How Your Nonprofit Can Use Data to Optimize Emails
by Mike Montalto
April 16, 2020

A digital first fundraising strategy is one of the most effective ways nonprofits can raise money during uncertain times. An effective email strategy is more important than ever. Afterall, your organization needs to successfully drive visitors to your online giving page to raise money digitally. So, using your data to optimize emails is more critical now than ever.

The fundraising world has been embracing online giving more and more each year. And this trend has only been accelerated by the recent coronavirus pandemic. Nonprofits are now relying on digital giving to keep their fundraising programs afloat.

So, it’s critical that nonprofits get the most out of their fundraising emails. As in all things fundraising, your data can show you the way. Here are some helpful tips on how nonprofits can use data to optimize emails.

Dig into Your Database

You need to make sure your database is in order and working for you, not against you, before you draft your nonprofit’s next email. It’s important to analyze your records to determine if anything is missing or broken before you move forward.

The first step is to determine the deliverability of the email addresses in your database. Are a lot of your emails bouncing or being marked as spam? You won’t be able to use data to optimize your emails if they are not even making it to your intended recipients!

So, you will need to put some work into organizing your email list. Go into your records and see if you have another way to contact people who are not receiving your emails for one reason or another. Give them a call and make sure the email address you have is still current.

If you can’t get in touch with someone who is not receiving your emails, it may be best to remove them from your list, especially if they’ve never donated to your organization.

It’s much harder to use data to optimize emails and get a better understanding of your results if your data is skewed by high bounce and spam rates.

A/B Testing

Once you’ve optimized your database itself, it’s time to use your data to optimize emails!

And the best way to find out what works and what doesn’t is A/B testing. This will allow you to alter your emails in several ways for two randomized groups so you can get an understanding of what will get your audience to engage.

Nearly anything can be included as part of your A/B test. However, it is important to only test one element of your emails at a time. Otherwise, you won’t know what change was the one that made the difference!

You can test different images, or entirely different messages in your emails. If you have a low open rate for your emails, try testing different subject lines or sender.

And you should run an A/B test on your call-to-action. After all, the whole point of your fundraising emails is to drive recipients to your online giving page. So, it’s a good idea to get a feel for what gets your audience to click that button!

But don’t get comfortable! It’s great if you find some strategies that work really well for your donor base. However, it’s important to continue testing so you can consistently improve your results.

Segment Your Audience

There’s a good chance your testing will reveal that your donors aren’t all looking for the same things in your emails. This becomes truer and truer as your email list gets bigger.

Even if there is a clear winner in your A/B test, you need to accommodate donor preferences for those who don’t fit the standard mold. So, it’s important to segment your audience so you can reach out with emails that inspire more of your recipients with a relevant message.

Segmenting audiences is one of the most effective ways nonprofits use data to optimize emails. Because just as there are no shortage of elements to consider in your A/B testing, there are and endless number of ways to segment your nonprofit’s audience.

Of course, there are the traditional ways to use data to optimize emails and segment your audience. For example, ask strings, subject lines, examples of impact, images, and calls-to-action can all be versioned for specific groups.

However, you can get more creative by using the results of your A/B testing. For example, it most of your donors open your emails in the afternoon, but a significant portion open them early in the morning, you could create a segment for each preferred time.

This way your donors are more likely to see your email at the time they are most likely to open and read it.

Always Seek Improvement

Earlier, we mentioned that you should never stop A/B testing. But continuous improvement should be the motto for all aspects of your email strategy!

This is because you start falling behind the second you stop trying to improve. It’s great if you think you found a strategy that works. And you should feel good about your results. But don’t get comfortable! Sometimes, even a slight tweak to an already effective strategy can have a huge impact.

And if you use data to optimize your emails, have run many tests, and are seeing good results, it can be difficult to think of new things to test. So, reach out to your donors with a survey asking them what they think about your recent emails. Ask them if there’s anything you’re not doing that they would like to see.

You’ll never know how much of an impact one piece of data can have on your fundraising until you put it to the test!

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