In email fundraising, bigger lists are still coveted, but they’re dragging down key deliverability metrics — and costing groups money.
Those were some of the top-line findings in the latest Nonprofit Email Deliverability Study released by nonprofit technology firm EveryAction on Monday.
For years, the practitioners behind the study have warned that groups were approaching a “cliff” with their email fundraising practices.
Specifically, deliverability issues were increasing because of a lingering bad practice: hitting a group’s entire list with an ask.
Unfortunately, the appeal of sending to a larger group still holds sway among advocacy groups’ leadership despite some practitioners’ best advice: engage with the most productive members of an email list.
“The theme that’s surprising to us is that even sophisticated senders are still not excluding people who are not engaged with their program and that just ends up dragging down the people who are engaged with your program,” said Mike Liddell who runs NGP VAN’s email service EveryAction.
The report is meant to raise awareness of bad email practices and highlight EveryAction’s services. Still, it serves as a touchstone for where the advocacy sector is with email strategy.
In fact, Liddell said that many older decision makers remain wedded to the idea that “bigger is better” when it comes to email lists.
“The reality is that the more engaged your list is, the better it is,” he said.
“Some of it is cultural, some of it is not necessarily with the practitioners, it might be the person who's a level above who still wants that big email list and is still exerting some pressure,” he explained.
“Some of it is just that people are still running the same kind programs that they were running before, and not keeping up with the new trends and tactics that are out there.”
The bottom line is that slipshod email practices — difficult unsubscribes, list renting — are costing groups money, according to Liddell.
While groups’ open rates are on the rise — they increased 5.74 percent last year to 21.27 on average — the average spam rate was 6 percent higher than in 2016, and 17 percent higher than 2015.
Moreover, on average, more than 24 percent of nonprofit emails ended up in spam folders last year, which likely cost groups around $30,000 each.
To put it in context, Liddell said the average open rate he sees are in the 15-25-percent range. “Anything above that is great, anything below and you’re in trouble,” he said.
Now, different types of emails have different open rates. “You want to track it and see what your trend lines are – you want it to be improving,” he said, advising groups to start off with a welcome series to gauge a subscriber’s interest.
He added that email remains the best fundraising channel, despite the challenges with deliverability and spam. “I don’t think you’re going to see Snapchat fundraising take off anytime soon,” Liddell said.
He also advised allowing recipients to reply directly to the email sender’s address.
“It gives you a sense of what people think of the emails you’re sending out,” Liddell said.
“There’s a money-making opportunity to just monitoring those emails because you may miss some stuff there,” he said, “and it’s a way of keeping your list engaged.”