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Breaking Down and Interpreting Email Analytics

In 1998, we watched two email pals fall in love on the Upper West Side in the cozy romantic comedy "You've Got Mail.” In 2021, our inboxes continue to flood with love letters. Our emails, sadly, are not coming from Tom Hanks but rather from stores we shopped from, restaurants we visited, schools we attended and the charities we support. Often when we check our personal email accounts, we simply do not have the time to open every message, so we quickly scroll through and choose which emails are worth reading.

The desired outcome of an email campaign for most businesses is to increase sales (also known as conversion) but in fundraising, especially in planned giving, it is not that simple. It would be unrealistic to think that a single email to a cold lead would result in a planned gift. The key is to focus on engagement and converting your cold leads to warm leads and your warm leads to gift commitments. Experienced gift planners often use the phrase “drip-by-drip” to describe this phenomenon.

Email analytics are one of the most important tools we have to monitor donor engagement. They can be a great resource to measure and improve marketing efforts, but first we need to understand what they mean. This article will break down common email statistics and help you interpret what they mean for your organization.

The Basics

1. Open Rate: Driven primarily by strength of the subject line, the open rate is a calculation of the overall opened emails compared to the total number of emails delivered. For example, if an email was delivered to 1,000 people and it was opened 300 times, you will have a 30% open rate. Keep in mind that most email services calculate this number using total opens rather than individual opens. It may not mean that 300 unique individuals opened the email, rather it was opened a total of 300 times. Also, an email is only marked as opened once the recipient has downloaded the images within the email.

2. Click-Through Rate (CTR): Most marketing professionals would agree that your CTR is one of the most important metrics to consider when evaluating the success of an email campaign. The click-through rate is calculated by dividing the total number of recipients that clicked on a link within the email message by the total number of opens. Again, it should be noted that the CTR is often based on totals rather than unique clicks (similar to open rate).

Why do we care about the click-through rate? If someone cares enough about what you have to say to take an extra step, it is worth recognizing and monitoring. But, more on that later.

3. Response Rate: The total number of direct email responses divided by the number of emails sent.

4. Bounce Rates: The bounce rate is calculated as the number of emails that were not delivered divided by the number of emails sent. Emails can bounce for several reasons. There are two types of email bounces — a soft bounce and a hard bounce. A soft bounce means that the email address is valid and was delivered to the recipient’s inbox, but it still bounced because the mailbox was full, an out of office reply was turned on, the server was down or the message was too large. A hard bounce occurs when the message is permanently rejected because the email address is invalid, does not exist or it was rejected by the email server.

5. Unsubscribe Rate: The number of individuals who unsubscribed compared to the total number of emails sent.

6. Benchmarks: A comparison of your email key performance indicators (KPIs) against similar organizations. Benchmarks are often dependent on the industry. According to Campaign Monitor, a popular email marketing platform, the benchmarks for open and click-through rates for the nonprofit sector are 25.5% and 4.10% respectively. Benchmarks are a great way to see how your messages stack up, however, we also need to consider the list size and how warm the leads are on the list. This is why it is so important to have a good list when marketing for planned gifts. Crescendo’s benchmarks statistics take list size into consideration.

Next Steps

Okay, we now know how to define these common analytical tools but what do they mean for your organization? Let’s run through a few examples:

1. You have been sending a planned giving enewsletter for six months to a large list of donors. You notice that while your open rate is low, your click-through rate is relatively high. What should you do to improve the open rate?

A simple change to consider is running some A/B tests with varying subject lines to identify which ones garner the most attention from your donors.

In this scenario, it is also likely that the list is not targeted enough. Not all supporters are going to be interested in planned giving topics. Since the CTR is high, it sounds like you are creating great content with actionable next steps, but it may be time to review your list to ensure you are targeting the right audience.

Consider this strategy: download a list of total users who have opened the email since inception and be sure they continue to receive the enewsletter. For those who have yet to open the email, place them on a separate list with an updated schedule. If you send a monthly enewsletter, perhaps change the new list to a quarterly frequency. This gives you a chance to continue engaging with this group. Although they are not interested now, something may spark interest and resonate with them in the future. Evaluate this strategy again in six months.

2. You sent out a targeted eblast highlighting bequest options for donors with the subject line “Protect Your Loved Ones and Create a Legacy.” It seems this message has resonated with your audience because you saw an open rate of almost 40%! However, the click-through rate was only about 1%. How could that happen?

Great job! It seems that you sent an email with an engaging subject line to the right audience – but did you include a clear call-to-action (CTA)? Did you provide links to the next steps? Eblasts should have a single CTA and not provide all information up front to drive supporters into action. While the recipient may still be getting valuable information from your message, you simply cannot have a good click-through rate if you are not providing anything to be clicked on. You always want to provide next steps through a value-added CTA. Examples offers include a free estate planning guide, a downloadable brochure, a customized proposal or a story on your website. Be sure to include a good CTA in your next eblast!

3. You have been faithfully sending a legacy planning enewsletter every week for the last year. Quite an impressive feat! However, you notice great metrics during the first few weeks, but then start to see a decline and eventual plateau in donor engagement. What could be going wrong?

Did you know that the first email you send is often the one with the highest open rate? It is not surprising to see rates decline slightly after the first few emails are sent out. But if your metrics are continuing to dip well after the introduction of the newsletter, something needs to be adjusted. The frequency could be the issue as well as a lack of new content each week. You could consider adjusting the schedule to biweekly (or split half of the list into a biweekly group to conduct an A/B test) then reevaluate performance after a few months. You could also look at the versions of the newsletter that had the highest CTR and start providing more content similar to that edition. Test out some different strategies here and see what works best for your audience.


There are many challenges to navigate in the field of email marketing for nonprofits, but analytics are a crucial way to evaluate the success of your campaigns and allow you to make informed adjustments. To learn more about email metrics and how to use them to produce results for your planned giving program, please contact Crescendo at 800-858-9154.

Kate Bailey

By Kate Bailey
Legacy Campaign Specialist, Crescendo Interactive, Inc.

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