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In today’s modern email marketing environments, a lot of focus is placed on design and content, which we can all agree are very important aspects of any email campaign. However, we also have to consider the mechanics underlying our emails. Are we using technology to our advantage and automating our email processes? Are we looking into open rates and unsubscribe rates to measure email performance? This section dives into the fundamental metrics you need to know to bolster your next email campaign.


By now, many organizations are using marketing automation to automate their communication streams. Marketing automation is an important part of most corporate marketing programs and is becoming more common for nonprofits. Tools from the for-profit sector led the way by allowing for automated nurturing campaigns to help leads (or in the case of nonprofits, supporters) be engaged in a purposeful way and with an appropriate cadence. It gives your team back the time spent uploading documents and manually sending emails, as they can rely on software platforms to schedule sends, segment their audience, and sync up with another platform’s (e.g., a website or a social channel) performance.

As a common tactic, automated nurture campaigns can help keep your supporters engaged year round. These campaigns help you avoid over-emailing your file while keeping supporters attuned to your cause. Automation is only becoming more and more popular across the social sector. Keep these core considerations in mind as you start or upgrade your automation program:

  • Goals: As with any campaign, you’ll need to start a baseline and use automation to improve upon that baseline. What are you doing now that can be improved by 10%? 25%? Whether you want to fine tune your welcome series or better target your major donors, be sure to clarify your goals at the outset of planning your automation strategy.
  • Personas: Mass emails that fall flat with your supporters will get you nowhere. Marketing automation platforms make it easier for you to segment your audience into distinct groups, or “personas.” By grouping your constituents into persona segments, you can then develop personalized communication streams for each group. Head to Personas à and Segmentation à for more detailed information on these topics and more.
  • Content: Speaking to your personas requires you to engage them with unique messaging that sticks the landing. Blending both your brand and mission while personalizing your communications to each group, you can realize increased donations and retention from supporters of all types. Head to Creating Content That Works à for more insights on personalizing your message and crafting your organization’s story. à
  • Analysis: As with any campaign, you’ll want to identify the aspects that worked well for your supporters and those that didn’t. Just because it’s automated doesn’t mean you can forget about your platform. Regularly access any insights gleaned, like open rates, bounces rates, or click rates, that give you insights into what’s exciting your supporters and resonating with them.



Segmentation is a process that distributes the constituents you want to communicate with into different groups, often based on distinct demographic and inclination indicators, which demonstrate a supporter’s unique background and financial capacity to give. By breaking your file into manageable groups, you’re able to curate personalized rapports with each segment that you identify. Data in Tipping Point: Aligning with Supporters in a Changing World demonstrates to organizations just how important personalization is when engaging with donors. Where 70% of donors say they are fine with personalized content, and most younger donors preferring it. Email segmentation can dramatically improve your response rates, increase the engagement of your recipients, lower unsubscribe rates, and prevent you from fatiguing your list.

If you use a constituent records management (CRM) platform, you should be able to query for individuals that give at different levels. Try starting out with your best segment, say major donors, and build out others from there to include groups like a new donor, a prospect, a current donor, or a lapsed donor. With these distinct segments, you’ll be able to better tailor your communications to the needs and interests of each group.

Many email segmentation initiatives tailor their work around three main types of email:

  • Acquisition: This email is designed to encourage a recipient to take an action, like registering for an event or donating.
  • Retention: This email is meant to build upon an existing relationship and encourage loyalty.
  • Acknowledgment: This email is sent to confirm and acknowledge an action or transaction, like as a thank-you letter or donation receipt.

As you experiment with email segmentation at your organization, keep a couple of things in mind. As with any campaign, you’ll want to have a goal. Start out with a baseline of your current email metrics and set parameters for how much you would like to grow those metrics as a result of segmentation. Ensure that your segmented emails do not contribute to donor fatigue and sync up with your other communication channels, like direct mail or social media, to confirm that you are not inundating your file.

For more information on this topic, please visit: Personas


Email Metrics

Email is one of the broadest and most affordable ways to communicate with your supporters. In a matter of decades, it’s become a staple within the private and social sectors and is likely a part of your own daily routine. To measure the success of your email campaigns, you’ll want to verify the status of key performance metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and more.


Open Rate

As intuitive as it sounds, open rates measure the percentage of your email list that opened your email. A high open rate indicates that your supporters are excited to hear from you and want to learn more about your cause or the opportunity to become more involved. Your email platform will calculate this metric for you, and you should actively compare your campaigns against one another. Perhaps your end-of-year appeal has higher open rates than your fall newsletter, or vice versa. You’ll want to be creative with the lens you take to these statistics and consider options for experimentation. From your email’s subject line to the preview text, you’ll want to examine every element that factors into your open rate.


Bounce Rate

The bounce rate is the percentage of email addresses that did not receive your message and that are returned by the recipient’s server. While there is a natural attrition for individuals that delete or close out their email accounts, your bounce rate should stay low from email to email. If you notice a significant jump in your rate or if you’re maintaining a comparatively higher rate, this could indicate an issue with your email platform or your email addresses. According to the 2020 Blackbaud Luminate Online Benchmark Report, each usable email address on your list is worth about $11.56 in annual revenue, a 5.1% increase in value compared to 2019. If your bounce rate is high, faulty email addresses could have you missing out on potential fundraising dollars. You should maintain good data health standards for your constituent records management (CRM) systems and mitigate as many human errors as possible, like misspellings or errors in manual data entry.


Click-Through Rate

A click-through rate indicates the percentage of recipients that clicked on a link included in your email. Your email marketing platform should calculate your click-through rate for you. Next to your conversion rate, this is one of the most significant metrics that you can use in optimizing your email campaign. A high click-through rate shows that your supporters are receiving your messages, engaging with what you have to say, and moving to another one of your channels, like a website or event registration page. According to the 2020 Blackbaud Luminate Online Benchmark Report, click-through rates grew by 29% year-over-year for fundraising emails in 2020. This rate is the digital embodiment of your engagement pipeline, showing you how recipients are progressing through their journey of interacting with you—from opening the email, to clicking your call to action.


Conversion Rate

Year after year, email continues to bring in fundraising dollars while communicating missions, and your conversion rate is an invaluable measure of that effort. The email conversion rate is the percentage of email recipients that responded to a call to action embedded in an email. This often relates to a donation ask but could also include a response to an event invitation or a volunteer sign-up. The conversion rate is often automatically calculated by the email platform that you use, but you can also calculate this yourself by dividing the total number of email recipients by the total number of actions (donations, sign-ups, etc.).

According to the 2020 Blackbaud Luminate Online Benchmark Report, the year-over-year change for conversion rates for fundraising emails grew by 17.9%. As you might guess, conversion rates are intimately tied to your call to action. You’ll want to be certain that your call to action is easy to find, clearly written, and intriguing enough for your supporters to act on.


Unsubscribe Rate

The unsubscribe, or “opt out” rate measures the percentage of recipients in your file unsubscribed from your email campaign. This can be measured for a single email or across a span of time and should be automatically calculated by your email platform. As with your bounce rate, you’ll want to keep your unsubscribe rate as low as possible. High unsubscribe rates may indicate that you are over-emailing your file by contacting them too frequently, or that some aspect of your email campaign has lost their interest. You should regularly examine this metric to see how your messaging is landing with recipients; a high unsubscribe rate may lead you back to the drawing board to try to figure out where you can tweak, test, and optimize your campaigns.