Inspiring local philanthropy one email at a time

By strategically engaging its donor base, DonorsChoose has built one of the most successful email programs in the nonprofit sector.



Increase in promotional email open rate


Million raised annually through email program


DonorsChoose is a charitable organization that helps teachers request the resources they need so their students can receive a great education. These requests are sometimes straightforward supplies like books and pencils or broader initiatives like virtual reality field trips and therapy dog programs. For each of these resources, DonorsChoose is the conduit that matches teachers with donors who can help. Since it was founded in New York City in 2000, the nonprofit has fulfilled over 1.7 million classroom project requests.

DonorsChoose programs are more essential than ever. Whether teachers and students are at home, in the classroom, or a mix of both, DonorsChoose helps teachers put resources in the hands of students that need them most. By strategically engaging its donor base, the organization has built one of the most successful email programs in the nonprofit sector.

We needed an email provider who we could look to as a partner rather than just a software vendor, offering us guidance and support to ensure our email campaigns are successful. Twilio SendGrid allows us to have more control over our promotional email program. This, along with reliable delivery at scale, has had a profound impact on our teacher and donor engagement.

Jasmine Penny Email Program Manager

Building a robust email program

Email is a critical component of DonorsChoose’s operations, accounting for 34% of total revenue coming in from citizen donors. The nonprofit began using Twilio SendGrid for its transactional email program more than eight years ago. Since then, the team’s transactional email program has sustained high delivery and response rates. This ensures teachers and donors continue to receive essential communications that advance program success.

Seeing the success of its transactional email program, DonorsChoose realized its existing solution for promotional emails wasn’t fully meeting its needs. The email team needed more control—largely, the ability to build automation, collect data, and send segmented, personalized emails. On top of this, DonorsChoose engineers had to be brought in to build every new automated email.


After finding Twilio SendGrid allowed them to build more personalized email experiences, coupled with the continued success of its transactional email solution, DonorsChoose decided Twilio SendGrid’s Email API was also the right choice for its promotional email needs. The switch streamlined the team’s email program, making Twilio SendGrid the one-stop solution for communicating with teachers and donors. Changing circumstances in the day-to-day lives of educators and students has shifted how DonorsChoose leverages the Email API to better engage both teachers and donors. DonorsChoose built a customized email program, which empowers the email team to easily send automated promotional emails without overburdening engineering support.


Engaging Donors with a Personalized Campaigns

For many teachers and students, the classroom of today’s world has changed in a variety of ways. In response, DonorsChoose has adapted its donor outreach—mindful of the unique circumstances of current times. The nonprofit is accommodating a surge in requests for document cameras, so teachers without whiteboards at home can easily illustrate concepts to students. The team also created segmented lists for donors interested in equity programs, helping teachers provide anti-racist books and facilitate important conversations with students. On the donor side, a temporary opt-out option is available for those who aren’t capable of making contributions presently, but want to resume their support when they are able. Additionally, since it’s now unpredictable to target when recipients are checking their inboxes, the DonorsChoose email team has experimented with varied email send times.

Many of the patrons who contribute to DonorsChoose campaigns are passionate about particular causes, often making repeated gifts to schools in their home city or programs of interest. Because of this, it’s essential that DonorsChoose nails the personalization of its email program. The DonorsChoose team is laser-focused on providing existing recipients with content that’s personalized to their interests. The team also makes sure to extend newcomers proper welcome and attention, personalizing new recipient outreach to build active citizen donorship.

The flexibility to customize email experiences through Twilio SendGrid’s Email API has driven engagement success. Transactional email open rates climbed to 60-70%, with an average click rate of 3-5%. On the promotional side, open rates reached 30% with click rates around 3%—up from an 18-20% open rate and 2% click rate prior to adopting SendGrid. Typically, emails sent in the nonprofit sector have an open rate below 20%, with an average click rate of 0.8%. DonorsChoose’s innovative communication approach has boosted its engagement rates well-above the industry average.


When DonorsChoose first implemented Twilio SendGrid for transactional email, they typically secured 10 million dollars in revenue from email donors annually. After adopting Twilio SendGrid for promotional emails, DonorsChoose has seen impactful growth. The nonprofit now raises over 25 million dollars a year through its email program.

With a robust email program established, the nonprofit’s sights are set on growth. Though 85% of public schools across the U.S. have at least one teacher who has posted a project on DonorsChoose, there are still educators across the country who are unfamiliar with the program. When DonorsChoose evaluated how to grow its programs and drive customer engagement, they decided the most effective way to do so was to expand into new channels.


To keep up with the ever-evolving schedules of its recipients, DonorsChoose is building a new channel to meet teachers and donors exactly where they are with Twilio’s Programmable SMS. DonorsChoose will be able to reach its recipients with the right message at the right time—whether that’s reminding teachers about corporate match programs or spreading the word on major campaign fundraising days.


Partnering with Twilio, DonorsChoose continues to extend its philanthropic impact—providing more teachers and students with fundamental educational resources across the country.