Email Frequency

When Is Enough Enough?

It’s estimated that as much as 30% of annual giving occurs in December and that for some organizations this can represent as much as half of their annual budget.

So, it is a big deal. And you’re right to want to do it right. But how do you know what right is?

One question we often hear is “How many contacts/outreaches should we have?”

Proponents of asking more typically argue more revenue justifies more asks. Opponents to asking more counter with concerns about donor fatigue. 


The problem is, both may be right, a phenomenon that has been label “the frequency math effect.” An IBM study of email last holiday season concluded “During heavy volume time frames, the higher cadence of emails typically produces fewer opens and clicks per message sent but more opens and clicks in total.”

So, how might that apply to fundraisers?

The chart above summarizes the Year End results of two subsequent campaigns for one nonprofit client. This organization wanted to aggressively increase Year End revenue, so added one new email (email #5) and one resend (email 4a). (Emails 3a and 4a were re-sends of the original message to those constituents who hadn’t open it within the first 48 hours.)

Year 2 saw a 29.6% increase in total revenue, well above standard industry increases for the year. But it also saw a 29% increase in total unsubscribes and revenue per email sent dropped nearly 25%. Greater return, at a greater cost.

So, now, what should they do?

The fact is, most organizations have multiple donor development objectives: immediate return, on the one hand, and cultivation of future potential, on the other. It may not be possible to give equal weight to both objectives in every message, or even in every month. But somehow, a balance must be maintained.

Our recommendation was to slow the cadence considerably in January, and to focus solely on more engaging content. And of course, to continue to monitor open, click-through and unsubscribe rates across the file.

What are you doing?