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11 Tips to Increase Your Email Click-Through Rates


By Rebecca Paredes

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Published January 22, 2020 Reading Time: 7 minutes

Your email click-through rate (CTR) tells you whether people are actually engaging with your emails and hitting the pages you want them to see. Increasing your CTR starts with a few best practices, a dash of creativity, and a bit of experimentation for big results. Here’s why you should care about your email CTR, along with 11 tips to help you get the engagement you want.

What Is an Email Click-Through Rate?

Your CTR is the percentage of people who opened your email and clicked on a link within the message. A high CTR means you’re enticing your audience to open your emails and take action. CTR is an essential metric for nonprofit marketers because it helps you better understand your audience. If different subject lines, layouts, and visuals translate to a higher CTR, you know you’re dealing with email elements that move the needle.

Your CTR can vary depending on the type of email and your audience. In 2018, the industry average among nonprofits was 0.44% for fundraising emails, 2.4% for advocacy emails, and 1.3% for newsletters, according to M+R Benchmarks. If your CTR is lower than average, now is the time to set a goal to improve it.

A higher CTR means you’re getting more attention on the pages you want your followers to see, and that you’re writing compelling email copy that resonates with readers and incites action.

If you use an email marketing tool, it should showcase your CTR within its reporting metrics, but you can also calculate your email CTR on your own. Take the number of unique clicks your email received divided by the number of people who opened your email. You can then multiply that number by 100 to show a percentage.

It looks like this:

how to calculate email CTR graphic

How to Increase Your Email Click-Through Rates

1. Write Compelling Subject Lines

Seasoned nonprofit marketers know that email success all starts with the subject line. To engage with your email, they need to open it in the first place. In fact, a whopping 47% of people open an email based on subject line alone, according to OptinMonster.

Here are a few tips to level up your copywriting:

  • Keep it brief. You have limited space: about 50 characters or less including spaces.
  • Speak to emotion. Curiosity. Urgency. Inspiration. Decide how you want your reader to feel when they read your subject line, and craft your message accordingly. Check out these examples for inspiration.
  • A/B test. Send the exact same email with two different subject lines. Which one performs better? If your audience ignores questions in subject lines, but responds to emojis, that’s a valuable insight for future campaigns.

For more food for thought, check out this list of tips to nail your email subject lines.

2. Optimize for Mobile

When was the last time you opened your fundraising email on your phone? According to HubSpot, mobile devices account for 46% of all email opens.

What’s more, Classy platform data shows that mobile traffic makes up 51% of all traffic to campaigns and 13% of traffic to donation page campaigns. So if your emails look fantastic on desktop but are cluttered, incomplete, or difficult to navigate on mobile, you’re losing almost half of your audience.

There’s a simple solution for this: view your email on mobile. Does your layout incite action, or is it a visual headache? This level of QA (quality assurance) ensures your message is being delivered the way you intended, no matter how your reader is viewing it. This concept is also known as responsive design.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you look at your email on different devices:

  • Are all your links working and pointing to the right places?
  • Are the fonts of legible size?
  • Are your brand colors showing up correctly—or better yet, is your email template designed for accessibility?
  • Are the videos and images loading quickly and displaying the way they should?
  • Are your calls to action (CTAs) clear and easily clickable?

3. Get to the Point

Less is more with email copy. Remember, most of your audience is reading on their phones. Say what you need to say and move on. If brevity isn’t your strong suit, try a free app like Hemingway Editor or Grammarly to simplify your writing.

4. Include a Clear Call-to-Action

Your email needs to tell your readers what to do, whether that’s donating to your cause, sharing a campaign page, or signing up for an event. Here are a few tips to ensure your CTA is clear and effective:

  • Keep the text brief and actionable (think “Donate now” or “Sign me up”).
  • Include the CTA above the fold (near the top of the email), so it’s one of the first things readers see when they’re scanning for vital information. If you’re sending a longer email, it might make sense to include another CTA again toward the end.
  • If your primary CTA is a softer one (e.g. share this article, sign our petition), you can still add a secondary CTA at the end of your email to donate.

5. Use Buttons

To prevent readers from missing your CTAs, use buttons in addition to hyperlinks. Your email marketing service should have an option to include buttons in the body of your email. This step makes your CTA stand out and easier to click, which is a big plus for readers on smartphones and tablets.

