4 Nonprofit Tips to Get Your Email Marketing List in the Best Shape of Its Life (Updated August 2021)

June 28, 2019
5 minutes

Here’s a hard and fast fact of fundraising life—every year your email list has churn. You know we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but people unsubscribe, and a portion of subscribers will become inactive (say it ain't so!). List churn can affect your open rates, click-through rates, and most importantly, your donation rates. If people aren't opening your emails, you're missing a huge opportunity to increase your online giving when it's time to send those oh-so-important fundraising appeals.

The biggest reason why list churn is a major fundraising problem is that most organizations aren’t even aware of it, let alone taking action to offset it. Sometimes you really don't know what you don't know. And if you're a smaller nonprofit, your marketing team is most likely small and mighty, if you have one at all.

As always, we've got your back and won't let list churn be the bane of your email fundraising existence! Here are four best practices you can do to keep your nonprofit email marketing list in tip-top shape to offset that pesky churn. Want more delightful digital details? Here's even more tactics to set up a dope nonprofit email list.

Identify the Inactive Segment

The first thing you’ll want to do is identify inactive segments on your email list. Some email service providers may have a function to segment or tag these subscribers. If yours doesn't, pull a report to see which subscribers haven't opened an email from you in the last 6 months. Once you have this segment available, tag them in your email marketing platform as “inactive”. Once you have your list of inactives, remove them from your main email list, driving an instantly positive impact on your email list health and open rate.

And all is not lost with your inactives either...

Create a Strategy to Encourage Re-engagement

Every organization with an email list is dealing with a segment of inactive subscribers, but very few have a strategy to re-engage these subscribers. This could be as simple as sending the segment a targeted email that is designed to get them to take action. You might link to an interesting article relating to your mission, or fun updates about the goings-on at your nonprofit. You can even test the email content over several months to optimize your re-engagement email. 

Pro-tip: At this point, you don't have much to lose, so why not use this as an opportunity to get wildly creative to see if you can get people re-engaged? Create an ED polar plunge challenge. Lure them back with photos of your office pets and create a poll for them to rate the cutest. What's the worst that could happen?

If all efforts fail, then you just may have to take the "L". If after sending re-engagement emails, a subscriber still hasn't opened, wipe your hands clean and remove them from your list completely. Determine what metric you'll use to remove folks and use that for the duration of your campaign. It's always sad to lose a contact, but your list will be so much healthier without the weight of inactives.

BONUS Pro Tip: Try another method of communication with your inactive contacts: text messaging, social media, a third-party survey, or targeted ads.

Illustration of a website sign-up pop up on a laptop screen. Art by Sophie Cunningham.

Communicate Consistently

Another tip to maintaining a healthy email list is emailing people on a regular basis. Yep, no more sending out one-off emails every six months. We know it's not rocket science, but consistency is one the biggest marketing challenges for organizations. Not being in the habit of interacting with your subscribers puts them at risk of becoming inactive or (gasp) unsubscribing completely.

Regular communication is not only important for your email list health, but it's important for donor retention. The emails your donors receive between strategic fundraising appeals makes a huge difference. Commit to a regular email marketing schedule by choosing a frequency that feels sustainable, whether that be daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly, and stick to that. Your regular communications warm your subscribers up for your bigger appeals.

Getting a surprise ask from an org you haven't heard from in ages is the worst, so warm up those subscribers so they're not left in the cold!

List Building for Long-term Sustainability

Last but not least, always think about ways to grow your email list. Test and experiment different list building tactics such as:

  • A pop-up box on your website newsletter sign-ups
  • An opt-in form in the sidebar or footer of your website
  • Social media promotion for email sign-ups
  • A peer-to-peer fundraising campaign
  • Social and Google ads
  • Collecting contacts at events via giveaways
Fair warning about email lists: while we think marketing emails are very excellent (just look at our newsletter!), there are both written laws and unwritten rules in place regarding use and security of personal data. These laws and rules affect what you can do with email addresses, including whether you can send marketing emails. GDPR covers digital privacy regulations in Europe, CCPA covers the same in California, and CASL covers spam and electronic threats in Canada. Read up on them if you're in the mood to be confused. We can't offer advice on compliance, but we can tell you that reputable ESPs like Mailchimp and Constant Contact know what they're doing, so tap into their expertise. And most importantly, don't buy or sell email lists!

Email marketing and fundraising can be a beast, but with the right tactics, you can easily manage and engage your subscriber list. Implement these habits and make this the year you get your email list in the best shape of its life!

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