Why the rise of mobile email might hurt nonprofits | npENGAGE

Why the rise of mobile email might hurt nonprofits

By on Jan 8, 2013


It’s predicted that more email will be opened on mobile devices than on desktops by the end of 2013. This may not be good news for nonprofits.

As more people continue to check email on mobile devices, research has found mobile click-throughs are lacking.

Epsilon and The Email Institute’s Q3 2012 report indicated overall click-through rates have fallen from 5.5% to 4.5% over the past year. Knotice’s Mobile Email 1st Half 2012 report also found that even as mobile open rates have increased, the majority of email clicks still occur on desktops.

Mobile click-through rates remain low because the user experience still isn’t very good. Mobile users are left to squint, expand or scroll horizontally to read emails.

Why could this hurt nonprofits?

Less clicks means fewer constituents reach your website to donate, volunteer or register for an event. This is especially important since email has been found to be the top source of online revenue.

In fact, the 2010 eNonprofit Benchmark Study found the largest difference between high and low performing nonprofit email programs was in the click-through rate.

How mobile emails render

So what can nonprofits do? First, it’s important to understand how an email typically renders on both an iPhone and Android phone (both of which account for over 90% of all mobile phone opens):


As shown to the left, the iPhone shrinks an email to fit within the screen.

The initial text size is controlled by the width of the email, so wider layouts result in smaller text.

Users can pinch/zoom to make text larger, but then may need to scroll horizontally to read the email.


Android Phone

Conversely, Android devices will not shrink the email to fit within the screen.

Users often have to scroll horizontally to read an email (depending on the width of the email).

There’s also an inability to pinch/zoom on some devices.

Improving the mobile email experience

Nonprofits have heard about the importance of creating mobile-friendly web pages using responsive design. It’s now not so much a matter of “if,” but “when” nonprofits will offer mobile-friendly web pages.

The same will likely soon be true of email. Nonprofits have slowly begun to utilize responsive email design to improve the mobile experience.

Responsive design allows you to adjust font sizes for different screens and reposition/hide elements within an email. Here’s an example:

Desktop View: The original desktop view shows a link and photo in the right column.


Responsive design: The link and photo have been repositioned to the beginning of the mobile version. As you scroll down, you see the text size has also been increased to be much more mobile-friendly:


Like everything, there are drawbacks for nonprofits to consider. Without the expertise on staff, there’s the cost to have someone create a responsive email design.  Also, Gmail strips out responsive design like media queries, so some readers will still see the “non-responsive view.”

But if you’re going to offer mobile-friendly web pages, it’s important to first get your constituents there with a better mobile email experience.

In addition to using responsive design, here are other helpful posts to help you create a better mobile email experience:

Litmus’ Anatomy of a Perfect Mobile Email
Econsultancy’s Best Practices for Mobile Email Design
MailChimp’s Email on Mobile Devices


Mike Snusz brings 18 years of fundraising experience to his role as a Senior Team Lead on Blackbaud’s Professional Services team. He leads a team of digital consultants and works with nonprofits to improve their digital fundraising, monthly giving, email marketing and peer-to-peer fundraising programs. Prior to Blackbaud, Mike managed the turnaround of the Ride For Roswell from 2003 to 2005 in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. When he’s not contemplating fundraising, Mike enjoys hide and seek, tag, and dance parties with his two kids.

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