The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Half of Your Email Subscribers Are Ignoring You

New research from the 2015 M+R Benchmarks Study tells us that, on average, almost half (45%) of small nonprofits’ email subscribers are inactive. Yikes!

Inactive could mean different things to different organizations. Many organizations define inactive subscribers as those who’ve gone one year with no activity. (These don’t necessarily include lapsed or inactive donors. We’re simply talking about people in your database who haven’t opened an email in a really long time—donors and nondonors.) However you define your inactive subscriber base, I think we can all agree that you need a plan of action to reengage with people who were, at one point, interested in your organization.

Why do anything with inactive email addresses?

You’re probably thinking, “My list is really small as it is! Why would I want to make it even smaller by choice?” I hear you! I’ve worked with organizations that have email lists of around 1,000 names, and they are hesitant to do any deleting or suppressions. However, this dead weight is hurting your open rates, and if you continue to send emails to people who aren’t engaging with you, it will affect your deliverability rate.

Trimming and suppressing parts of your email list will boost your confidence the next time you’re testing subject lines. And it will more accurately reflect—and improve!—your open and click rate.

What should I do to reengage with inactive email addresses?

First, segment your list. I recommend pulling a list of people who haven’t opened any email in the past 12 months. Send them an email to let them know you miss them. Make the subject line snappy. Be sure to have a clear call to action in the email that asks people to confirm that they still want to hear from you.

You can even go a few steps further and send a drip campaign with the goal of getting this group to reengage. Karla Capers wrote a guest post on the blog Getting Attention! about how she reactivated $13,000 worth of inactive names with a simple three-email drip approach. I love the subject lines she chose and the careful approach she took to reengage with these subscribers.

Why are email addresses inactive in the first place?

Only your email subscribers can tell you for sure why they don’t open your emails, but here are a few common responses:

  1. You send too many emails. It’s easier to delete them all.
  2. Your sender’s name/subject line doesn’t make it clear the message is from you.
  3. It lands in my junk box, and I can’t figure out how to make you a safe sender.
  4. Your emails always come at bad times.
  5. I want you to send emails to a different email address (work/personal).

If inactive subscribers are a big problem for your organization, it might be worthwhile to survey those who haven’t shown interest in your emails and find out why they aren’t opening them. This can be challenging in itself: How can you get someone to open an email and take a survey about why they aren’t opening your emails? If you have the resources, it might be worth taking the conversation offline.

What do I do with people who didn’t reengage?

After your reengagement campaign has run its course, you need to honor your subscribers’ preferences. You will not hear back from every inactive subscriber. Some won’t make it clear if they want to hear from you again. Leave these people in your inactive list and suppress them from your mailings as you see fit, but make it easy for them to reengage if they want to. I wouldn’t recommend adding them to your unsubscribe list, because they didn’t explicitly tell you they wanted to unsubscribe. If they notice they’re no longer getting emails from you, let them subscribe again without making it too difficult to return them to your active list.

Want to get fancy?

If you’re open to testing with Facebook ads, you might try using a custom audience ad as part of your reactivation campaign. Although I would caution against spending too much on folks who aren’t engaging with your emails, Facebook ads can be very affordable. Facebook makes it really easy to import a list of email subscribers you want to reach. If the email address is associated with a Facebook account, Facebook will deliver an ad to their feed. If you want to just check if your donors use Facebook, John Haydon has simple instructions on how to upload your list without paying for an ad.

What if I don’t have time for all of this?

If you’re in a crunch and can’t manage a reactivation campaign right now, try simply suppressing inactive email addresses from your email sends for a few months and watch your open rate go up. I know you might be nervous about voluntarily sending an email to fewer people, but it’s just a test! It’s time to face the reality: These people haven’t opened an email from you in the past 12 months. Suppressing them from a few email sends as part of a test won’t do any damage.

For more stats and best practices on digital fundraising, download The 2015 Online Fundraising Report.

2015 Online Fundraising Report

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About This Blog

Linda Lombardi

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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