How often should your nonprofit send your email newsletter?  It’s a question I’m sure every nonprofit considers when developing an email newsletter.  To determine the most likely choices, let’s take a look at what others in the nonprofit world are doing.  According to the 2011 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report, nonprofits send emails with the following frequencies:

  • Monthly – 43%
  • Every Other Week – 17%
  • Quarterly – 16%
  • Weekly – 12%
  • Twice a Year – 3%
  • Several Times a Week – 3%
  • Don’t Know or No Reply – 7%

For some the immediate conclusion would be that monthly is the appropriate frequency.  In reality, increasing your nonprofit’s email frequency beyond once a month can be beneficial.  According to data released last year from MailChimp and HubSpot, organizations that send emails only once per month have a 78% higher unsubscribe rate than those that send 12 a month.  Don’t worry though; you don’t have to send 12 emails a month.  The unsubscribe rate drops significantly when the email frequency is increased to anywhere between 1 and 6 times per month.

But before you jump to send emails twice a month or weekly, make sure you consider what your organization can manage now and in the future.

Key Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Email Frequency

These following two questions will help your organization dictate what’s possible before you send more frequent emails.

  1. How often can you generate valuable content? “Valuable” is the key word here.  If you can provide content (articles, stories, statistics, etc.) that your supporters will find valuable on a more frequent basis than once a month, then by all means send at a more frequent rate.
  2. How much time can your organization devote to your email newsletter?  This is closely related to the previous question.  If you’re able to spend the time creating or finding valuable content, then sending at a more frequent rate can be helpful.  You also want to consider consistency here.  If your nonprofit will only be able to send emails more frequently for a couple of months, maybe it’s a good idea to stick with monthly until you’re sure you have the time to increase your frequency for the long haul.

Not surprisingly, answering these two questions will usually dictate your frequency.  If you have the content and time to send more than once a month, you most likely should.

What if We Don’t Have the Content?

Some organizations will say they have the time to send more than once a month, but don’t have the content.  If that’s you, here are some ideas that may be helpful:

  1. Break Out Your Content in to Multiple Emails.  Some organizations will send emails to their supporters that contain tons of content.  While your nonprofit could send one email newsletter featuring six stories and two volunteers, why not send two emails each with three stories and one volunteer.  Readers prefer short emails anyways.  Don’t you?
  2. You Don’t Have to Create All the Content.  Remember that your organization doesn’t necessarily have to create each piece of content you email.  If you find a great article that’s relevant to your supporters or have a volunteer interested in writing a story from an event, use that.  Your readers don’t need you to write it.  They just need it to be relevant and interesting to them.

We’ve Got the Content, But How Often Exactly Should Our Nonprofit Send Emails?

Your organization has the content, but how often should you send your emails?  There is no right answer to this question.  It depends on the type of content you’re distributing and on the expectations of your readers.  If you told your readers you were only going to email them once a month, don’t change your frequency without notification or their approval.  Even if you never set the expectation from the start, it won’t hurt to tell your readers through an email that the frequency is going to change.

The best way to determine how often to send is to test.  You can test sending emails once a week, twice a month and monthly.  Here’s an approach to testing outlined by HubSpot:

  1. Establish Your Hypotheses
  2. Choose a List Segment
  3. Establish Baseline Metrics
  4. Create and Schedule Your Test Emails
  5. Measure and Analyze Results

To learn more about the details of the process check out the full article on HubSpot.

Similarly to a blog, social media and most other types of content, consistency is important.  Once you decide to change your frequency, do your best to stick with it, at least for a while.  Though it may come as a shock, you’ll probably be surprised how many people will read your email newsletter, even after you increase your frequency beyond once a month.

What frequency do you use to send your nonprofit’s emails?  What do you think is the best frequency to use?  Let us know in the comments.

Image courtesy of Terry Johnston, Flickr