Three Tips for Non-Profit Email Marketing

Margaret Farmakis
By Margaret Farmakis
Senior Director, Response Consulting

The British public are a charitable lot. Donations to non-profit organizations totalled £1.3 billion in calendar year 2007/2008, with cash being the most popular form of giving. A few stand-out organizations (of the 171,000 charities registered in the UK as of 2007) include Barnardo’s, dedicated to helping vulnerable children through fostering programs and domestic violence education; Marie Curie Cancer Care, providing free nursing care for terminally ill cancer patients; and Mencap, offering support services for people with learning disabilities and their families.

Not surprisingly, email plays a large part in the fundraising initiatives of these organizations. According to a recent study by non-profit technology solutions provider Blackbaud, 62% of non-profits are using email as their most common form of communication with donors, just slightly behind direct mail. When done right, email can make non-profit organizations a lot of money, but when done wrong, marketers run two major risks.

The first risk is that subscribers quickly get tired of irrelevant email and start to tune out, lose interest and unsubscribe. The second risk is that irrelevant email can also cause subscribers to register a complaint with the ISPs and report the email as spam. The more complaints that are registered, the more likely the marketer is to have their email delivered to the junk or spam folder (instead of the inbox) or potentially be blocked all together.

Why does this matter? One irrelevant email campaign can seriously impact the deliverability and response rates of all subsequent email campaigns. For organizations that are relying on email to raise awareness, increase fundraising contributions and build a community of active and engaged subscribers and donors, these risks simply aren’t worth taking.

And yet, many non-profit organizations ignore basic email marketing best practices that will help to ensure their emails get delivered and get a response. A Return Path study of 20 UK-based non-profit organizations showed that:

  • 57% of non-profit organizations don’t send a welcome message.
  • 79% of non-profit organizations collect some type of personal data during the sign-up process (name, post code, age, etc.) but only 17% use that data to personalize their first email to subscribers.
  • It took non-profit organizations an average of 16 days to send their first email to subscribers.

So what can non-profit organizations do to improve the ROI of their email programs? Here are three tips:

  • TIP #1: Find out where your emails are going and be accountable for getting them delivered into the inbox. Your metrics reports may not be telling you the whole story. Sent – Bounces ≠ Delivered! In order to gain a true picture of what your deliverability rate is, you need to accurately measure it, and this involves using a seedlist-based deliverability tool to show you which ISPs are sending your mail to their bulk/junk/spam folders and which are blocking your mail all together.
  • TIP #2: Know your sender reputation, which is the key factor in determining your deliverability. Every marketer has a sender reputation. It’s like a composite credit score for your email program and it’s used by the ISPs to determine whether or not your email will get delivered to the inbox, the junk folder or not at all. Your sender reputation score is based on weighted factors in a variety of areas. The four key factors determining your sender reputation are complaints, list quality, infrastructure and sending permanence. Find out more and check your sender reputation at It’s free!
  • TIP #3: Instantly engage your subscribers with a Welcome Message. Welcome messages act as symbolic handshakes to your email subscribers. Not only do they confirm the subscription, but they thank the subscriber for signing up and reinforce the benefits of the email program. Great welcome messages go one step further and instantly engage with subscribers to get them clicking and converting. Non-profit organizations should not assume that new subscribers have a serious commitment to their organization or its mission. It’s important to take advantage of every opportunity to convey the organization’s story to subscribers. The welcome message is your first chance to do this.

Want three more tips? Register for Blackbaud’s London Relationship Management Conference for non-profits and attend my 9:30 AM session on October 13th: Email Marketing for Fun(draising) and (Non)Profit. I look forward to seeing you there!

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