corporation should be a win-win for both parties. Your organization receives support and, oftentimes, the business partner will seek some form of exposure to your supporters and audience.

That exposure could come in the form of social media posts, website mentions, and, of course, your emails. The corporate partner wants to know that your organization can effectively shine the spotlight on them and, when requested, drive traffic to their website.

The size of your email list matters less. What does matter is your CTR. If your organization focuses on providing great content which in turn leads to a high CTR, that can be a very persuasive piece of data when sealing the deal with a business partner.

Bottom Line

To paraphrase Gordon Liddy: “It’s all content nowadays.” Shoutout Gen X and Fletch fans!

The first step in email fundraising and marketing success is onboarding new subscribers and building your list. Once you have subscribers, your content rules the day. It has to inspire. It needs to tug on the heartstrings when needed. It should raise awareness. Most importantly, your content should help your organization connect and build one-to-one relationships with supporters.

All of those content types are going to improve your CTR. The more people clicking through to your site, the more chances you have to engage them and prompt them to take action.

Instead of letting Apple’s new settings stress you out, use it as an opportunity to focus on what will enhance and improve your email efforts.

Get to work today on your email content strategy. Plan how to generate great content and realize fundraising and marketing success.

Ephraim Gopin is the founder of 1832 Communications, an agency which helps your nonprofit build more relationships and raise more money to help you service more people and have more impact in the community. Ephraim is always happy to connect with nonprofit pros via Twitter, LinkedIn, his daily nonprofit newsletter, or his weekly podcast.

If your organization needs to boost its current email performance or wants to start using email to engage supporters, contact Ephraim. He’ll help you upgrade and strengthen your email fundraising and marketing efforts.

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  • Ephraim

    Thanks Stephanie! As Steven commented, CTR is click thru rate.
  • Steven Shattuck

    Click through rate!
  • Stephanie

    Very informative article, thank you. What does CTR stand for?
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