Fundraise Smarter

Are Disengaged Donors and Poor Email Marketing Practices Killing Your Fundraising Campaigns?

Posted by Zak Walters on May 16, 2017 3:53:00 PM

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Your online fundraising strategy and campaigns are dependent on email marketing. Poor delivery rates will leave a lasting residual impact on all of those efforts you work hard to set in place. Imagine if your recipient’s inbox never received those campaigns you worked so hard on. Believe it or not, it could be happening to you. 

Email sending reputation can kill your online fundraising campaigns and no one is talking about it. This reputation is directly impacted by disengaged donors and poor email practices. Are your emails landing in the spam folder? Or worse, getting your domain blacklisted?

Let’s take an in-depth look at how your email sending reputation is determined, why it’s important, and what you can do to fix it.

How is reputation determined?

ISPs (Internet Service Providers) grade reputation through a number of data points they gather from actions related to your recipients and the emails sent to them by you. ISP data is then used to determine if you’re a legit sender and prioritize emails accordingly. Think about ISPs like the Federal Government and Email Service Providers as Postal Workers.

The data points they rely on to establish these determinations should be your primary focus for improvement. This is accomplished by avoiding poor email practices and reinforcing the good ones. Together, these efforts will ensure you avoid those pesky spam traps.

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The Big 3 Determining Factors

  • Email Bounce Rate
  • Email Open Rate
  • Email Feedback and Engagement

Bounce Rate

Email Service Providers are responsible for delivering email that’s addressed to you. Bounce rates for emails are much like returned postage. An email bounce suggests the sender did not have explicit permission to contact the recipient since the address was incorrect or no longer exists.

A 3% bounce rate should be your benchmark goal for the emails you send. Anything higher is a cause for concern. Review previous email campaign reports to find this data point. Your emails are more likely to trigger spam filters the higher this metric is.

Having a high bounce rate is also an huge indicator that you bought your nonprofit email list

Open Rate

The average open rate for emails sits at around 20%. Email Service Providers will place a lower priority on all of your communications if open rates are ~10-15% or less. Naturally, a low open rate indicates recipients aren’t interested in the messages you’re sending them.

Feedback and Engagement

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The engagement rate is known as the interactions taking place between the content of your email and its recipients. Low engagement rates are seen as forceful and irrelevant to the recipients of your message, from an Email Service Provider’s perspective. Even more importantly, negative engagement or feedback being taken place, such as unsubscribes or spam reporting, can negatively affect future email delivery rate.

Improving Email Deliverability and Reputation

The Do’s

Analyze the current state of your list

NeverBounce analyzes how clean or dirty your existing list is. Upload your email list to identify the proportion of emails that will bounce or have decayed. From there, you will be prompted for actions to take based on the results of the test.

Segment Lists by Engagement

  1. Create an email deliverability report for the last 9-12 campaigns sent from your Email Service Provider.

  2. Build a segment for subscribers who have opened at least one campaigns in the designated time frame. Label this “Engaged Subscribers”

  3. For those who haven’t, label the segment “Disengaged Subscribers”. These two lists should be mutually exclusive.

Send your future campaigns only to the “Engaged Subscribers” segment. This will gradually improve your deliverability for the recipients that matter to you most.

Create a re-engagement campaign for those placed in the “Disengaged Subscribers” segment.

Re-engagement campaigns

The campaign itself should consist of 3-4 emails in an order that looks something like this:

  1. "We Miss You" Email #1
    >>Wait 3-7 Days
  2. "We Miss You" Email #2 (Follow-up)
    >>Wait 3-7 Days
  3. Final Notice Email #3

Including the words "We Miss You" in the subject line had the highest read rate of around 13% according to this report.

The Call-To-Action (CTA) for these emails should be something to indicate interest. For example:

  • I still want to receive emails
  • I still want to help your cause
  • Keep me in the loop, etc.

Setup a trigger that moves subscribers who click the CTA into the Engaged Donor segment you created earlier.

Congratulations, you just won them back! Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.16.00 AM

Pro Tip: Limit emails to only ONE CTA. Make it clear that you want them back, but don’t push it. DO NOT include an ask in these emails.

Remove Disengaged Email List Subscribers

You need to get rid of the bad eggs. Anyone who has not opened an email in 9+ months (or your re-engagement campaign), is no longer interested in hearing from you. The results of that disinterest is only damaging your email reputation and deliverability.

Keep in mind, you don’t need to completely delete disengaged subscribers from your organization’s contacts. Simply export their emails and save them for a future re-engagement follow-up campaign down the road.

It’s important to automate re-engagement campaigns because subscribers will become disengaged at different times. Therefore, you should be taking action respective to that data point which is unique to them.

Improve Open Rates with a Personal Touch

As a fundraiser, you know that being personal with donors and prospects is essential for connecting and developing a deeper relationship with them. Between manual research and crafting personal messages, this can quickly become a costly time sink.

Insights by WeDidIt saves hours of individual prospective donor research. Insights essentially automates relentless googling and hunting for donor information, with just an email address.

Fundraising Software

The key to being personal in a timely manner is to appeal to donors or prospects by leveraging the data you’ve gained from your research.

Create Segments with Merge Tags

Merge tags are replaceable variables linked to your donor database that you can use to personalize every email you send at mass-scale. These variables can be their first name, a related interest, the number of social media followers they have, or even a previous organization they’ve donated to.

