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The Nonprofit Email Report: Data-Backed Insights for Better Engagement

Browse The Report

  1. Introduction
    1. A Note from Neon One
    2. Who’s Represented In This Report?
    3. Why Is Email So Important?
    4. Anatomy of an Email
  2. Nonprofit Email Deliverability & Engagement Benchmarks
    1. Introduction
    2. Nonprofit List Sizes
    3. Ask The Expert: Is List Segmentation Really That Important?
    4. Nonprofit Email Bounce Rates
    5. Nonprofit Email Open Rates
    6. Nonprofit Email Unsubscribe Rates
    7. Nonprofit Email Click-Through Rates
    8. Nonprofit Email Fundraising Performance
    9. Nonprofit Email Performance by Date & Time
    10. Email Sender Superlatives
  3. A Data-Driven Approach to Subject Lines & Preview Text
    1. Introduction
    2. Convey Positive Emotions in Subject Lines
    3. Ask the Expert: How Did You Use AI for Subject Line Sentiment Analysis?
    4. Words to Include (or Avoid) in Your Subject Lines
    5. Experiment with Emojis in Subject Lines
    6. Write Compelling Preview Text
    7. Words to Include (or Avoid) in Your Preview Text
    8. Put It All Together — Performance Benchmarks & Word Usage
  4. Creating Effective Emails
    1. Introduction
    2. Ask the Expert: What Should I Keep In Mind When Creating Compelling Emails?
    3. Tip #1 — Include Imagery in Your Emails
    4. Tip #2 — Pay Attention to Salutations
    5. Ask The Expert: Do Salutations Really Make a Difference?
    6. Tip #3 — Use the Word "You"
    7. Tip #4 — Make Your Message Scannable
    8. Ask The Expert: How Do I Create a Great Call to Action?
    9. Tip #5 — Include Great Calls to Action
    10. Put It All Together - Build Clear, Compelling Emails
  5. Lessons from the Most Engaging Email of 2022
    1. Introduction
    2. Top Engagement Email Dissection
    3. Go Build More Engaging Emails
  6. Data-Backed Insights for GivingTuesday and Year-End
    1. Introduction
    2. Who’s Included In This Data?
    3. GivingTuesday Fundraising Totals
    4. GivingTuesday Email Data
    5. End of Year Fundraising Totals
    6. End-of-Year Email Data
    7. Use These Data-Backed Best Practices to Nail Your GivingTuesday and Year-End Goals
    8. Now Get Out There And Write Some Emails
  7. Methodology & Appendix
    1. Methodology
    2. The Dataset
    3. Terminology and Definitions
    4. Metrics Definitions
    5. Analysis by Mission & Organization Income
    6. Analysis by Time & Date Sent
    7. Analysis by Content Sentiment
    8. Data Privacy & Security
  8. About Neon One
    1. Learn more about Neon One

Convey Positive Emotions in Subject Lines

Your email’s subject line may only contain a handful of characters, but it can have a huge impact on your email’s performance. Think of your email’s subject line as the headline for your email. It’s typically the first element of your email people will notice, so it’s an important place to set expectations about the type of content your email contains and why readers should open it.

Why Is This Important?

A good email subject line will stand out from the hundreds of other messages in a reader’s inbox, catch their attention, and help them decide to open your email. It’s a critically important part of your email! According to research by Invesp, a top conversion rate optimization firm, 47% of people will open an email based solely on the subject line, and a whopping 69% of them will report an email as spam based on the subject line alone! Your subject line can be the difference between someone opening and interacting with your message and sending it to their spam folders.

Do the emotions you convey in a subject line impact your open rates? The data says it does. We worked with Cherian Koshy of Nonprofit Operating System to do a sentiment analysis of nonprofit email subject lines using an AI system. The system identified 27 different emotions in our base of 157,048,634 emails, then identified which emotions prompted the highest percentage of email open rates. Let’s take a look.

Top-Performing Subject Line Emotions

Here’s what emotions prompted the best open rates:

  • Icon of an outstretched hand with a heart floating above it to symbolize reliefRelief40%
  • Icon of a hand in the thumbs-up position to symbolize gratitudeGratitude39%
  • Icon of a star with protruding beams of light to represent PridePride39%
  • Icon of a rocket ship that is flying to symbolize excitementExcitement37%
  • Icon of a shining sun to symbolize optimismOptimism37%

What This Means for You

Notice that each of the top five emotions are all generally positive. None of the negative emotions (Annoyance, Disapproval, Disappointment, Anger, Sadness, Confusion, Disgust, Fear, Remorse, Embarrassment, Nervousness, Pride, and Grief) inspired high open rates. If you want to improve your open rates, try to create subject lines that inspire positive emotions in your readers.

What does this look like, exactly? Cherian Koshy of Nonprofit Operating System provided these notes and examples of each of the top five most effective emotions in subject lines:

  • Relief typically expresses completed work or safety such as “Community Recovery After Hurricane Ian” or “Coping with {cause issue}.”
  • Gratitude is pretty straightforward: Thanking people for their support inspired high open rates.
  • Pride is often used with self-referential organizational language. Examples of Pride include: “Your Support for [org]” or “End of Year Update for Members.”
  • Excitement typically involved the use of an exclamation point such as “You’re Invited,” “You’re Great!” or even “Pizza Party!”
  • Optimism included subject lines such as “What’s Old is New” and “Working Together for our Future.”

As you read over those examples, what emotions did they inspire in you? When you write your own subject lines, try to use language that evokes similar feelings in your readers. According to Koshy, “The results of this analysis suggest that nonprofit organizations should consider using more emotionally charged language in their subject lines, depending on their goals and the message they want to convey particularly at the end of the year.” People support your work because they’re passionate about your cause—tap into that passion by intentionally creating subject lines that elicit an emotional response.