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Know what works — and what doesn't work

Getting donors, volunteers and subscribers to open your emails can sometimes feel impossible. Everyone gets way too many emails, and we've learned to filter out messages that aren't important — either by ignoring them, deleting them or marking them as spam.

All the research about what works and what doesn't for email eventually points to psychology. Remember, your emails are attached to actual people.

Here are four tips to increase email open rates with psychology:

1. What's in it for them?

Your email message subject line/body should be 100 percent about the recipient, and not about your organization.

  • Opportunity to make an impact: "Give clean water to those who need it most"
  • Connection with their peeps: "Meet other vegans who love to cook"
  • Look cool to their peers: "Donate now to get this cool t-shirt"

Make sure your strategy is about giving subscribers value first, and asking for favors second.

2. What did you do for them lately?

Subscribers are more likely to open your email messages if they've recently attended an event. Make a point of emailing supporters soon after attending an event, making a donation, etc. This enhances the experience they just had with you, and gets them used to opening your emails!

3. Who do they connect with?

Research also shows that people are more likely to open emails if they have an affinity for (or at least recognize) the sender. People prioritize emails from people they know (friends, colleagues, relatives), so using a person's name (as shown below) might be a smart idea.

Tech tip:Most email marketing software lets you change the sender name. For example, all the emails in the example above came from "info@barackobama.com."

4. Do you make them squirm?

Research shows that cognitive dissonance influences open rates. This makes sense when you realize that the only way for a person to resolve a question posed in the subject line is to open the email and read it!

Test and measure

Make sure you measure what's working now before you change anything. Measure which messages get a higher open rate and then ask why.

Then experiment. Then measure.

For more from John Haydon, visit John's community for nonprofit marketers and fundraisers.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Digital PR and fundraising expert for nonprofits and charities