Apple will be changing how their products report your email marketing metrics… but does it matter?

Apple will be driving change yet again.

Yep! You know Apple. In addition to all the wonderful products they create, there’s one thing they also do very well… drive change.

Here’s what they are doing.

Apple aims to make sure that email marketers no longer have any way to know when email recipients open their emails on Apple devices.

This is a big deal for many email marketers. That’s because they like to know if the emails they send get opened. With this data they can determine (through testing) what subject lines and previews inspire people to open their emails. After all, if recipients don’t open their emails, they certainly won’t click on them.

Therefore, gaining an understanding of what works to draw engagement (and what doesn’t) at the beginning of the marketing ‘conversation’ is very helpful for optimizing results.

But does this really matter for you?


If you’re in the business of raising money transactionally, the answer is “YES.” It matters a lot. The reason why is because mass emails depend heavily on the subject lines for their effectiveness. As Apple removes the ability to know who and how many are opening the emails, the ability for a marketer to understand what subject lines are working to inspire engagement decreases. But only to a certain degree. I’ll get back to that latter in this post.

First, let’s talk about transactional vs. relational fundraising.

Transactional email fundraisers (marketers) usually aim to raise small donations from lots of people. They tend to send out a lot of emails somewhat frequently. At MarketSmart, we believe this kind of fundraising is necessary for two reasons:

  1. It builds awareness for a cause
  2. It acquires new donors

However, we also call some of this ‘populist fundraising’ and it’s only very effective when it’s done right.

Those who do it wrong are contributing to Fundraising Climate Change—which is driving retention rates down and driving tons of people to drop out of giving altogether.

In fact, just a decade ago over 2/3 of Americans donated. But now it’s just under 1/2. That’s Fundraising Climate Change!

Poorly done, transactional, populist fundraising is not sustainable. 

When this kind of fundraising is done wrong, it treats well-meaning supporters like commodities. Like data. Like ATM machines.

Fast growing organizations like charity:water don’t engage their supporters in this way. Rather, everything they do to raise money is focused on providing value to their supporters, not focused on what they want to get out of them. The former is what you do if you want to grow. The latter is what you do if you want to make your boss happy in the short term.

I know a lot of people won’t want to hear this but you simply cannot treat your supporters like cash registers.


What I’m saying is true. Here’s proof.

charity:water’s strategies have resulted in massive revenue growth beginning at just $2 million in 2007 to now they are closing in on a record year of nearly $100 million.

Sorry, but you simply can’t generate that kind of growth by beating your low dollar, populist supporters with email ‘asks.’ Instead, you’ve got to fully embrace the law of reciprocity. You’ve got to give to your donors and support your supporters.

But giving costs time and money.

Correct! That’s why you’ve got to determine who you can give to most. Start by recognizing that about 1/2 – 3/4 of 1% of your supporters will likely make up around 70% of your revenue.

Giving should be focused first and foremost on the .50% – .75% of all of your supporters who will truly drive revenue growth since they have the most capacity and the passion to do so. Starting there is a no brainer because:

  1. The list will likely be small and easily manageable
  2. Those are the people who care most and have the most capacity
  3. You likely already know them well
  4. They likely already trust you
  5. Their retention rates are usually twice that of lower dollar donors
  6. Their lifetime values tend to be nearly 1,700% greater than lower dollar donors

So it’s worth starting with them. Plus, what you learn from them about giving can be applied to the rest of your list (or at least to the next level below your top tier supporters).

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at my Fundraising Report Card’s benchmarks here.

If you go to that link you’ll see that those supporters are also twice as likely to retain when compared to low dollar donors. Plus their lifetime value is almost 1,700% greater ($75,000 vs. just $45 for low dollar donors).

That’s likely because those folks usually get removed from the transactional email lists. Instead, they get one-to-one, personal VIP service (which by the way, much of that kind of service can now be automated). And their legacy gifts are astronomically larger.

So it pays (literally) to focus on the most passionate, most committed, and wealthiest supporters.

Back to Apple and monitoring ‘opens.’

What I’m saying is that what’s happening with Apple matters a lot if you are sending out a lot of emails regularly to raise smaller donations. For that kind of marketing, open rates matter for measuring what subject lines and pre-headers work best.

If, however, you are an Engagement Fundraiser, you’ll stay focused on what really matters… ENGAGEMENT!

Engagement fundraisers recognize that the best donors (the ones who are the most passionate and have the highest capacity) don’t want or need transactional email solicitations. Rather, they want and need a deeper relationship and access—a VIP experience. They want engagement.

For high dollar fundraising, engagement matters more than opens.

To measure engagement you’ll want to concern yourself mostly with:

  1. How many people click on the contents of an email (a hyperlink)?
  2. What do those people do once they click through to the web page you hyperlinked (also known as a conversion)?

For instance, do they stay on the page for a while?

Do they meander over to other pages?

Do they fill out a form to subscribe, attend an event, download information, etc.?

Or, best of all, do they arrange a meeting with you to discuss ways they can be more philanthropic (especially if they have the capacity to make a major impact)?

None of those metrics will be affected by Apple’s new policies. So, Engagement Fundraisers (mostly MarketSmart customers) won’t have to worry about Apple’s change very much.

Conversions are what you want anyway, not opens. However, you’ll need a technology System like MarketSmart’s in order to track and capture individual supporter data by name, donor ID and other important information.

I’ve been telling readers this for years now.

Back in May of 2018 I told you not to focus on open rates.

That was in addition to the time in 2017 that I told you not to focus on open rates.

And don’t forget the times in 2016 and 2015 when I told you not to focus on open rates.


I recognize that this is a big deal for higher volume, direct response marketers which, by the way, is a VERY necessary part of building a donor list. In fact, without direct response fundraising, people like me would not have very many prospective major donors with whom to engage. So I’m very appreciative of those folks. Especially the ones who do it right.

If you are in that group you might want to check out what our pals at Mal Warwick DonorDigital have written here. It’s a very thoughtful piece and they are very smart people. They ‘do it right.’ Plus, they are already cracking the code on the future of digital fundraising. I highly recommend their very informative blog. You can subscribe to it here.

For ‘relational,’ engagement fundraisers, steady as she goes.

Just remember, the biggest takeaway is that open rates are essentially dead or at least dying because Apple is altering their products. Estimates vary, but anywhere from 20-40% of email users open emails on Apple devices. Therefore, you will no longer know if they have opened your emails.

Thus, gauging the success of components (like subject line effectiveness) of your immediate results generated from transactional, mass email campaigns will be a lot harder.

BOTTOM LINE: For fundraisers focused on long-term, non-transactional concerns such as donor lifetime value, major gifts, mid-level gifts and planned gifts, this won’t matter much for you at all. Stay focused on conversions and all will be well.


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[…] Apple will be changing how their products report your email marketing metrics… but does it matter? […]

Greg Staunton
2 years ago

Interesting read! I also wrote an article on the upcoming Apple privacy updates to email and what it means to email marketers here: – hope this helps too!

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