5 Email Sins to Avoid (Again) | npENGAGE

5 Email Sins to Avoid (Again)

By on Jul 5, 2011


(This was originally written in June 2009. I recently learned it is the most read article on the AFP Information Exchange. Reposting it in case you missed it.)

Every day nonprofits send out millions of email messages. And every day there are some common sins committed with email. Here are some common email sins that should be avoided:

No Purpose
Before you hit send — stop and ask yourself: Why am I sending this message? Does the message have a clear purpose? If it doesn’t then you’re doing more harm than good. Make sure that there’s a self-evident purpose for the message. Everything from the subject line to the content of the message and the links in it should reinforce that purpose.

No Segmentation
Sending a blast email message to every single email address that you have is bad. And it’s more than likely spam, too. “No communication without segmentation” should be your motto. Focus on your best segments and personalize the message in ways that will reinforce your message and resonate better with those targeted recipients.

No Testing
They practice the coin toss for the Super Bowl. Don’t you think you should be testing your emails? The most successful nonprofits test everything from segments and subject lines, the day and time of the message, and variations on the content and landing pages. There is no such thing as luck with email. You need to test, test, and test.

No Call to Action
Email is not where the action is. The action only happens on your website. Never send an email message or enewsletter without a call to action. That action doesn’t always have to be a financial transaction or advocacy alert. It could be asking to take a poll, survey, participate in a contest, or help spread the word for your organization.

No Follow-Up
Email campaigns are never one-and-done. You need to have a follow-up plan for those who take action and those who don’t to maximize results. This could be as simple as a reminder email for people who registered online for an event. It might be a series of emails to new constituents who aren’t yet donors. Following up gets results.

These are just a few common mistakes made with email.  Do you have any others to confess? Let me know and be sure to look for more in the future.


Steve MacLaughlin is the Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud and bestselling author of Data Driven Nonprofits.

MacLaughlin has been featured as a fundraising and nonprofit expert in many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, USA Today, The NonProfit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bloomberg, and has appeared on NPR.

He is a frequent speaker at events including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), American Marketing Association (AMA), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA), Giving Institute Summer Symposium, National Association of Independent School (NAIS), Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), Institute of Fundraising National Convention (United Kingdom), Civil Society Conference (Netherlands), International Fundraising Congress (Netherlands), Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School (Ireland), and a keynote speaker at several conferences across the social good sector.

Steve previously served on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Board of Directors and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University.

He is a frequent blogger, published author of a chapter in the book People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities, and is a co-editor of the book Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets. His latest book, Data Driven Nonprofits, became a bestseller in 2016.

Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Indiana University.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *