6 Ways to Increase Your Email Open Rate


Your email newsletter is going to die. As you read this, there are a host of illnesses attacking the health of your regular email communications, including competition, RSS readers, spam, mobile accessibility, tracking issues, and digital noise. The first point of attack for these challengers? Your email open rate.
Okay, that may be a bit sensationalist, but email open rates have declined since the early 2000s. 20 years ago, general newsletters saw an average 25-30% open rate. After some ebb and flow, Mailchimp estimates that the average open rate for all industries is 20.81% (daily deals and e-coupons are the worst off with an average open rate of 14.92%).
The overall average email open rate is 20.81% (@mailchimp). Good news for nonprofits: You top out at 24.11%. Click To Tweet
But there’s good news for nonprofits: According to email marketing benchmarks, the average nonprofit email open rate is 24.11%. This means that you have two choices as a nonprofit: You can continue to roll along with your normal marketing tactics, which may or may not be hitting your target and may or may not diminish over time. Or, you can harness the 122% ROI of email (4x that of social media, organic traffic, or direct mailing) and continue to optimize to increase your open rate even further over time.
Want to do the latter? Great. Read on for 6 tips to increase your email open rate.

1. Open it with a great subject line

The most important thing you put in your newsletter is the subject line. Many organizations 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 subject line can be thought of as the cover of your book. And, despite the saying, people always judge a book by its cover.
People judge a book by its cover… and they judge your email by its subject line. Click To Tweet
If you get nothing else from this article, please get this: “December Newsletter” is not a permissible subject line. Here are 3 ideas to try instead, with more email subject lines that get opened here:

  • A shocking statisticSomething topical
  • Inserted personal information like the user’s name
  • Value proposition that relates to your constituents’ needs

In other words, you want to capture your subscribers’ interest, engage them them to open the email, and then convert them once they’ve opened it.
Here’s example from one of our clients, Art in Action. Can you guess which subject line performed best of these two?

  • Art Teaches Oral Language Skills
  • Art in Action teaches you how to teach art

Answer? No. 2. It succeeded because it uses simple, direct language in place of fancy, official-sounding verbiage. In fact, the difference between the open rates for these 2 emails was 4%. Though this percent seems negligible, here’s some context: 4% of a 10,000 person list serve is 400 people. That’s 400 more people who opened your email because you made a simple tweak to the 10 words in a subject line. Which brings us to…

2. A/B test your subject lines

When it comes to email marketing (and, really, all of marketing in general), your gut is wrong. Always be A/B testing to find out what appeals most to your audience. This allows concrete data to make the decisions that matter most to your organization. Some of the highest open rates we’ve seen come because of a simple A/B test.
Before sending out an email blast, test out 2 subject lines with a small portion of your email list (this tool is great for determining the percentage you need for statistical significance). We have 2 guides to help you with A/B testing your emails, including a general guide for optimizing fundraising emails and a specific guide for A/B testing emails on Mailchimp.
Once you’ve identified the subject line with the higher open rate, use that one for your full email campaign. Not convinced? The Obama campaign raised $60 million running a simple A/B test on their homepage. Changing some copy or creative is an easy modification that can have a measurable impact.

3. Don’t look like spam

While you want your subject line to stand out with your email recipients, you don’t want it to look like spam. ALL CAPS and !!!!!!!, though eye-catching, will not only skew your email statistics on open rates, but also on your unsubscribe rate. You might even want to refrain from promoting sales or transactional emails in your subject line (e.g., 10% Off New Eco-Friendly Bikes) as that can also look like unwanted solicitation and get you relegated to the spam folder.
It’s a good idea to make sure your “From” email address is one that is recognizable to your email list and has some personality. Who would you rather open an email from: [email protected] or [email protected]?


The Nonprofit Organization’s Guide to Email Marketing

From lead generation to email segmentation to A/B testing, this guide is a one-stop-shop for bringing your email marketing strategy to the next level.

4. Don’t treat all of your email recipients the same way

Many organizations send the same message to their existing and loyal members as they do to their users that sign up while casually browsing their site. To put this in context, it’s like sending the same holiday card to your mom, your ex-girlfriend, and a stranger. Yeah, not smart.
Consider segmenting your email lists and sending more general information to new signups via a marketing automation like a welcome series, and more customized or personal stories along with relevant updates to existing members or supporters. Mailchimp reports that emails sent to segmented lists get nearly a 15% increase in click-though rate.

5. Timing is everything

There are 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 caught in that “back-to-work” mode.
However, it’s more important that emails are sent when they are relevant, rather than sent according to a rigid send schedule. Remember that your audience is unique, and test around with different days and times until you find your email list’s sweet spot.

6. Make sure it works on mobile inboxes

These days, phones are accounting for about 55% of email opens, and this number is only increasing. Data show that people (at least 96% of them) do not engage with the same email on multiple platforms (Litmus, 2016). This means that if people opened your email on their phone, they won’t open it again once they get back to their desktop.
As such, you want to make sure that your email content is optimized for mobile use. Don’t overdo it with multimedia, downloads, and links. Keep it relevant and keep it concise. The good news is that you can probably be sending more emails than you normally do. 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.

Once your users have opened your email, find out their next step using Lighthouse by Whole Whale! Sign up to test it out at getlighthouse.io.