Measuring the Success of your e-Newsletter (Part 1)

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 them 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 being accurately reported. Nevertheless this statistic is still useful to compare the general success of your newsletter issue on issue. 

(send rate) = (number of email addresses in list) – (number of emails that were undeliverable)

(open rate) = (number of emails successfully sent) divided by (number of emails that were opened)

Click Throughs

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 = (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 organisations 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 = (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 about your newsletter (images, layout etc)?
    • Do they think the newsletter creates a positive impression of the organisation?
    • 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? 
  • Is the spelling and grammar correct? 
  • Does the content reflect the organisation accurately?