5 Reasons Why Your Email Got Deleted | npENGAGE

5 Reasons Why Your Email Got Deleted

By on Nov 11, 2010


Would you be happy with a return of .30 cents per email address when asking your supporter based for money through an email appeal? With 10,000 people in your email list you’d make $3,000.00 in revenue from one mailing. Subtract the money it cost you to send the email and you’re looking at a pretty good ROI. I bet you’d go for that, right? I think most non-profits would.

Now, I know you can’t live off your email list alone and I understand that getting a return on investment like I’ve shown above isn’t always going to happen – that’s not my point here. My point is that it CAN happen (In fact, I saw some examples today of non-profits achieving results like this), but a lot of non-profits shoot themselves in the foot by forgetting to do the basics of email marketing correctly.

I had the chance to review a few email marketing campaigns today. Each was focused on getting their supporter base to take action by registering for a physical event or support the event by making a donation.

The only one who did things correctly sent a series of emails over a period of time. The results consisted of over 3000 paid event registrants and $10,000.00 in revenue (donations plus registration fees).

The rest of the campaigns I reviewed didn’t do much right at all. I was actually quite surprised by what I saw. Based on my review here’s five reasons why email messages fail.

Weak Subject

The subject line is the first thing people see. It’s what gets their attention. It’s what captures their imagination. Simply put, it’s what gets people to open your message. Knowing that should make you think long and hard about the subject line in all of your outbound email communication.

A few tips:

  • Keep it short – people don’t want to read a lot and with the rise of email consumption on mobile devices the space they have to see your subject line is limited.
  • Tell them what they are about to get/read – don’t trick people or just make the subject catchy so someone will open your message. People won’t continue opening long term if you treat them like that.
  • Make it interesting – The title of this post could have been “Email Tips”, but that would not have been interesting at all. In fact, I’d probably not get much traffic or have many people share it on Twitter or Facebook. “5 Reasons Why Your Email was Deleted” is a much more interesting title to this post. I’m sure more people will come in the door to read the content because of the title. This same principal holds true for your email subject lines. Make the subject interesting and compelling. Then back it up with great content.

Kivi Miller has 7 Tips for Writing Engaging Email Subject Lines. Make sure to head over and read that for some more tips and ideas on how to construct your email subject line.

Poor Design

Four of the five email designs I looked at today were plain text – i.e. they didn’t even have basic design. Now, I firmly believe in keeping your email clean and free of unnecessary imagery (as well as unnecessary content), but going 100% plain text is a step in the wrong direction. Every major email reader (Outlook, gmail, yahoo, etc) can handle images just fine.

The one tip I’ve got for you when it comes to email design is to make sure your outbound emails are designed to match your non-profits brand. Include your logo and get the basic color scheme to match your brand. Remember, you have a chance to reinforce your mission each time you touch a supporter.

Too Long

Nowadays people are getting used to reading less. Twitter only lets you type 140 characters. The Facebook status update being used by over 550 million people is training us to both write and read in bit-sized chunks.

As a non-profit you need to take this phenomenon into consideration when you craft your email content. We briefly touched how Email Communication is Changing back in January of this year and by now that fact has been solidified.

Pay attention to this trend and start reviewing your email content with an eye for length. Be a stickler about keeping your message short, clear and valuable to your audience. Remember, if you’ve got more to say you can always provide links to content on your website.

No Call to Action

This one kills me. I actually read a few non-profit emails today that gave me no ability to take action. Not even a link to their website. This is one of the 5 email sins that can’t be forgiven so make sure not to be a culprit.

Not every email is intended to drive event registration, donations, etc, but every email should have a call to action. Even if it’s simply driving people back to your website where they can engage with you more deeply, consume more content, learn more about your mission and programs and see how your non-profit is changing the world.

The take away is simple here – always have a call to action. Thinking this way will help you refine your email content and message so that you are clearly pointing your readers to the action you’d like them to take.

Lacking  Analytics

As with anything you’re trying to get better at, if you don’t measure it, you’ll never know if you’re improving.

As I looked over a few email campaigns I noticed something very surprising – even though each of the non-profits had the ability to track basic things like open rates, clicks, actions taken, donations given and registrations, they didn’t take advantage of it.

First, make sure you are using an emarketing tool that allows you to track all of the basic email statistics (open rates, clicks, actions taken, money raised, etc)

Second, use the tool correctly so you can both capture the metrics you need and use the data to make educated decisions about what to do next.

Third, get into the habit of reviewing the metrics. Analyze your data to see if your emarketing efforts are in line with industry standards. Here’s a great report by NTEN and M+R on non-profit emarketing benchmarks as well as a quick look at what the open, click through, response and unsubscribe rates look like.

Am I thinking about email and emarketing correctly? What am I missing?

Photo by M i x y


Frank Barry, formerly worked at Blackbaud helping nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

Comments (8)

  • cherita says:

    This was great – thanks Frank!

    On analytics, I’m not surprised, really, but still a little floored that organizations aren’t keeping track of basic email analytics like open, click-thru & unsubscribe rates. How can you improve if you don’t even know how you’re doing to begin with?

    • frank barry says:

      Thanks for stopping by Cherita!! I’m with you. It really worries me when people don’t think about how to measure their efforts. If you don’t measure you can’t determine if you are effective or not.

  • Great article Frank, you mentioned some very important points to consider. I’d like to add ‘relevant content’ as a point. A lot of marketers don’t think about who they are actually sending campaigns to and therefore end up sending the same email to all their subscribers. By segmenting your list effectively and sending relevant content to each group your emails won’t get ignored or deleted for that matter. Thanks again for the post.

    • frank barry says:

      Great point Spiro. You can throw out all my points until you have the segmentation and appropriate content (i.e. targeting) ready – with a focus on each individual supporter. All the other stuff comes after this.

  • Event360 says:

    You hit the nail on the head with these points. Engaging,
    concise content with a clear call to action is key. It’s also important to lay
    out the content in a clean, simple way. But people won’t even see all of this
    great work unless you have an interesting subject. Analytics, too, are such an
    essential part of email marketing – if you’re not tracking what you’re doing,
    how do you know if you’re successful? Thanks for this informative post. 

  • Event360 says:

    You hit the nail on the head with these points. Engaging,
    concise content with a clear call to action is key. It’s also important to lay
    out the content in a clean, simple way. But people won’t even see all of this
    great work unless you have an interesting subject. Analytics, too, are such an
    essential part of email marketing – if you’re not tracking what you’re doing,
    how do you know if you’re successful? Thanks for this informative post. 

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