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Charity mailings - it's time to get out of the dark ages!

  • Mike Zywina is an experienced fundraiser and the founder of Lime Green Consulting, providing affordable consultancy to smaller charities specialising in fundraising strategy, events management and individual giving. He is also a trustee for AbleChildAfrica and an ambassador for Good News Shared. 

    Did you know that the average email open rate in the charity sector is around 20%?

    This means that for every five people that you write to, four of them won't read it – and for many charities the numbers are worse than that.

    In the age of online content, we read things quickly in a spare moment and are accustomed to punchy and engaging information, otherwise we switch off. People tend to be on several charity mailing lists, so trying to make your charity newsletter get noticed can be a real challenge.

    The problem

    As my day job involves providing fundraising support to small charities, I have a natural interest in charity news. However, many smaller charities rely on the old-fashioned method of sending newsletters as a mass email with a PDF attachment, which can be really ineffective. If you’re doing this then not only are you missing an easy opportunity to engage your supporters better, you may not be aware of how little they are engaging.

    PDF newsletters tend to look flat, dated and uninspiring. If you have a lot to say, it’s difficult to present it in a way that is friendly for the reader – newsletters running across five or more pages can be daunting! They can also fail to create that important call to action – the reader simply reads a couple of stories then either deletes the newsletter or files it away.

    Manually sending out mass emails with a PDF attachment can take ages, especially if you have to do it in batches of 50 or 100 to avoid issues with your email provider. This is also a sure-fire way to trigger spam filters, so many emails won’t ever reach your supporters' inboxes. Yet you’ll be working in the dark because it’s impossible to know how many people are opening them, what they’re reading and what they like to see.

    The solution

    If all this sounds rather familiar to you, it’s time to start using email marketing software. There’s no need to worry, a lot of this software is cheap, quick and easy to set up. This little technology upgrade will enable you to manage your email subscribers, design newsletter templates and send them out in one click. There are many advantages:

    • Design an engaging email template to use quickly every time. This will give your newsletters a much more consistent and professional feel.
    • Send mailings at the touch of a button. They're gone in seconds, there's no need to send them in batches and there's far less risk of getting caught in any spam filters.
    • Manage content between your newsletter and website. Including shorter stories in your newsletter with links to full articles on your website will make your mailings more engaging and digestible. You can also see how popular your content is by monitoring which stories people click through to read fully (see below). Your best content will achieve more as it will be seen by both your newsletter subscribers and website visitors.
    • See crucial statistics at a glance. This software lets you easily see how many people opened your mailings, who clicked on links and how many email addresses bounced. You can start to build a picture of what type of content is most popular and follow up with individual supporters who, for example, click through to an events sign-up page.
    • Save time. People can unsubscribe with one click and are removed from your mailing list automatically. New subscribers will automatically join your list ready for your next mailing (bear in mind that you may still need to update any separate database/CRM).


    If you’re worried about the time and cost involved, you shouldn’t be. There are many great email marketing packages which are cheap or even free. For instance, Mailchimp - which I use myself for our Lime Green Consulting mailings - is completely free if you have less than 2,000 contacts, and prices start at £6 per month after that.

    If you can design a PDF newsletter or do basic web page editing, you’ll be capable of using the software. The small amount of time that you invest up front in getting to grips with it will be outweighed by the ongoing time and efficiency savings.

    There really is no excuse for persisting with PDF mailings – it’s time to get out of the dark ages!


    For further advice on supporter communication and fundraising, please visit or download our free fundraising helpsheets.