You don’t have to limit your CTA copy to phrases like “Donate Now,” either. Experiment with different verbiage on your CTA buttons that align with the message you want to convey. In this example of a minimalist email, charity:water anticipates the reader will feel confused by an unexpected description of the best holiday gift. They use the CTA to echo that emotion with a simple “Huh?” as the button copy. This copy is unique, which can motivate a curious reader to click through.

nonprofit marketing email

Most email marketing services allow you to A/B test within the platform, enabling you to experiment with different elements to see what captures your audience’s attention and drives a desired action.

Whether you’re strictly testing for higher open rates or CTR, running A/B tests can provide a wealth of insight into user behavior. Borrow from charity:water’s example and test different variations of CTA button copy to see if one leads to higher CTRs.

6. Keep It Consistent

From your colors to your voice and tone, your nonprofit has specific branding elements that should be consistent across its channels, including your website, campaign pages, and emails. Given that you’re competing for attention in your readers’ crowded inboxes, you want to remain memorable and enable donors to recognize your nonprofit as soon as they receive your email. That means your colors, font, and voice should also be consistent, from the subject line to the CTA.

Good design also boosts credibility, which is a big deal when you’re seeking donations. Brand consistency is one effective way to connect the dots for your audience that you’re a trustworthy brand.

7. Include Video

Adding video to your email can increase your CTR by 200 to 300%, according to a report published by Forrester.

Videos are engaging, shareable, and help your brand tell a story—which is why they’re valuable tools for fundraising emails. Check out these tips for including nonprofit videos in your emails.

8. Try Different Layouts

As a rule of thumb, short emails are usually better as they’re quicker and easier to digest, but you aren’t limited to one format. Experiment with different layouts to find what works for your message and your audience. According to MailChimp, emails break down into two layout types:

  • Single-column : Ultra-readable and great for succinct messages with a clear CTA.
  • Multi-column : Made for emails that include a variety of content, like links to articles and resources.

One layout isn’t “better” than the other. Instead, it depends on the message you want to convey. For example, an event email should lead with the necessary details at a glance, so a single-column format works well here. A thank you email, on the other hand, could invite readers to become more involved with your nonprofit’s ecosystem, so a multi-column format could also make sense. You can use sidebars and CTAs to direct readers to learn more about your mission, sign up to volunteer, or read beneficiary stories.

9. Include a P.S. Section

Here’s an old copywriting secret: People remember the first and last items in a list the best. Known as the serial-position effect, this concept can pay off big in an email.

If you want to incite a specific action, include it at the beginning and end of your email. If a reader is scanning your message, they might miss the first CTA, but if it’s repeated again as a final P.S., you’re covering your bases and catching their eye.

In the example below from National Network of Abortion Funds, you can see they have a CTA button near the end of the email, a number of hyperlinks in the closing paragraph, and then use a P.S. section to offer one more way to support the cause. We particularly like this example because it offers so many options to show support which allows the donor to choose how they engage with the nonprofit.

nonprofit fundraising email example

10. Timing Is Everything

Send too many emails, and you’ll end up in the spam folder. Send at the wrong time, and people might miss your message.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to email frequency and timing. Instead, here are some best practices:

  • Time: Send emails between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and adjust your timing based on engagement.
  • Test: A/B test your email send times to find when your readers are most active. Do you have higher click-through rates at certain times of day?
  • Frequency: You don’t have to send a specific number of emails per month, but you should send follow a regular cadence. That might mean one email per month, or one per week.

According to Litmus, nonprofits tend to send fewer emails than other companies do. About 60% of nonprofits send four or fewer emails per month, as opposed to 49% for all other industries. To understand what works for your audience, ask them.

Survey your subscribers (via email and/or social media) to get a sense of their desired email frequency and what topics they’re interested in seeing. You’ll get a better sense of your readership, plus more content ideas. Two birds, one stone.

11. Test and Retest

One of the best and most frustrating parts about marketing is that your data will change over time. Your audience will grow, their interests will change, and the way you present your emails will need to adapt. Stay on top of your numbers by testing everything to support high CTRs: subject lines, layouts, content, timing, and design. Learn more about how to use data from A/B tests to your advantage.

Your CTR tells you if you’re communicating your intended message. That’s why it’s an important metric to keep in mind as you develop your nonprofit’s marketing strategy.

The big takeaway here is that these tips aren’t hard-and-fast rules, they’re starting points. Use them to find what works for your audience and your nonprofit’s mission.

9 Email Templates for Nonprofit Annual Communication Plan

9 Email Templates for Nonprofit Annual Communication Plan

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