How to increase email newsletter open rates

Ben Matthews

By Ben Matthews

In Digital Marketing

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Do you want to increase your email newsletter open rates?

If not, you should. According to Hubspot, email newsletters generate $38 for every $1 spent, which is an astounding 3,800% ROI, making it one of the most effective digital marketing strategies available.

But your email newsletter campaigns can only be effective so long as they are actually getting opened in the first place.

Email newsletter open rates have been steadily declining. 20 years ago, email newsletters had an average 25-30% open rate. But now, the average open rate for all industries is 20.81%.

Charities are at a slight advantage. According to email marketing benchmarks, the average nonprofit email open rate is 24.11%.

This means that you have two choices as a charity:

  1. You can continue with your normal email marketing tactics, which might not be reaching these benchmarks
  2. You can optimise to increase your email newsletter open rate over time.

We assume you’re interested in increasing your email open rates, so here are our best tips to increase yours.

Give your email newsletter an engaging subject line

The most important thing you put in your email newsletter is the subject line.

Many charities spend 95% of their time writing and refining the content that is in the email body, ignoring the fact that email subscribers decide whether to read or delete based on the 35 characters they see in the subject line.

Your email subject line is like the cover of a book, so it needs to be engaging to encourage your supporters to open the email.

If you get nothing else from this article, please get this: “Monthly Newsletter” is not a great subject line. You need to work hard on your email newsletter subject lines.

Here are some ideas to try instead, with more email subject lines that get opened here:

  • A shocking statistic
  • Something topical
  • Inserted personal information, like the user’s name
  • Value proposition that relates to your supporters’ needs

In other words, you want to capture your email subscribers’ interest, engage them them to open the email, and then convert them once they’ve opened it.

Split test email subject lines

When it comes to email marketing you should always be A/B testing to find out what appeals most to your audience.
This allows hard data to make the decisions that matter most to your charity.

For example, the Obama campaign raised $60 million running a simple A/B test on their homepage.

We started with just one simple experiment back in December of 2007. This experiment taught us that every visitor to our website was an opportunity and that taking advantage of that opportunity through website optimization and A/B testing could help us raise tens of millions of dollars.

Read more about How Obama Raised $60 Million by Running a Simple Experiment.

If you want to try this method yourself, before sending out an email newsletter, test out 2 subject lines with a small part of your email list.

Once you’ve identified the subject line with the higher open rate, use that one for your full email campaign.

Changing some copy or creative is an easy modification that can have a measurable impact.

Avoid coming across as spam

While you want your subject line to stand out with your email recipients, you don’t want it to look like spam.

USING UPPER CASE and multiple exclamation marks (!!!!) will not only lower your email statistics on open rates, but also increase your unsubscribe rate.

It’s a good idea to make sure your “From” email address is one that is recognisable to your email list, such as a person’s name, and has some personality.

Who would you rather open an email from: or

Optimise your email newsletter for mobile

Mobile phones account for about 55% of email opens and this number is only increasing.

Data show that at least 96% of people .do not engage with the same email on multiple devices.

This means that if people opened your email on their phone, they won’t open it again once they get back to their desktop.

You want to make sure to optimise your email newsletter content for mobile devices.

Don’t overdo it with multimedia, downloads, and links, as these take longer to load and are more difficult to manage on mobiles.

Keep your email newsletter relevant and concise, so the email is easily scannable on mobile phones

The good news is that you can send more emails than you might think. Another insight from the Obama campaign is this: People won’t unsubscribe, no matter how many emails they’re sent, as long as the cause is worthy.

Remove inactive subscribers

Over time, email subscribers can still go stale. Some people may have changed email accounts, or maybe they just aren’t interested in your charity anymore.

To keep your list fresh and filled with engaged supporters, it’s a good idea to regularly remove inactive subscribers.

An inactive subscriber is commonly defined as anyone who has not engaged with any email in the past six months or more, though it could be less.

But before you get rid of any inactive supporters, try sending a win back email campaign to try to re-engage subscribers.

Segment your email lists

Many charities send the same message to their existing and loyal supporters as they do to random users that sign up while browsing their site. Consider segmenting your email lists in the following ways:

  • Send general information to new signups via a welcome series
  • Send more customised email with relevant updates to potential supporters
  • Send personal stories and thank you emails to regular donors

Mailchimp reports that emails sent to segmented lists get a 15% increase in click-though rate.

Send your email newsletter at the best time

There is a lot of data on when you should be sending your newsletter to guarantee opened emails. 

Weekdays outperform weekends, with Tuesdays through Thursdays performing the best.

No one likes to check mail during the weekend (or right before the weekend), and on Monday, people are in that “back-to-work” mode.

That said, it’s more important to send emails when relevant, rather than sent according to a rigid send schedule. 

Remember to test different days and times until you find your email list’s sweet spot.

How are you increasing your email newsletter open rates?

 Are your email open rates are lower than you would like? What are your plans to increase your email open rates?

Let us know in the comments below, or for more guidance take a look at more email marketing guides:

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