Six newsletter tweaks now can pay off at year’s end

News nonprofits focusing on end-of-year fundraising should check their email newsletter setups now. An audit of INN member newsletters this summer found that four out of five member news organizations have newsletters that could benefit from one or more quick-hit areas for improvement that we identified. Addressing them can increase your email list, open rates and donations.

While we recommend addressing these now, they can be done any time during the year.

INN audited member newsletters to understand what email newsletter tools and training could help newsrooms year-round. Stay tuned for more information this fall on more complex newsletter improvements as well as resources available to INN members in 2019.

Quick newsletter optimization improvements:

  1. Try using an organization’s name or acronym in the newsletter’s “from” field, so readers can identify who the newsletter is from. While it might be more effective to use different sender names for fundraising email appeals, keeping the “from” field name consistent could help increase open rates.
  2. Thirty percent of the member newsletters audited use RSS feeds to send newsletters. Many members use RSS feed-generated newsletters to automate production when email is used as a distribution channel for their daily news reporting. Although open and click rates performed at average or above average for nonprofit industry benchmarks, if more personalization was used through editorial notes or merge tags (a function in MailChimp or similar programs), this level of production could help increase donations.
  3. Test MailChimp’s Send Time Optimization feature—other email providers have similar tools—to send newsletters at the time of day when readers are most likely to engage with the content.
  4. Readers could be more compelled to make a donation with stronger and clearer calls-to-action. Try to include a short pitch or value statement with links or buttons. For example, Mother Jones provides a little background of the organization right before the donate button and the Center for Responsive Politics uses a tagline and information about how to donate. Here are some other examples of newsletter donation asks:

Examples of newsletter pitches from INN Member newsletters

Here are some general calls to action created by INN for usage within member newsletters. Feel free to modify these and make them personal and specific. Remember to put donors and supporters at the heart of the message. Consider changing them on a consistent basis as there are new stories to tell about donation impact and/or fund usage.

  • We couldn’t do this watchdog reporting without YOU. Become a monthly donor today to help us continue to provide award-winning reporting to our community. Please be as generous as you can.
  • Thanks to YOU, our newsroom can continue to provide news to underserved communities. Give today and become a monthly supporter. Please be as generous as you can.

5. If another newsletter needs to go out because of breaking news, try testing “Breaking News” in the subject line for a higher open rate.

6. For members who are looking to increase click rates on buttons, consider placing them at the beginning of newsletters. In INN’s audit of metrics in MailChimp, data suggested that buttons placed at the beginning of newsletters tended to have higher click rates.

Now is the time to make changes for a more effective newsletter to increase story exposure and also support for year-end campaigns for this year and years to come.


These tips were generated from a study of INN member email newsletters conducted by business student Nikita Advani at the University of Southern California in June and July 2018, working with the guidance of INN Communications and Marketing Director Jules Shapiro. Advani is an Emma Bowen Foundation fellow.

Advani surveyed 34 elements in 96 email newsletters, representing about 60 percent of INN’s members sites at the time. A sample of 21 newsletters came from participants in INN’s Amplify News Midwest project. The rest were randomly selected to generate a representative sample across local, regional, state, national, and global news organizations. INN also studied 13 members’ click rates and open rates in MailChimp.

Four categories of factors were measured, in content, design, engagement and fundraising/marketing. They ranged from frequency of publication to whether newsletters included an easy way for the reader to contact an editor. Advani compared newsletter elements such as subject lines and headlines with open rate and click rate data from MailChimp reports where available. Pivot tables were used to to analyze what types of members needed improvement by category.