Are they really a waste of time?
Charities use email newsletters to tell supporters what they are doing and what they hope to achieve, as they do in their magazines. The RSPB, for example, sends its monthly e-newsletter to just under 300,000 subscribers.
But how many recipients read them? Very few, according to Thomas Gensemer, managing director of Blue State Digital, the company behind Barack Obama's online election campaign. Earlier this year at a presentation at City University in London, he advised charities to ditch e-newsletters.
"Email newsletters don't get read, yet they take more effort to prepare than a 250-word email," he said. "Email is still a killer application, but only when used properly."
But Laila Takeh, online communications manager at the British Heart Foundation, says her charity's monitoring suggests otherwise. The BHF sends a monthly e-newsletter to 60,000 subscribers, which includes a digest of information and the occasional call to action.
"We don't push people to sign up as supporters," she says. "They have sought the information themselves. We try to do more giving than asking in our e-newsletter, and our monitoring suggests the newsletters are read. We get a reasonable open rate."
About 25 per cent of the BHF's monthly emails are opened, and between 60 and 70 per cent of its more targeted e-newsletters.
"E-newsletters are valuable for keeping the BHF in the forefront of people's minds," she adds. "It's designed to be a 'dip-in, dip-out' format and it works well that way."
At his presentation, Gensemer urged charities to adopt the 'call to action' email techniques of the Obama for America campaign. Supporters received short, personalised emails giving them precise instructions. This, said Gensemer, provided supporters with "a steady narrative of actions, feedback and milestones".
It's a tactic that has worked for the BHF, says Takeh. "We recently included a petition asking the Government to create a new plan for heart health. We asked subscribers to sign up, and we had a few thousand responses within an hour."