Increase Open and Click-Throughs Rates with 5 Follow-up Email Techniques from Top Nonprofits | npENGAGE

Increase Open Rates and Click-Throughs with 5 Follow-up Email Techniques from Top Nonprofits

By on May 31, 2012


Follow-Up Email for Nonprofits

If you run your nonprofit’s email communication program you’re likely always thinking of ways to get better. You probably think about things like opens, clicks, conversions and unsubscribes.

Wrapped up in all that is the issue of sending too many emails. Most people who’ve been doing email communication for any length of time understand that too many emails equals increased unsubscribes, lower open rates and lower click through rates.

But with average nonprofit open rates at 13% and click-through rates at 2.1% there’s good reason to send several emails to your subscribers. That reason … crowded inboxes.

As inboxes have become more and more crowded in recent years, your first email may simply go unread. So may your second. Even your third.

Sending multiple emails gives your constituents several chances to take action. Which means you need to master the art of the follow-up email.

But don’t forget that those emails still need to be useful and interesting to your readers.

It can be difficult, however, to figure out what to say or how to approach follow-up emails. Perhaps creating one email was difficult enough.

To get you started, here are 5 follow-up email strategies from top nonprofits:

1) Related News of the Day

A national organization sent an email appeal in November asking me to protect polar bears from Arctic drilling.

They capitalized on what made news two days later by sending a follow-up email that said “The news just keeps getting worse for polar bears. Since I sent the email below, the Obama administration…” I’m not sure that second email was ever on their email calendar, but they leveraged what was making news that day to add urgency and another ask to their email campaign.

2) Progress Update

Some nonprofits may be scared to send three email appeals within a week.

When a national humanitarian organization did this, though, it didn’t feel like too many. The reason: They took the approach of updating me on their progress and what they’ve accomplished before asking for a donation. Here’s how the last one started:

“Thousand of you have responded” – This conveyed social trust in their organization.

“Malnourished children enduring intense suffering will finally get relief”- I clearly understood the impact of those thousands of gifts.

“But so many more starving children need help” – The attention quickly shifted back to the urgent need.

This approach is a great way to grab attention, draw readers in and make another ask.

3) In Case You Didn’t See This

Ever get an email from a co-worker that starts “In case you didn’t see my email..”?

Not sure about you, but it usually gets my attention. The same approach can be used with your follow-up emails, just be careful with your tone. Think casual and non-confrontational.

One organization sent me a follow-up advocacy email two days after their first one saying “With just 24 hours left to hit our goal of 40,000 action takers, I wanted to be sure you saw our email from Monday.” They added this as a brief note above their original email. The note reiterated why action was needed and included a call to action link.

This approach works well if you’re really strapped for time.

4) Deadline Alert

A national wildlife organization sent me five emails one month asking to help orangutans.

The final one had a brief note saying that there were just a few hours left to meet their goal and we could still save orangutans. The actual email reinforced this messaging and the subject line started with “Deadline.” All of these effectively conveyed the urgency of the need.

5) Same theme. Different options.

An animal welfare organization sent me two emails around Valentine’s Day.

While the theme remained the same – sponsor a homeless animal – the options changed. This first email focused on a pig and dog. The pig was featured throughout the email – header photo, headline and the clever subject line (“Make your honey happy as a pig in mud”).

A week later, the second email featured a cat and sheep, with a different header photo, subject line and messaging. Same theme, different options.


The above approaches can also be used in combination. I saw several examples where the Progress update was combined with the Deadline alert to provide value and urgency.

Just be sure to monitor your opt out rate – an average one is 0.19% – and your open and click-through rates when sending follow-up emails. If they’ve significantly declined (or increased for opt outs), it may be time to consider cutting-back on the frequency or using a different approach.

What techniques are you using to increase engagement with follow-up emails?



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.

Comments (2)

  • Timothy F. says:

    your suggestions for optimizing click-through rates through follow-up emails are great, but the title of your post suggests that you can increase open rates. How would you change your subject lines of these follow-up emails to make your constituents more likely to open? 

    • Mike Snusz says:

      Timothy, thanks for the comment and great question. One approach would be to apply these same techniques in your subject lines. For example, start your subject line with “Update:” or whatever newsworthy item is related to your campaign. The latter one, especially, can be effective to grab someone’s attention.

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