Knowing this data and implementing it your email segments, gives you the ability to create thousands of personal emails in the time it takes you to write one. For example, you could actually raise more by adjusting your ask in relation to the known household income level of the donor or prospect. 

It would look a little something like this if you consider all items within brackets as merge tags for setting up email templates:

Segment 1 - Household Income level 100k+ and has High # of Social Media Followers

Hey [First Name],

I’m reaching out to you because of the recent contribution you made to [Supported NPO Name]. [Organization Name] is on a similar mission, we help [Your Organization’s Mission].

Knowing you care about this cause, would you be willing to share our new campaign, [Campaign Name], on your social media?

As you know, every little bit helps and all gifts matter. Even if it’s only [Income Ask 100k+].

Segment 2 - Household Income level 50-100k

Duplicate above email campaign, change [Income Ask 100k+] to [Income Ask 50k-100k].

Segment 3 - Household Income level <50k

Duplicate above email campaign, change [Income Ask 50k-100k+] to [Income Ask <50k].

You will notice a dramatic increase in email open rates, engagement, and ultimately, more donations when you utilize personal merge tags.

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Keep in mind these are examples, if your organization prefers a more personal and targetted approach, you can still benefit from merge tags. The variety and frequency you utilize merge tags is ultimately your decision.

You don't want to overdo it and have the emails completely emotionless. Yet, you also don't want to spend all day writing hundreds of emails. It's not a matter of one or the other, you can have the best of both worlds. Focus on the balance. Find the happy medium that works for your audience. By creating email templates with merge tags based on donor data, you'll have a strong starting foundation and have the option to appeal to them in a personal way within the email. 

Pro Tip: Merge tags are not limited to body text, they can be used in the subject line for even better open rates. Something as simple as utilizing a first name in the email subject line can dramatically improve open rates.

The Don'ts

Don't use Subject Lines that Lack Context

This situation may sound familiar to you. You check your mail and receive something resembling  the appearance of a check. Your name is printed next to the words “PAY TO THE ORDER OF” in the window of the envelope.  

Sweet, unexpected money!

Nevermind, just another sales offer. Awesomeness. 

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Why do junk mail senders do this? They know you’ll open it, but they often don’t think about how you’ll react. Unlike junk mail senders, your reputation is on the line so you can’t afford to think that way. When this happens with email subject lines, it will often result in negative feedback or engagement. Examples:

  • Deletes
  • Low Engagement/Click-through Rates
  • Distrust of Future Emails
  • High Unsubscribe Rates
  • Spam Offense Reporting

Email Providers take notice when the aforementioned actions take place. As a result, they will gradually prevent inbox delivery by placing emails from your domain ( into the ‘Promotions’ or ‘Spam’ folders.

Don't Send from a Free Email Address

Sending mass emails from free Email Providers (Gmail, Yahoo, Aol, etc.) comes across as spammy to ISPs. While they’re great for direct, personal communication do not use them in conjunction with your fundraising campaigns, unless appealing to a donor directly.

Preventing Future Subscribers from Becoming Disengaged

Utilize an accepted strategy for building an email list

According to Hubspot, the average email list decays approximately 22.5% per year. Statistically, your list will be useless in approximately 4.5 years. Don’t worry. All you need to do is implement a strategy to offset this decay. Increasing your email list by 22.5% should be one of the goals that you and your team set for the year. Sound like a lot? Break it up into monthly micro-goals (1.8% a month). Doesn’t sound too bad now, eh?

Read more about how you can optimize your website to build and leverage your email list.

Create an automated welcome email series

Simply put, this is an automated marketing email sequence of 2-3 Emails that introduces your organization to your new subscriber when they are first added to your list. It’s important to set the expectations of what your emails will contain in the future and when they should expect to be receiving them. This will also help improve your open rates by preparing them accordingly.

Ask for feedback

When someone unsubscribes from our email list, they are prompted with a short survey. The survey simply asks, “We’re sorry to see you go, why did you unsubscribe?”. We almost always get a response, and it has helped us improve our email engagement and deliverability as a result thereof. 70% of unsubscribers informed us that the email was too high. Now, we send them bi-weekly instead of weekly. That’s something we wouldn’t have known if we never asked.

Being personal doesn’t stop with merge tags

Is your donor base younger or older? What’s their average education level? Are they all from the similar area? What are common patterns and interests among them? Do they use Twitter or Facebook or Instagram? What kinds of images do they like and share? What other organizations are they interested in?

Know the answers to these questions. Know your donors and prospects.

Use data as a guide for making decisions, not your gut instinct. I can’t say this enough. Resonating with your audience is the most important thing in communication. That’s why storytelling is so powerful. However, you need to make sure it’s the right story and that you’re telling it the right way. Use this mentality when writing emails, as well as posting on social media and on your website. A great storyteller always keeps their audience in mind. Remember it’s about them and the cause - not your organization.

Improve your donor personas and automate the research process with Insights and our Fundraising platform. There's a reason top nonprofits use our software for all of their campaigns. Put simply, they just raise more. You could be next!

Request a demo and see WeDidIt in action today.

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Topics: nonprofit management, fundraising campaigns, email fundraising, fundraising data, disengaged donors

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