Measuring the Success of your e-Newsletter

When measuring the success of your e-Newsletter you are trying to find out whether you have actually reached your target audience, whether your message has been communicated and whether your audience has taken the action you were promoting.

Are you reaching the right people?

To find out whether your newsletter is reaching and being read by the right people, you need to measure:

  • How many people you are sending your newsletter to
  • How many people are opening your newsletter
  • How many people are reading the full articles
  • Who is opening your newsletter

Send Stats and Opens

The most basic measure is the number of subscribers who have received and opened the newsletter. All newsletter services (such as MailChimp) have statistics that track this.

The send stats is the total number of people on your mailing list with valid email addresses, who could be viewing your newsletter. It excludes all undeliverable mails.

In real terms, it is not a very useful measure but it is necessary for working out the open. click-through, unsubscribe and bounce rates.

The percentage of people who receive your newsletter email and actually open it is called the open rate. Many people will delete newsletter emails before opening them, or redirect them into a SPAM folder. So the open rate is an important measure of how many people have actually opened the mail. nTen reports in their 2013 NGO Benchmarking Study that NGO email list open rates are approximately 14%.

Open rates are flawed, however, as many email clients like Gmail prevent open rates from being accurately reported. Nevertheless, this statistic is still useful to compare the general success of your newsletter issue on the issue.

  • (send rate) = (number of email addresses in list) – (number of emails that were undeliverable)
  • (open rate) = (the number of emails successfully sent) divided by (number of emails that were opened)


A click-through is when somebody clicks on a link in your newsletter. For example, this could be a read more link which allows people to read a whole article if you have only included the introductory paragraph in the newsletter.

You can use the click-through rates from your newsletter to see how many people are reading particular articles, responding to specific calls to action, or even visiting your social media platforms. Don’t be surprised if your click-through rates appear low. The average for click-throughs for NGO newsletters is somewhere between 2.9% and 0.7%.

This stat helps you understand what content is most popular. For example, you may find that articles reporting on workshops receive almost no click-throughs while analytical articles on the policy environment receive a large number of visits. This can inform your decision to increase the analytical content of your newsletter in future issues.

click-through rate = (the number of emails that were successfully sent) divided by (number of click-throughs)

Mailing sub-groups

Often times, your newsletter mailing list may consist of a range of audiences, such as donors, clients, partner organizations and service providers. It is a good idea to divide your mailing list up into sub-groups, for example, all donors in one sub-group. This allows you to track how many in each sub-group are opening your newsletter from issue to issue.


Your bounce rate relates to the number of emails that were actually delivered. Hard bounces are emails that were permanently undeliverable. Soft bounces are emails that are temporarily undeliverable. These stats tell you how many of the email addresses in your list are valid and reachable. Not all bulk email software packages report these numbers in an easy to access manner.

bounce rate = (the number of emails in your email list) divided by (number of emails that were undeliverable)


A rough measure of your newsletter popularity is your unsubscribe rate. This tells you the percentage of your subscribers that has opted out.

nTen reports that in 2013 average email unsubscribe rates per message in the NGO sector are 0.21%. If your unsubscribe rate is more than 5% per newsletter issue, you need to investigate what the problems are and address them.

unsubscribe rate = (number of emails that were successfully sent) divided by (number of unsubscribes)

Are you achieving your objective?

In order to know whether your e-Newsletter is achieving is objectives, your strategy needs to clearly articulate these objectives in the first place. Measuring the impact that your newsletter alone has on these objectives can be extremely difficult. Here are four ways to get insight into your newsletter impact:

  • Measuring response to a call to action
  • Conducting a reader survey
  • Reading “reply” emails
  • Assessing the newsletter yourself

Measuring a call to action

Including a specific call to action in your newsletter is a good way to measure impact. There are a huge range of possible calls to action, some common ones include:

  • Donate Now
  • Sign this Petition
  • Join our Facebook Page
  • Like this Article
  • Book a Spot in a Workshop / Conference

When your subscribers actually do one of these meaningful actions, you know that your newsletter has had a tangible impact. This is called your action rate. Action rates which don’t involve donations are generally higher than action rates that do involve giving money.

action rate = (number of emails that were successfully sent) divided by (number of responses to a call to action)

Online Survey

An online survey can help you understand your audience’s reactions to your e-newsletter. There are a number of free services that you can use to create a short questionnaire, such as SurveyMonkey or Google Forms.

