The ultimate guide to improving charity email campaigns

Elizabeth Carter, Charity Digital Mail Manager at Charity Digital, shares her comprehensive tips on tracking and improving the performance of your charity email campaigns.

Guest Writer | 29th Oct 18
Image shows post boxes in a row representing email campaigns

Have you been scratching your head wondering how you can find out if your charity email marketing campaigns are performing well?

Well, the answer to understanding and improving your campaign performance is simple: test and track! Here are five key questions to ask, with some helpful tips on each.


Are your emails engaging, relevant and read by your audience?

You can judge if an email has been engaging and relevant by reviewing your open rates and click through rates. An open is registered by the fact that an image has been downloaded and/or a link has been clicked. You can track your opens by using an email marketing platform that provides clear open and non-opened stats.

In so many ways, the subject title is more important than your email body. It can entice your reader to open your campaign or do quite the opposite and send it directly into spam! Here are some tips to improve your subject titles:


  • Use a clear, concise, simple and no-nonsense title and make your tone fit in with the message of your campaign going out.
  • Use humour and creativity. A funny subject line can stick out from the rest but you need to know your audience well be prudent when using this approach.
  • Controversy and mystery grabs attention too and makes this visually stands out. Again, caution needs to be taken as you need to know your audience well and not mass mail.
  • Start to use ‘you’ and ‘your’ wordings to speak directly to your audience.
  • Avoid using spammy language in the subject title (google the ‘latest email subject title spammy words’).
  • Avoid using exclamations marks and all caps in the subject title as these are food for spam catchers.
  • Think about using personalisation (dynamic content) in your title to be location-specific or targeting by interest.
  • Use your name or another person’s name in the Friendly From field.
  • Pay attention to the preview showing your subject title and change if you feel it doesn’t look right.
  • Use split testing. Write at least five subject titles for every campaign and then test and track the best.
  • Use split testing to test the number of characters that your audience like to receive and track which has the best open rates.
  • Use emojis instead of words, as punctuation, and as illustrations. Test and see if it works!

Image shows concept of email

Do you know what template design works best with your audience?

Your email campaigns need to be attractive and creative or you can fall into the trap of sending out repeated old fashion, unsuitable designs that will eventually discourage your readers from opening up your emails.


  • Simplicity is important. Don’t design an email as you would a website. Generally, the shorter your email is, the better it will perform.
  • Use a clear design that isn’t busy. Use a good ratio of images and text (50/50).
  • Use good photos that are clear with high resolution and take time to make sure that your campaign is sent without any design faults.
  • Be creative, use buttons for links instead of text and experiment with videos.
  • Check that your campaign is viewable on desktops and smart devices. Litmus found that 51% of all email subscribers opt out of emails when they don’t display or work well on smartphones.
  • Attention spans are at all-time lows and inbox counts reaching all-time highs so it’s important that your campaign is visually scannable. Don’t make your paragraphs too long and try to make certain sections of content stand out with different formatting.
  • Split test your design. If you feel it’s too long, create various versions and see whether shorter versions work better and encourage readers to click on more links. Experiment and test with different layouts and columns numbers and sizes.

Are you sure that the content is the most effective for different devices?

Email is increasingly read on-the-go, by busy people, on different types of devices. So:

  • Write and design your emails for a distracted audience, make it clear which content is most important, and make it easy to perform calls to action.
  • Think about engaging with your audience and personalising the content for them. To obtain their preferences, use a sign up or a survey preference form to capture what your audience would like to hear about – then use dynamic content within your emails to target different preferences.
  • Use an ESP that offers you automated journeys. In this way, you can take your readers through to more relevant and targets emails by the click of a link within your emails.
  • Personalise whenever you can! There is nothing sweeter than your reader hearing (or reading!) their own name or other personal information within an email feeling that they are special.

Are you sending at the right day or time?

This is fairly self-explanatory.


  • Know your audience well and their age range. Optimising something as simple as the time of day your emails are delivered can increase your open, click-through and conversion rates by 30%.
  • If you’re sending out large volumes of emails, use a Send Time Optimisation feature – it will identify the best time for individual contacts, so you don’t have to worry.
  • Test day of the week is best suited to your audience and the content you are pushing out.  Many people don’t check their emails as often on the weekend.  Test to see when your subscribers are more receptive to receive your emails.

Do you feel you are tracking successfully?

Many pay close attention to open rates which are important but it’s better to keep your eye on total clicks and other metrics such as metrics:

  • Clicks
  • Soft Bounces
  • Hard Bounces
  • ISP Complaints
  • Unsubscribes


Click-through rate (CTR)

Click through rate is calculated by unique clicks in your email divided by the total number of emails delivered. With any campaign, click through rate is a key indicator of engaging content. If your CTR is low, then you can be sure that your content isn’t resonating with your audience, or your call to action (to click on the link) isn’t clear.

With this CTR metric you can measure the performance of every campaign you send by looking at the percentage of recipients who have clicked on one or more links. It gives you direct insight into how many people on your list are engaging with your content.


Sharing socially and forwarding

Your readers can help you generate new subscribers by forwarding the email to a friend or sharing on social and spread the work about you. Keep a close eye on sharing rates to find out what articles get shared the most. This insight can help you plan your future email and social media campaigns.


Bounce rates

Bounce Rate measures how many emails couldn’t be delivered to your list. There are two types of bounce rates to track. A “hard bounce” occurs when the recipient’s email address is invalid and a “soft bounce” indicates a temporary server issue on the recipient’s side.

Too many hard bounces can make you look like a spammer and you may be blacklisted by an ISP. The average bounce rate is 4% of the total number of emails sent. Once the rate hits 10%, ISPs will start blocking emails from that IP.

If you see a large number of hard bounces you’ll need to locate those emails that have generated the high number of bounces and investigate the source. Check your ESP’s bounce report for insight into the specific reasons for the bounces (invalid addresses/domains, DNS failures, General bounces).



Most of us only pay attention to this metric and if it’s abnormally high and we often feel discouraged because it’s higher than usual.

The unsubscribe rate provides a goldmine of insight into the success of your segmentation strategy and ability to create content that engages and is targeted. If you’re experimenting with new content, an increase in the unsubscribe rate could indicate that it is not relevant to your audience and a decline in unsubscribes might tell you that you’re on the right track.

Tracking the unsubscribe rate together with spam reports and hard bounces will help to give you a more holistic view of contacts lost.


Want low-cost email automation, with tailored support specifically for charities? Visit the Charity Digital Mail website to find out more.

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