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How much mail and email donors receive and read?

A new national study shows that according to charitable donors, the majority of the mail and e-mail messages they receive from non-profit organizations get read, at least in part.

The average American charitable donor reports receiving about eight mailings and ten e-mails from non-profit organizations in a typical week.  A majority of these communications come from organizations they don’t financially support.

Consumer insights company Grey Matter Research and research panel Opinions4Good (Op4G) partnered on The Donor Mindset Study, a series of research reports about American charitable donors.  The latest in the series (The Donor Mindset Study VII:  Cutting through the Noise) explores how much mail and e-mail donors report receiving from charities, as well as what proportion they actually read (all or in part).

The weekly averages, as reported by donors, look like this:

  • 3.6 pieces of mail from organizations they financially support
  • 4.2 pieces of mail from organizations they do not financially support
  • 4.2 e-mails from organizations they financially support
  • 5.7 e-mails from organizations they do not financially support

That’s a total of 17.7 messages from charities each week; 920 per year, or 2.5 every day just between mail and e-mail (not including social media, text, advertising, or other forms of communication). 


On average, donors estimate that 54% of the mail and 58% of the e-mails they receive from charities come from organizations they don’t support (commonly referred to as “prospecting”).

Who gets the most communication from charities?

  • People who identify with a religious group report receiving 24% more than atheists, agnostics, and those who have no religious identification
  • Men report receiving 26% more than women
  • Higher-income households ($70,000 or more) report receiving 30% more than lower-income households
  • Larger donors ($500 or more given in the past 12 months) report receiving 37% more than others
  • Political liberals report receiving 38% more than conservatives
  • Donors under age 50 report receiving a whopping 77% more than older donors

The study also asked donors to estimate how many mail and e-mail messages from charities they read each week – not necessarily the whole thing, but at least part.  It should be heartening to charitable organizations to learn that donors report reading quite a bit of the communication they get.  On average, about 78% of what they receive from charities they financially support gets at least a little attention, along with about 58% of prospecting communications. 

Few donors discard everything they get without reading it – only 7% do this with all the mail they receive from the organizations they support, and 25% do this with all the prospecting mail they get.  The numbers for e-mail are strikingly similar (of course, they don’t take into consideration the e-mails donors never see because they’re caught in spam filters or sent to e-mail addresses donors rarely or never check).

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, notes that these estimates may not be exact counts of how many messages donors receive and/or read, but donor perceptions are still critical.  “In scores of studies we’ve done with individual organizations, donors often like to complain about the ‘overwhelming’ amount of fundraising mail and e-mail they get.  It’s almost like a badge of honor to complain about the ‘waste’ and about how much the poor donor has to wade through,” Sellers commented.  “But when we ask them to give thoughtful, numeric estimates of what they’re actually getting, a very different story emerges.  They do receive quite a bit, but their physical and digital inboxes are not exactly overflowing.  And most importantly, they’re not just tossing it all without reading it, so there’s relatively little actual waste to all these mailings and e-mails.”

Sellers noted that the study’s findings represent both good and bad news for charities.  “It’s good news because on average, there’s about a three-in-four chance your donors are reading what you send them, and about a six-in-ten chance that your prospects don’t just toss your stuff without a glance.  So your message usually has an opportunity to be seen, even if very briefly” he noted.  “It’s bad news because, of course, they’re also seeing what everyone else sends, which means there’s a lot of noise for you to cut through – hence the title of the report.  So the question is:  what’s going to make your communication something donors will read more of and maybe respond to when they’re averaging 17 others that same week?” he asks.


This content was originally published by Opinions 4 Good (Op4G) . Visit their website at

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Op4G nurtures and maintains a quality, engaged membership panel built to support our market research clients and to benefit non-profit organizations.

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