A survey can give you feedback about the usefulness of your content, the impression that your newsletter creates, and what your readers like and don’t like.

Some issues that you may choose to explore include:

  • Content:

    • What kinds of content do people enjoy?
    • What might they be interested in that you have not included?
    • Have they ever responded to a call to action in your newsletter?
  • Impression:

    • What attracts them to your newsletter (images, layout, etc)?
    • Do they think the newsletter creates a positive impression of the organization?
    • Are there any issues with the newsletter?
    • How could the newsletter be improved?


It is important to ensure that people are able to “reply” to the newsletter email. You won’t be able to generate useful statistics from replies but they can give you valuable qualitative feedback on what is working and what is not. Set up a separate email account for this and make sure that people receive quick responses to their comments, complaints, and queries.

Assess the newsletter yourself

You and your colleagues probably subscribe to a fair number of newsletters yourselves. Put your subscriber hat on and assess your own newsletter. You can do this individually or as a group. Look at:

The look and feel

  • Does it look good?
  • Are the photos used meaningful and attractive?

The usability

  • Do you immediately know what the email is about?
  • Is the newsletter easy to read?
  • Are the calls to action clear and attractive?

The content

  • Is the content interesting?
  • Is there a diversity of content to interest different audiences?
  • Are the spelling and grammar correct?
  • Does the content reflect the organization accurately?

Gathering your data about your newsletter is only useful if you actually act on that information. You need to report on your results, balance the effort against the impact, take action to improve, and be conscious of the impact on your organizational reputation.


Creating a report format for your newsletter stats allows you to easily compare your statistics over time. This will alert you to any problems that have occurred or an increase in the popularity of your newsletter. A well-laid out and easy to read report will provide useful information for your donors and management.

Create your report to show issue-on-issue statistics so that you can track improvements on your newsletter performance from one edition to the next. Create space in the report for comments so that you can provide contextual information to help interpret the results. When you send out the report, pull out key results and put them in the body of the email.

Although you generally want to keep your reports consistent, refining them, especially at the beginning, is essential to ensure that the correct data is being collected and presented in a useful way. Ask the recipients of these reports what data they would most like to see and what they find useful for decision making.

Return on investment

Non-profit organizations typically spend a large amount of time and effort putting newsletters together, involving a range of people from across the organization. NGOs seldom ask the question “Is it worth it?”

Compare the amount of time spent on creating the newsletter to the number of opens and to any measurable action that results from the newsletter. If the effort is disproportionate to the value, you need to either scale back the effort put into the newsletter or take serious measures to increase your newsletter impact.

If you are able to quantify the inputs to your newsletter, you can report on the cost vs benefit in your newsletter report.

Measuring impact on Reputation

Whether you intend it or not your newsletter is going to impact your organization’s reputation. You need to understand this impact and what factors influence it. For example:

Are you spamming people?

  • If you have just added all the email addresses of everyone you know without their permission you may be irritating people and thus negatively impacting on your organization’s reputation. Not to mention the fact that spam is illegal under South Africa’s Electronic Communications Act.

Are there broken links or other technical problems with your newsletter?

  • These create an unprofessional impression. Test absolutely everything in your newsletter before you send it out.

Is your newsletter professional looking and attractive?

  • A cluttered layout, poor quality photographs (grainy photos of the backs of people’s heads at a workshop, for example), and poor choice of colors can create a very unprofessional look and feel for your newsletter. Where possible, get professional design help to design your newsletter or use some of the free newsletter templates available through the Bulk Emailing Service

Is your newsletter standard of high quality?

  • Poorly written or edited articles and boring content can all have a negative impact on people’s perception of your newsletter, and consequently your organization as a whole.


Although it is useful to know how well your organization’s newsletter compares to others in your sector, the information you gather to measure your success is best used to compare your own success from month to month. It also allows you to try different ways of doing things to see what works best for you.


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