5 Nonprofit Email Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

By Posted in - Digital Strategy & Email on February 17th, 2014 4 Comments nonprofit email marketing mistakes

Getting your nonprofit email marketing up and running can be both tricky and time consuming. In addition to a series of posts on email marketing for nonprofits, we’ve highlighted these 5 nonprofit email marketing mistakes we see many nonprofits making. Read on to prevent your emails from ending up in the junk folder.

1. Not Having Permission:

The number one worst mistake you can make when initiating an email marketing campaign on behalf of your organization is to send an emails without permission. When you send an email to someone who didn’t ask to receive the email, it gets marked as SPAM.  There’s no way around that. Messages sent to lists of people without permission will have lower key metrics, will get more complaints and will possibly get you blacklisted. To avoid these pitfalls, you must avoid sending emails to people who haven’t opted into your list… period.

2. Buying or Renting an Email List:

Don’t make the mistake of buying or renting an email list; save your money and use it to build your list organically instead. If you are thinking about buying or renting a list ask yourself, “how many times has this email marketing list been sold?” The answer to that question is many times over and over again.  If there was any value in this list to begin with it’s already been squeezed dry by the people who used it before you. Next ask yourself, “have the people on this list ever heard of my organization?” Probably not. People are trained to view any unknown email senders as suspicious and to report them as such.  Even if the vendor tells you the list is “opted in,” the people on the list have doubtfully opted in to your email list. Any reputable Email service provider will require an opt-in list, which leads me to number 3:

3. Not Using an Email Service Provider:

Another email marketing mistake that nonprofits frequently make is not using an Email Service Provider (such as MailChimp) for their marketing emails. An ESP is a company dedicated to sending bulk marketing messages. There are many reasons that you need an ESP ranging from deliverability and automation to having professional looking templates and great compliance management. Any good ESP will also give you back vital key metrics for your nonprofit to take action on so that your next email is better.  There are plenty of ESP’s out there and there is one for every budget, depending on how many emails you want to send and how sophisticated you want your nonprofits email marketing to be.

4. Sending from dontreply@yourdomain.org:

If you are sending your email from a dontreply address you are essentially telling your supporters that you don’t actually care what they might have to say in return. Instead of telling your subscribers that you don’t want to hear from them, invite them to reply. At Media Cause, we use the reply to address connect@mediacause.org for our reply-to address and we’ve seen others use things like reply@yourdomain.org or email@yourdomain.org.  Keep in mind that this only works if someone actually manages the replies that are coming in – so make sure that someone is checking that inbox.

5. Not Taking Mobile Email Rendering Into Consideration:

As of December 2013, over 50% of emails are opened on a mobile device and this percentage is growing rapidly.  It’s no wonder, according to eMarketer 14 minutes of every hour spent on mobile devices is spent on email versus just 4 on the desktop.  This means you must be testing you designs on a mobile devices before sending them out.  It’s also worth considering if a responsive email design (one that renders differently on different devices) is right for you, although compatibility isn’t 100%… yet.

Avoid these 5 email marketing mistakes and you’ll be on your way to the inboxes of people who want to hear from you and help your organization.

Need help finding an email service provider or building an email list for your nonprofit? Media Cause can help.  Reach out to us at connect@mediacause.org and let us know what we can do for you.

(4) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Everett Program - Reply

    February 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Number 2 is dead on. Buying email lists means that your org is ok with the shady tactics used to get said lists, so why would someone trust you enough to become a donor?

    • Jacob Swarsen - Reply

      February 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

      Thanks! Your right, this is especially true when you are using your list for fundraising.

    • Kevin - Reply

      March 22, 2014 at 9:21 am

      In addition to the trust issue and the well-known shady practices of many list brokers, purchased lists are also rife with spamtraps seeded there by ISPs that want to punish marketers that purchase these kinds of lists. Hitting even a couple of pristine spamtraps can tank the reputation of your sending IP in a heartbeat, especially if it’s not a high-volume sending IP to begin with. Then you run the risk that your actual engaged and opted-in subscribers won’t get your emails, due to bad sending IP reputation. I know an email manager at a large retail brand who got blocked by AOL not even a month into using a new ESP due to spamtraps on a list they had purchased; now even their AOL subscribers who had specifically whitelisted them don’t get their emails.

  • Kirsty - Reply

    March 10, 2014 at 5:00 am

    Great article Jacob, thanks!

    I’d like to add in a sixth point if I may! ‘Don’t forget to PERSONALIZE’; as part of your email marketing strategy, ensure that different emails are written and tailored to target specific sections of your community.

    Not every reader will benefit from the same information, and breaking down your email list into subgroups based on demographic data can make all the difference. This way you can be sure to target your community based on their preferences, therefore reducing the chance of your emails being discarded due to irrelevance.

    Donor management software can help nonprofits segment and target audiences, ensuring each interaction is of high value.

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