8 Things We Learned By Listening To Our Email Subscribers

Years of A/B testing and analytics in email marketing taught us a lot at GlobalGiving. Our senior digital marketing manager shares some of our biggest takeaways.


One of our of core values at GlobalGiving is Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat. We believe that to be as effective as possible, we need to continually experiment, fail quickly and productively, and use data and feedback to guide our course.

We’ve used email to communicate with GlobalGiving donors since our earliest days, and we’ve been in a constant cycle of listening, acting, learning and repeating all along the way.

Here’s what we’ve learned through A/B testing, analytics, and listening to donor responses to our emails:

    1. If your goal is fundraising, send a fundraising appeal, not a newsletter.

    The core of our donor email program used to consist of monthly email newsletters that contained tons of links to all different kinds of places—GlobalGiving projects, news articles, press releases, you name it. By listening to metrics like click-through and conversion rates, we saw its effectiveness as a fundraising tool decline over a time, leading us to a more streamlined, shorter email format.

    2. Speak to, and about, your audience more, and less about yourself.

    We saw that engagement went up as we introduced some personalization, like addressing donors by name, and making sure that we were showing donors what role they played in the stories we were telling in our email appeals.

    3. Keep it quick.

    By looking at what links our donors were clicking in our emails, we found that links at the bottom of our appeals were clicked significantly less than those at the top, and through A/B testing found that including longer copy did not improve fundraising returns. So we moved to fewer links and shorter copy and more images. Which lead us to…

    4. Use images that feature one person making eye-contact with the reader.

    As we continued to test out different images in our emails, we found that our donors were most likely to click on images that had a person looking back at them. Which makes sense—it’s easier to feel connected to someone who’s making eye contact.

    5. Don’t be afraid to be clever or unexpected.

    Donor’s email inboxes tend to be crowded places, and once they open an email, most folks will quickly skim the content inside. To help GlobalGiving’s emails stand out, we found that being funny or surprising (in ways that are still true to who we are, of course!) led to more people opening, clicking, and donating.

    6. Be clear about what you’d like people to do.

    We found that having a single, clear call-to-action in each email, rather than a multitude of options, led to higher click-through rates and donations. And when we tested out different sizes for our call-to-action buttons, the bigger our buttons were, the more people clicked on them.

    7. Personalize whenever possible.

    During our year-end fundraising campaign in 2011, we sent our first emails containing personalized project recommendations based on each donor’s giving history, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. Since then, we’ve been experimenting with including personalization in all kinds of email communications and tweaking the system that generates project recommendations to ensure the best results for each donor.

    8. Make your emails easy to read.

    When we saw that nearly half of our donors were opening our emails on their phones, we knew it was time to make sure emails were easy to read and looked great on mobile devices. We created new mobile-optimized, responsive email templates and when we A/B tested them against our old templates, we saw click-through rates go up.

We continue to listen to our audience and experiment with all kinds of strategies and tactics, like including emojis in subject lines to lift open rates or replacing static images with animated GIFs to increase click-through rates. While there may be some ideas you find here that you’re eager to include in your organization’s email fundraising campaign, remember: listen to your audience first.

What works for our donors may not work for yours, so make sure you’re running A/B tests on new tactics against what’s worked for your organization in the past. You might learn that your donors respond best to longer emails with no images! The only way to find out is by listening.

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