Fundraise Smarter

When (and How Often) Should You Email Your Donors?

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Nov 2, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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You know how important a healthy email list is for your online fundraising. You’ve been hard at work building an opt-in email list. You’ve avoided the temptation of buying a list. You’re even avoiding the common mistakes that are killing your emails.

But one burning question remains...when, and how often, should you be sending out emails to your donors?

And boy do I wish this was a black and white answer.

Unfortunately, there is not clearly defined “best” time to email. If there were, you’d be getting hundreds of emails from retailers all at once telling you about their new sale. But we do have some data supporting a few options.

Best Days to Email Donors

Ultimately, the best way to find your optimal email day is to try several different days, then take a look at your open and click rate and see which days performed the best. Most email tools will deliver these insights for you.

However, we can get an idea of what works by examining larger data sets from other nonprofits. Thankfully, MailChimp is great about sharing these insights with the emailing masses.

It’s tempting to think that sending on the weekends is the best time to reach your audience, since they don’t have work to distract them. But most nonprofits experience far better email performance during the week. Typically, it’s arts, retail, and hobby-related emails that get higher open rates on the weekend (makes sense, right?), while nonprofits (along with government and businesses) experience better email success during the week.

So from the weekdays, which day is best?

Some folks will tell you Tuesdays, others will tell you Thursday. Maybe it’s just the “T” days?, an email tool, found that messages sent on Tuesdays through their platform see an open rate of 18%, the highest of all weekdays. MailChimp customers see the highest open rate on Thursdays, though Tuesdays come in at a close second.

Both are pretty good bets. Mondays typically end up as catch-up days on email for many people, and people typically don’t sign up for anything or take sudden actions on Fridays with the weekend-looming.

What Time Should You Email Donors?

Besides the day of the week, the timing of your email is important. You want to avoid the morning flood of messages many of your donors receive, as they’re more likely to mass delete messages that don’t seem vital.

Alternatively, wait too late into the evening and you run the risk of your email being (rightfully) ignored in favor of family time.

So the real sweet spot is either after the morning rush, or during the early to late afternoon lull.

Based on MailChimps stats, nonprofit emails perform best shortly after 9:00AM. By this time, people have deleted low-quality messages from overnight (likely from their phones while still laying in bed), and your message is sitting pretty at the top of their inbox.

Fundraising Campaign Calendar

How Often Should You Email Donors?

Once you’ve pegged your ideal time to email, the matter of how often to email supporters remains.

It’s good to be concerned with email frequency. After all, when someone exchanges their email address with you, they’re entrusting you to only provide them with messages that provide them with value. Abuse that relationship, and they’re very likely to unsubscribe.

However, if you’re overly conservative with your email list, you risk becoming out-of-sight, out-of-mind. This can lower your engagement when you actually do email, hurting the value of your list.

Marketing software company HubSpot published some interesting (albeit a bit dated now) statistics about email frequency’s effect on open and unsubscribe rates.

While 1 message per month saw the lowest unsubscribe rates and the highest open rates, the difference is relatively small. Even more interesting, the rates for both tend to plateau beyond 4-5 messages a month.

So if you already email your donors more than once a month, you’re pretty safe upping that frequency to maybe once or twice a week. While once a month might provide the most engagement per message, the trade-off is lower engagement overall as a result of less opportunities.

The best option is to provide a way for your audience to choose how frequently they hear from you. If your email service provides a way for subscribers to select whether they want to receive every message as soon as it’s sent, or maybe just a weekly summary, take advantage of that option and promote it to your list. Don’t view someone selecting that option as a failure, you’re merely providing them with an option that fits their needs and preferences.

Every Audience is Different

While these stats can provide some basic guidance, it’s important to remember that every organization’s audience is different. What works for one nonprofit may not work for another. The only way to know for sure what works for your audience is to just try different things and let the numbers make the decision for you.

Even then, there are times when it’s appropriate to stray from these guidelines. During a big appeal or a news event related to your cause, you might be emailing your list every single day. Other times, you make take a break. The main takeaway is to keep a close eye on your stats to see when you’re experiencing diminishing returns, and scale back from there.

Fundraising Campaign Calendar

Topics: nonprofit marketing,, email fundraising

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