5 Steps to Better Email Marketing for Nonprofits

May 25, 2023

Welcome, fellow nonprofit superheroes! How many of us can genuinely say we feel confident that we are utilizing the full potential of our email marketing efforts? As passionate advocates for change, we know the incredible potential email holds to enable us to engage with our audiences, drive donations, and raise awareness about our causes. Unfortunately, so many of us have too little time, professional training, or technical support to unleash the full power of our email marketing efforts. In this blog post, we will review 5 game-changing steps you can take to invigorate your nonprofit’s email marketing and achieve significantly higher ROI from your email campaigns. Let’s dive in!


Step one: Stop! Don’t start until you have a plan. 

It’s all too common for nonprofits to begin building an email list and sending campaigns without a clear idea of how their email marketing will fit into their overall marketing strategy, and this often leads to the prioritization of scattered short-term goals over long-term investment in building email marketing power. Email marketing is primarily a relationship-building tool for your organization. To be successful, you need to pause and take some time to clearly define how you will use email marketing to support your organizational goals. 

HINT: if you expect your email marketing to serve multiple organizational goals (fostering greater donor engagement AND driving increased program signups, for example), you should outline how email marketing will support each goal separately! 


Step two: Clean your email list – or else!

All the planning in the world won’t make a difference if your emails aren’t being successfully delivered to your audience’s inboxes. An essential practice to ensure email deliverability is only email people actively engaging with your content. Once a subscriber stops opening and clicking through your emails, it’s time to stop emailing them. Most email service providers consider subscribers “engaged” if they have opened at least one of your emails in the last three to six months. After that, let them go! High bounce rates and low engagement can impede your progress, preventing your messages from reaching their intended recipients. Embrace the power of email verification tools to identify and remove invalid addresses. Use your email service provider to run a report listing subscribers no longer engaging with your emails. Don’t let your hope that these subscribers may someday “wake up” and start engaging again prevent you from being able to reach the subscribers who do want to hear from you right now.


Step three: Build a Larger List.

Nonprofits are still largely failing to employ standard list-building techniques. Sure, you have an email newsletter signup form somewhere on your website, and you might print a signup form for participants to fill out at your in-person events. But there are so many more ways to build your list! Even better, most of these tactics are “set and forget,” allowing you to grow your list more quickly while requiring minimal staff time after the initial setup.  

  • Gated content and polls/quizzes are successful list builders that most nonprofits underutilize. Offer valuable incentives, such as exclusive content or access to impactful resources, to entice visitors to join your email list.
  • Capture the attention of potential subscribers with a well-targeted popup or lightbox on your website. Rather than waiting for a website visitor to find your subscription form, you can capture their contact information before they leave your site. It can significantly increase the overall conversion rate of website visitors to email subscribers for your website.
  • Harness the power of social media by promoting your newsletter and engaging with your audience on platforms where they gather. 
  • Seek partnerships with like-minded organizations, leveraging cross-promotion opportunities to tap into new audiences and grow your list.


Step four: Segment Your List.

Most smaller or newer nonprofits have just one email marketing list, and every email campaign they send out goes to the entire list. This lowers engagement rates and inhibits the overall success of your email marketing. If you follow only one step from this blog post, make it this one: segment your lists! Again, email marketing is primarily a relationship-building tool. Segmented lists allow you to send emails that are more closely personalized to the specific interests or needs of different groups within your overall audience. The more personalized your messaging is, the more effective it will be in building relationships and driving long-term success.

Every organization will need a custom approach to their segmentation, but some common segments might include: program participants, donors/funders, and volunteers. Consider factors such as demographics, engagement levels, or even donation history to divide your list into distinct groups. Once you’ve segmented your list, craft compelling subject lines and email content that speaks directly to the interests and aspirations of each segment. Continuously refine your messaging strategy through testing and analysis, allowing your communication to evolve and deepen the bond with your supporters. 

If you are just getting started with segmenting: challenge yourself to divide your list into just two segments and observe how your engagement deepens as you start sending more relevant and personalized messages in the next several campaigns. 


Step five: Connect Your List!

Finally, if you haven’t already, it’s time to integrate your email list with your donor or contact database dynamically. Many nonprofits miss this opportunity to bridge the gap between their email marketing and donor or contact management systems. Connecting your list to these systems allows you to access valuable insights and create personalized experiences. Be sure to automate the syncing of data, ensuring that your donor information remains accurate and up-to-date. You can also leverage the power of dynamic segmentation, allowing you to target specific donor groups based on their giving history, preferences, or engagement levels. Try this out and witness the magic unfold as your emails resonate more deeply, fostering stronger connections and igniting increased support for your cause.

Your ability to improve your messaging in the future will be limited by the quality of data you have about your subscribers, so take the time to set up a dynamic connection today. To get started, you can type the name of your email marketing service and your contact management service into a search engine with the keyword “integration” and follow the directions provided by either software company. If a ready-made integration for your two services does not already exist, you should be able to create your own using Zapier. This software tool is the secret source of many nonprofit communication professionals’ superpowers. 



Implementing these five steps can significantly improve your nonprofit organization’s email marketing efforts, leading to increased engagement, higher conversion rates, and a more significant impact on your cause. Remember to plan and strategize before sending out emails, regularly clean your list, employ industry-standard list-building techniques, segment your audience, and connect your email list dynamically with your donor database. These steps will save you time and money in the long run. If you need any help getting started, The Nonprofit Partnership can connect you with marketing and communications consultants who can guide you through implementing these steps. Together, we can build a healthier and more powerful nonprofit sector, one step at a time!


Wishing you all the best in your nonprofit marketing endeavors,


Kenny Allen, Creative Director @ Springwave Studios
TNP Affiliate Consultant


GET IN TOUCHSocial Media
Follow us for news, tips and much more