​How to Put Your Email List Quality over Quantity

March 15, 2018

Since a non-profit’s existence is based on the support of its donors, it’s reasonable to want to have as many prospective donors as possible. The more people you solicit means more donations, right? Well, not quite. By maintaining a large email list, there is a risk that a large portion of it will become unengaged or out-of-date.

People interact with your organization for any number of reasons. Maybe they supported a friend for a peer-to-peer event, signed a pledge about a current event, donated in response to a natural disaster…the list goes on, but whatever the reason and no matter how engaging your welcome series and follow up communications are, some of them will lose interest in your organization and its mission. Maybe they weren’t even that interested to begin with.

You wouldn’t solicit a major donor if their only interaction with your charity was a gala ticket they bought ten years ago, right? So, why do that with your email campaign?

The downsides to an old email list

A high quantity of emails may seem beneficial, but this is only an asset if it is a large number of quality emails.

If the list is old, the records may be out of date; people may have changed their email since they first gave it to you, and as a consequence your mailing could have a high bounce back rate. If the email is still in use, depending on how old it is, the recipient may not remember giving you permission and report the message as spam. Or worse still, if the email was acquired prior to CASL regulations came into effect, you may not have even gained consent at all. If your messages are reported, and an ISP flags your emails as spam you risk prosecution by CASL, and your organization could be fined. Also, when a sender is flagged as spam, distribution platforms such as MailChimp can freeze your account, prohibiting you from sending anymore emails at all.

It was reported in the 2017 EveryAction Deliverability Study that on average 18.21% of emails sent by non-profits ended up in spam folders, that proportion increasing to 30.25% of year end campaign emails going directly to spam folders. What is more staggering is the cost of those emails, On average, non-profits lose $24,562.52 annually due to emails landing in spam folders.

How to improve you email list quality

So, what to do? The idea of thinning out your email list may be unsettling, but it is worthwhile. Using 2 years as a guide is a good idea, as it follows CASL consent regulations. If an individual has not interacted with your organization in 2 years, you should consider removing them from your list. Then, once the first kind of scary step is done, comes the easy part – list maintenance.

Every few months run a report within your CRM to see who hasn’t interacted with you in 18 to 24 months, and consider sending them a renewal series. Magazines do it, direct mail does with the “why have you forsaken us (WHYFU)” letter, so why not integrate it into your email campaigns? Include a button to continue receiving emails in the message so those who accept stay on the list and those who don’t get removed.

It may be daunting to lose a portion of your email list, but this email maintenance is valuable. The individuals who are lost may come back, and until then you can continue to reach them through other forms of marketing: Facebook ads, Google Search and Display ads, direct mail. You are also investing in the long-term health of your organization’s email list, and building a robust database of committed and engaged individuals so improve your list quality now!

About the Author

Chelsea is a Digital Marketing Account Executive in the hjc Marketing and fundraising team. She is a trained fundraiser with a passion for direct marketing. Splitting her time between Marketing and Strategy, she is always looking for opportunities to further engage with donors and excite their passion for the mission.