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How to maintain a healthy email list
How to maintain a healthy email list

Learn the basic steps to restore and maintain the health of your email list.

Updated over a week ago

Table of Contents

Main principles

There are three main principles of successful email engagement that we cover in more depth in our How to optimize your email deliverability article:

1. Consent is crucialYou need to have your supporter's permission to send emails in the frequency and subject desired. Having consent means that your supporters expect to hear from you, ensuring that few people will feel the need to unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam. 

2. Quality over quantityIt is better to have an engaged list of one thousand people than an apathetic list of ten thousand. Over time, the people who remain un-engaged on your list will damage your reputation and prevent emails getting to those who have shown interest. 

3. Personalize your contentThe more personal you make your emails and calls to action, the more likely your email is to be opened. Personalizing your content will help your deliverability and build strong relationships with your supporters.

These three rules will always be golden guidelines to follow as you maintain the health of your email list.

Segment and target

As you build a relationship with recipients, email blasts with generic calls to action might not inspire them to engage. You will want to evolve your email content to be as personalized as possible. Organize your supporters by moving them along a path of engagement and changing your calls to action.

For example, let's say you have collected a list of donors over the past two years. In the early stages of your segmentation process, you sent all donors the same email. Now, based on each recipient’s engagement, you can segment the group into three separate lists.

Segment 1: Donors who have given twice or more and at least once in the past 12 months, or over a specified amount. These donors have shown significant commitment to your organization. Send a blast thanking them for supporting you. Ask these donors to share your organization with friends, transforming the donor into an advocate. These high level donors will feel like a part of your organization and be more inclined to support you in the future. 

Segment 2: Donors who have given for the first time, and only once, in the past 12 months. These donors are at the beginning of an engagement path with your organization. Depending on your organization’s big-picture goals, test different calls to action with these recipients. For example, ask for either a second contribution or to volunteer. 

Segment 3: Past donors who have been inactive in the past 12 months. These recipients have not shown interest in the past year. You will want to attempt one last appeal by running a reconfirmation campaign. Thank each recipient for their previous support and ask if they want to receive your emails. If they do not respond, remove them from your list.

As you continue the process of re-targeting and segmentation remember to keep your preference center up to date. As your content changes, you should change the available options on your preferences page.

Finally, don’t forget to use the tools in your nation to help build a long-term email program:

Sunset policy

A sunset policy is a method where you set a time limit on how long a recipient can remain inactive on your list before removal. Some email service providers start penalizing senders who email recipients who haven't engaged with their emails in more than 90 days, so we recommend setting your limit at 3 months.

To implement a sunset policy:

1. Decide how long a person can remain unengaged on your list before being removed. Again, we recommend 3 months.

2. Filter for anyone who has not opened an email in the past three months. Add these profiles to a list and separate them from the rest of your email recipients.

📌 Note: Some email service providers obfuscate open activity tracking by reporting all emails delivered to them as "opened". We categorize the falsified open data collected from these providers as "unverified". While you should still aim to sunset recipients who have only "unverified" data with the same frequency as non-openers, you may want to send them a targeted reconfirmation campaign prior to removing them from your lists.

3. Try reengaging recipients by:

  • Cutting back on the quantity of emails you send them. This will give them a break from your organization and let them remember why they want to hear from you.

If neither method works, remove them from your list. If un-engaged recipients stays on your email lists for too long, their presence will deteriorate your email reputation and deliverability.

While it can be hard to remove people from your lists, an engaged 500 is more powerful than an apathetic 4000. If you stick to keeping a smaller group really engaged, that will help you build trust and drive action.

Alternatively, if you continually email the 4,000 who largely ignore your emails, email providers may start placing your emails to would-be engaged recipients into spam folders. With not all 500 recipients even seeing your emails, you're not only missing out on their engagement, you're also damaging your changes at reaching new audiences going forward.

Being successful

Keeping your email list healthy is hard work! Remember that keeping your email list engaged is rewarded by more actions taken by supporters, more money raised from donors, and the trust and support of your recipients. 

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