Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Email Supporters Regularly

5 min
email unsubscribes
William Schmidt
Will Schmidt

“The average nonprofit sends 69 marketing emails or public blasts per year.”

That’s roughly 1.3 emails every week. Yet despite this average, our account management team at Classy works with nonprofits who feel afraid to email their supporters regularly.

It seems many are concerned they will send too many emails, fatigue their audience, and lose valued email subscribers. As such, they shy away from email and forsake crucial touch points that could net more donations, encourage campaign action, or spark social network shares.

To dig into the benefits of frequent email messaging, we sat down with Classy account manager Colleen Ennis.

Just Getting Started With Email? Read the Beginner’s Guide to Email Appeals

Don’t Focus on Your Fear

A fear of email unsubscribes shouldn’t deter your entire email strategy. Instead of focusing on the fear, focus on why email is important for your organization.

Email allows you to:

  • Be more intimate than a general social media post
  • Include defined and engaging content in your messages
  • Segment and personalize messages for your different audiences
  • Address your audience in a standard and expected forum of communication

Aside from these points, the most important feature of an email is that it lives in someone’s inbox until they intentionally remove it.

For example, the Classy weekly content roundup goes out every Tuesday (sent by yours truly). While the majority of our audience engages with the email that same day, some engagement is spread out over the rest of the week. We also see people save it for a later date and return in the future—in some cases, they digest the message months after the initial send.

Colleen shared a similar example with us about a personal fundraising page she built during a peer-to-peer campaign. After she emailed a donation appeal to her network, one person replied to say their budget for the month was spent. On the first of the new month though, they wanted to make a donation.

Image of Colleen Ennis, Classy Account Manager

Some people want to give, but they might wait for a milestone like their next pay day, or the start of a matching gift period you’ve set up. It’s important for your emails to get in front of your supporters sooner rather than later. That way you’re top of mind when they’re ready to take action.”

Colleen Ennis
Classy Account Manager

If you’re afraid to email your supporters, how will they know about your upcoming campaigns and events? Clear and consistent lines of communication with your audience increases your chances of a successful initiative because they know exactly what to expect from your organization in the future.

Email Unsubscribes Are Healthy

As you message your supporters, you will inevitably receive email unsubscribes. While you can’t stop that from happening entirely, you can control your reaction.

It’s all in how you frame it: is an unsubscribe a bad thing, or is it an opportunity to grow? Don’t take it personally. Instead, recognize that email unsubscribes provide valuable feedback.

Feedback—positive or negative—is always helpful. When people unsubscribe from your emails, you’re getting insight into content types or formats that turned people off. Depending on your level of analysis, you might also get a glimpse into engagement level by segments.

For example, maybe you send a monthly email to all of your peer-to-peer fundraisers that breaks down recent campaign performance, upcoming campaign opportunities, and a picture of your team. At first you notice that a few people unsubscribe, which is normal.

As time goes on, you notice the unsubscribe rate is picking up steam and you’re losing more and more people each month. Take this as an opportunity to go back and analyze your messages and ask the following questions:

  • Do you send the same type of email each month?
  • If yes, is the content fresh in each monthly message?
  • How often do you change the subject lines on your email?
  • What level of personalization does your copy include?
  • At what time of day do you send your email?
  • Do you include strong calls to action and opportunities to re-engage with your organization?

All these questions ladder up to a bigger question that can help guide your process: How can I better engage my email lists? Combined, the answers to these questions can help you drill down and figure out, specifically, what’s not resonating with your list.

From there, you can act on your insights and begin experimenting with different ways to optimize for better engagement.

Read A Guide to Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Emails

Infuse Your Emails With Creativity

While it helps to anticipate email unsubscribes, you can also work hard to continually grow your email lists as well. Two of the best strategies for growth are creating compelling content and presenting multiple opportunities for people to subscribe to your lists.

As the writer of your organization’s emails, you get to try new things, orchestrate A/B tests, and flex your creative writing muscles.

According to Colleen, there’s no silver bullet that will answer all of your email questions. You’re going to have to dig into the weeds, experiment, and discover what works best for your audience.

Here are a few ideas for tests you can run with your emails:

  • Increase your email sends to monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly
  • Shorten your calls to action and use action verbs for stronger impact
  • Spice up the creative wordplay on your calls to action
  • Tell emotional and personal stories in your email
  • Provide outlets for people to subscribe to your future emails or other lists within the email you’re sending now
  • Consider sending re-engagement emails to people who don’t regularly open your emails
  • Offer people the option to only subscribe to certain emails from your organization
  • Try sending emails at different times of the day 
Pro Tip
If you’re ever at a loss for what to do, comb through your inbox and study promotional emails from companies that resonate with you. Then, put those ideas into action through your own email tests.

As you experiment with emails and try new strategies, it can be difficult to stay on top of all the moving pieces. Create a calendar of email sends so you don’t accidentally email the same people multiple times in one day.

When you overcome the fear of email unsubscribes it opens you up to experimenting with targeted, compelling, and engaging emails to your supporters. If you need a good place to start, you can establish a baseline for email performance by analyzing your old campaigns and their performance.

And as you progress through your journey, we leave you with one final piece of advice from Colleen:

“It’s better to have a list of 5,000 engaged supporters that click through your content than a list of 15,000 contacts you’re afraid to email more than once.”


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