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The Top Email KPIs for Nonprofit Communicators

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How often do you think about what happens after you hit the send button on an email campaign? Fundraisers and nonprofit communicators who take a data-driven approach to email marketing typically experience higher success rates on their newsletters, appeals and acknowledgements than those who “send it and forget it.”

Here are the top email key performance indicators (KPIs) that nonprofits should care about and measure often. We have broken them into three basic categories:


  • Delivery rate: this measures how often your emails reach their destinations. Emails are either received (to inbox or spam folder) or bounced. A hard bounce indicates a permanent delivery problem, such as an inactive or incorrect email address. A soft bounce indicates a temporary delivery problem, such as a full inbox or an email message that is too large.
  • Abuse complaints: this measures how often recipients mark your emails as spam. Certain email programs and internet service providers may also have more sophisticated feedback options, allowing the email recipient to file a report if your emails are abusive, or if you do not honor unsubscribe requests.. Too many abuse complaints can result in your mail server being blacklisted.


  • Open rate: assuming a successful delivery, this measures how many recipients open your email.
  • Click-through rate: once opened, this measures how many recipients click a link found in the email. Hopefully, your emails include links that give the reader something to do next. Like open rates, you want your CTR to be high.
  • Unsubscribe rate: this measures how often a recipient unsubscribes from your mailing list. Obviously, you want a low unsubscribe rate.


  • Conversion rate: this measures whether an email recipient took a desired action after clicking a link on your email. This could include a form completion, like a donation form or event registration form, or another opt-in like a Facebook like or Twitter follow. Conversion rate is the true measure of whether your email was successful or not. If you have Google Analytics, you can easily track actions on your website that originate from an email.

Don’t take email analytics for granted

Any direct mail fundraiser would love to know when a letter or postcard was opened and read. Imagine what they could do with such information. Unfortunately, the only KPI direct mail fundraisers can measure is conversion rate.

Don’t take the kind of reporting associated with email marketing for granted. You should spend as much time examining KPIs like open rates and click-through rates as you do actually crafting and sending the emails. Testing is an absolute necessity!

Knowing who is opening your emails and what they are clicking on can give you insights into your individual fundraising, major gift and planned giving programs, not to mention how effective your website is.

Online donations are still a small piece of the pie

Despite all this available technology and reporting, online donations still account for less than 10% of total dollars raised annually. Perhaps this is a result of an underutilization of the analytics available, or inaction?

Meanwhile, the amount of emails sent by nonprofits continues to grow every year.

Email has become the communication channel of choice for a large percentage of donors of all ages as they interact with charities. From the board member to the occasional volunteer and every individual in-between a larger and larger portion of their interactive communications falls into this category.

Just because online giving is such a small percentage of total giving, nonprofit leaders and fundraisers must be careful not to take email communications lightly!

Based upon the above fact, not only should email be used for relationship-building, but also the measurement of the impact should be a prime indicator of most donor’s engagement level with your organization.

How is your organization utilizing email? Let us know in the comments below!

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