Digital Marketing & Fundraising
On September 20, 2021, Apple released its iOS 15 software update. With this came some serious changes to email that could affect your open rates.

One of the most talked about features of iOS 15 is the new Mail Privacy Protection, which gives users the ability to mask their IP addresses and block third parties from tracking things like email opens.

Open rates have long been one of the primary metrics for measuring the performance of fundraising and engagement emails. When you use a software like Marketing Cloud, Blackbaud, iModules, Mailchimp, or Emma to send your emails, a tiny invisible image, known as a tracking pixel, is included. When the recipient opens the email, the image is loaded from the email platform’s server and doesn’t require the user to click on the image. The email platform can see the IP address of recipients who “downloaded” images, which enables you to see exactly who has opened your emails.

If a recipient has turned on Mail Privacy Protection, they’ll now be able to load images without revealing their IP address to the email platform, meaning you will no longer be able to discern exactly who has opened your email. Furthermore, without seeing the IP address, your email platform won’t be able to tell you when or where the email was opened or link it to other online activity.

Consequences for Email Open Rates

First, it’s important to know that iOS 15 was only just released, and the Mail Privacy Protection is not enabled by default. So, if nothing else, we expect it to be a while before mass adoption occurs. And while this feature is only currently in effect for people who use Apple Mail to open their email, it is possible that other providers such as Google or Microsoft will release similar features down the road.

It’s also worth noting that email open rates were never a perfect measure of engagement. Recipients could always choose to view your email without downloading images, and even if someone downloaded images, it didn’t necessarily mean they read your email in full or spent more than a few seconds looking at it.

Review Your Email Metrics

The Mail Privacy Protection feature will preload images, which could potentially inflate your open rates over time as more people enable the setting. It’s a good time to review the metrics you’re using to determine email performance and drive decision making. Review the percentage of your emails currently opened by iOS users so that you can consider how your open rate may be affected. You may want to adjust your open rate goals to prepare for the changes.

Consider using click-through rates and unsubscribe rates as alternative measures, as they are more robust indicators of engagement (positive and negative).

As a sidenote, Mailchimp suggests that industry averages for a nonprofit are 25.17 percent open rate, 2.79 percent click through rate, and 0.2 percent unsubscribe rate. At BWF Digital, we see clients having a significant range for all three metrics based on a number of factors including the email’s subject matter, format, relevance to its audience, and overall email volume.

The bigger impact will be to fundraisers using journeys, whether automated or not. For example, if you send a series of warming/engagement emails throughout a marketing campaign and then send an appeal only to those who opened or clicked an email, then you may end up sending it to more people who didn’t actually open your email. Again, this is unlikely to have significant effect in the short term, but eventually it could render this strategy less effective.

Keep Focusing on Building Trust and Sending Valuable Content

These changes may affect your analytics, but they don’t change what makes for a good fundraising email program. Focus on building trust with your community members by sending them content that they want to receive in a personal way. Every time a donor clicks on a story, they’re indicating to you some level of interest in a specific program. Pay attention to this over time, look for trends, and track audience interests. Adjust your content strategy to meet their preferences.

You’ll still be able to pay attention to what people are clicking on and responding to, allowing you to continue to use the data to drive your content strategy. People open emails because they think the content inside has value to them—stick with this objective and the analytics will take care of themselves.

Key Takeaways
  • The Mail Privacy Protection feature in iOS 15 will allow recipients to open your emails without being tracked. While this is unlikely to have a significant effect immediately, it may inflate your open rates over time.
  • If you’re using rule-based email journeys that use open rate as criteria, you may eventually see these journeys become less effective.
  • It’s a good time to review your email metrics—consider click-through rates and unsubscribe rates as reasonable measures of engagement.

If your email fundraising program could use a refresh, drop me an email. BWF’s Digital team will take a thorough look at your analytics, design and copy, audience strategy and segmentation, and resource usage. Following an exploration of your fundraising goals, we’ll develop an email marketing strategy specific to your unique circumstances. We’ll provide you with an annual calendar and a customized email marketing playbook to guide your future efforts.