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How To Revive Your Email Marketing After Landing in “Email Jail”

fundraising nonprofits Aug 11, 2020

How’s your email marketing and fundraising doing these days? If your emails are still hitting the Inbox of your subscribers, then that’s great. My last post discussed how your email marketing can be completely destroyed if you don’t apply care in how you acquire subscribers and manage your email lists. But what happens if it’s too late and you’ve already been blacklisted by internet service providers (ISPs) like Gmail and Yahoo. When you’ve been blacklisted, I call this “email jail.” It’s easy to get into and hard to get out of! If this has happened to your organization, there is hope…but it’s going to take some time. Here are some tips to help restore your reputation and find your way back into the Inbox of your subscribers:

Cleanse Your Data

Dirty data is likely the lion share of what got you landed into email jail, so this is the first item you need to fix. Dirty data consists of email records like non-openers, inactive emails (non-deliverable), emails that have typos, and emails that have flagged you as SPAM. A clean email list contains just the opposite, emails that are delivered, opened, legit, and clicked.

You can go about cleansing your existing email records a few different ways, depending on your budget and/or email service provider (ESP) capabilities. Manually, you can review each of your email sends for a set period of time (maybe 3–6 months) and remove email addresses that have not opened an email or been deliverable in that timeframe. Another way to cleanse data is to use tools provided by your ESP to remove email addresses. The third approach is to provide your data to a third party data house that clean the data for you and provide you back with a new email file of verified and active email addresses from the data you provided.

Warm Up you IP

Once you’ve gone through the exercise of cleansing your data, you’re ready to warm up your IP. This is tech-talk for “building your reputation back up” for the email services like Gmail and Yahoo. These platforms need to see signals that you are 1) legit and 2) relevant to its users’ Inboxes. From a technical perspective, your sender email account is connected to an IP address. The reputation of your IP sender address correlates to the performance signals of your emails (opens, clicks, unsubscribes, spam, etc).

Warming up your IP takes time, 8–12 weeks at a minimum. To simplify how it works, you’ll want to send to smaller list sizes, even starting out with 1 person at a time, then work your way up to your full list size. For example, if your list size is 5,000 subscribers, you’d send to maybe friends and co-workers one at a time. Let them know you are sending, and ask them to open and click your emails. This helps to build up your open rate signals of your IP address, i.e. warming it up. Once you start sending to your actual email list, start small, perhaps with 25 or 50 emails at a time to be safe. Increase your list sizes each time until you get up to a send to the 5,000 subscribers. Over time, your reputation will improve, and you’ll find your way back to the inbox.

Segment Your Lists

Have you ever bought a “one-size fits all” garment before? Maybe it fit, maybe it didn’t. When it fit, all was fine. But when it didn’t fit, that garment became either ignored or an object of resentment. Garments come in different sizes because it better caters to the fit of different sized people. Your email lists should follow suit and not be “one-size fits all.” When this happens, some of your subscribers will be glad to hear from you and others will be annoyed. Go through a segmentation exercise and think of how you would like to segment groups on your email file. The options are many. You can separate based on donors, non-donors, volunteers, event attendees, level of giving, sustainers, etc. When you segment your lists, emails don’t necessarily have to be dramatically different. Oftentimes, it just requires some minor copy tweaks to the subject line and/or email body that speak directly to your segment, rather than a general message to everyone. This will keep your emails more relevant to your subscribers and result in higher open and click rates.

Make it Easy to Unsubscribe

You want people to unsubscribe from your emails. Yeah, I know that sounds radical, but it’s true. You have a responsibility as an organization to provide quality, relevant emails. If you’re doing that and people no longer want to receive your emails, make this an easy action for them to take. Gone are the days of burying an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of your email in a small font. When you do that, you flirt with people flagging your email as SPAM because they can’t find the unsubscribe link. You guessed it, every time your email is marked as SPAM, your reputation takes a hit with ISPs. Either add an Unsubscribe button to the top of your emails or make it very apparent in the footer of your emails how to unsubscribe.

At the end of the day, email is still an extremely valuable channel in the marketing mix. If you can’t reach your donor, subscribes, advocates, and constituents via email, then you’re cutting of a huge communication channel and revenue stream. Follow these tips and you’ll start to turn your program around and once again find your way into the Inbox and pockets of donors.

To learn more about email fundraising, consider joining my online community, Fundraisers Unite! We are passionate fundraisers from around the world that come together to learn, connect, and get better at helping our causes. Learn more here.

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