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Salsa Blog

[Guest Post] Get More Out of Your Email List

A fresh point of view is always welcome here at Salsa. With that in mind, we like to include posts by guest contributors to talk about donor management and many other topics in the nonprofit sector. Today’s guest post about growing your email list is by Laura Packard of Powerthru Consulting.

 Building your email list is only part of the puzzle. It’s important to keep your online membership activated and connected to the ongoing work you’re doing, or your list will atrophy. But how do you do that?

Here are seven simple steps to take to stay in-step with your list.


1. Know your audience.

In Salsa or whatever CRM you use, there are several methods to track how people came into your CRM – groups, tags, source codes, etc. Track how people sign up, and what their interests are (again, you can use groups or tags for that too, to keep track of varied interests). If possible, apply groups or tags automatically based on the actions people took (this will save you a lot of headache), or do queries to pull up groups of people and apply them after the fact.

You can also do periodic online surveys of your supporters to find out their interests. Then make sure to use this information for targeting of your messages, so you are talking to people about issues they care about, rather than issues they don’t.

2. Use Salsa Scoring to track engagement.

Scoring is a Salsa term that lets you keep track of what actions people have taken in the past – you can use this to get to know your supporters and for targeting for the future. Scoring is not necessarily a one-fits-all tool. You may want to set up different algorithms for different things: measuring actions taken, donations, emails opened/clicked, tracking new supporters as they are welcomed.

Examples: using scoring to track supporter engagement, using scoring to maximize year-end fundraising.

3. Nurture your supporters, especially when they first sign up.

How do you handle new supporters? You can either set autotriggered emails (or a series of emails) to welcome them in any way they might sign up for your list or periodically run a sweep and send welcome emails to all new records. Running a sweep requires a lot more diligence than automation, but it’s easy to accidentally miss an obscure landing page, and some people join your list and don’t get an automated welcome.

Whatever you do, be consistent about it (and plan for when you’re on vacation). If new supporters don’t get a good experience when they join, they may be turned off by your organization altogether, and you’re missing out on a chance to work them up the ladder of engagement.

PROOF that welcome series help with increasing engagement of your list.

4. Follow best practices for email.

Make sure your emails have a point. Even though there isn’t technically a cost for sending mass emails, you’re asking for the time and attention of your supporters – make it worthwhile for them or they will unsubscribe or just stop paying attention to you. So make sure you’re being interesting, newsworthy or relevant to their lives.

Also don’t waste an email by failing to have an “ask”, whether it’s an action, a donation, or sharing the news via social media. As somebody once put it, a mass email without an ask is simply mailing an unsubscribe button.

Also remember you’re competing against a sea of other mass email, so it helps to stand out a little. Humor can be good, as long as it doesn’t rub people the wrong way. Be interesting! Emotion is important. Try to make people feel something. If they feel nothing when reading your emails, probably soon they will stop reading altogether.

5. Personalize your emails if possible.

Dear First_Name will most likely perform better than Dear Supporter – or even putting the supporter’s name in the subject line of the email itself. Better yet is to know your audience well enough (back to point #1) to make sure that you’re targeting people who will be interested in your content – perhaps they’ve taken action on that particular issue before or donated before on it.

Thank people for their past work: you could segment between people who’ve taken action before and people who haven’t — and you could start by thanking the activists in that message segment. People like to be acknowledged and have their past efforts noticed.

Here are some more tips on personalizing your fundraising emails with Salsa.

6. Target your emails effectively.

Scoring is one way to do your targeting; you can also use queries and tags and groups and percentiles (which is pulling a % segment of the list) to separate out supporters into segments for targeting your emails. Once you have your list divided up into segments, then you’ll want to tailor each message so it speaks as much as possible to the concerns of those individuals.

You can even use Salsa scripting and custom fields to put individual information into a group email. We do this a lot for fundraising: thanking people for their specific past donation in a previous year and asking them for a year- end donation, for example.

Just be sure to test this kind of advanced work and make sure donation refunds etc. don’t produce unexpected results in your emails like negative numbers! Don’t forget to use A/B testing to test different subject lines, at a minimum. You can mix in custom fields to add some personalization like [[First_Name]] into the subject line – that usually tests well in our experience.

7. Watch for attrition.

Over time, emails will drop from your list. People will change jobs, move away, change interests. There’s nothing you can do about that, so it’s a fact of life that you need to have a strategy to always be low-level building your list.

Also, you’ll need to periodically clean your email list to maintain deliverability and an engaged audience. Just because people are no longer reading your emails, doesn’t mean they will unsubscribe, but if you are still messaging them and they are not responding, this will hurt the email deliverability to the rest of your audience eventually. When your performance stops dropping off, it may be time to do a “last chance” email and purge the non-responders.


Laura Packard has consulted for and trained progressive non-profits and candidates around the country and is a veteran of numerous political campaigns and non-profit organizations over the past decade.  She is based in Ann Arbor, MI, and has also been a part-time city election worker for over a decade. Click here to learn more about PowerThru Consulting.

Topics: Supporter Management Marketing