Fall 2015: Email Best Practices Report

In the endless online battle for alumni attention, almost all colleges and universities use email as one of the primary fronts to deliver messages into the hands of their graduates. Email, since its earliest days, has proven to be a quick and cheap way to advertise and market university events, news and development opportunities. ThisAlumni Monitor Report dives into the current best practices in alumni email outreach, highlighting those schools and marketing messages with the best chance of breaking through the cluttered inboxes of their alumni.

In particular, this report breaks down leading emails by the following types:

  • Event-related emails
  • Giving requests
  • Newsletters
  • Miscellaneous outstanding email outreach designs

We examined over 350 alumni-focused emails from more than two dozen high profile universities in our Alumni Monitor coverage group. We profiled email communications ranging from large public institutions to small private colleges with large endowments. From this cross-section of universities, we saw impressive and notable emails in visual design, readability and impact. Each of the email categories in this report revealed a variety of styles within the broader email landscape. Emails that use well-designed graphics or images, clear subject lines and direct messages were the most effective.

Of particular note were the various approaches universities took to email design and layout. The majority of emails we profiled integrated the schools’ colors, mascots or logos. One school in particular achieved high marks in our email survey for its consistent branding, as the university’s outreach emails employed the same design, color scheme and professional graphics throughout. Other schools’ emails consistently incorporated social media links and call to action buttons for giving requests.

Many of the emails in this report incorporated clear subject lines to describe the email content. To best leverage email outreach, universities should use short and direct subject lines to effectively describe the email message. Based off the emails surveyed, we found that the mean subject length is eight words or 48 characters; the median subject line length is seven words or 46 characters.

Additional key findings in this report include:

  • Only two schools added a personalization element to their emails
  • Nearly half of emails related to events whereas 16% promoted development opportunities (e.g., giving requests)
  • The majority of emails were sent from the alumni association, university or development office (e.g., Annual Fund)