Nonprofit Email Marketing: How to Stand Out from the Crowd

Louis Oh

Missed our Email Marketing webinar by our NeonOne partner consultant, Louise Kelly of Glowstone Consulting? Not to worry. Check out the recording of the webinar below.

You can also download the slides and find more resources related to this webinar at our support center.

If you’re otherwise pressed for time, the following is a summary of the key things presented in the webinar.

The Current State of Email Marketing

  • The sheer volume of email continues to significantly grow in volume (from 145 billion to 215 billion emails sent per day in 2016 in four years)
  • On the other hand, the effectiveness of email appears to be underwhelming
    • Email open rates have been steadily decreasing
    • Click-through rates are less than 0.40%
    • Overall response rates are only at 0.05%
  • And yet, email still generates revenue
    • $36 per 1000 emails, $106 for smaller organizations
    • With very low costs, email is a potentially profitable option

The Challenge

So there are meaningful possibilities for nonprofits in email communications but the key in garnering above-average rates is to stand out.

Notably, Gmail’s promotions folder automated categorization system presents a negative cycle of discouraging open rates and further pushing email messaging from the primary inbox and further into inbox obscurity.

The 3 Fundamental Factors in Better Email Marketing

1. Customize: the right message to the right person at the right time

  • Personalization
    • Use constituent data to craft custom messages using email forms and dynamic template filling
    • Integrating MailChimp and Neon: sync Neon databases to MailChimp to use merge tags to create custom emails
    • TIP: you may want to reconsider the default <<constituent name>> field according to how formal or informal your needs are (by eliminating last names or adding titles)
  • Segmentation
    • MailChimp claims 14.99% better click through rate for segmented campaigns
    • Create lists based on constituent data such as personal information, donor level, donation date, event attendance or even email authentication which Neon can track link clicks on system emails
    • Integrating MailChimp and Neon: Neon’s database capabilities present a great opportunity to build lists with a wide variety of fields exportable to MailChimp
    • TIP: consolidate lists to as few as possible as opt-outs only apply to individual lists
  • Marketing Automation
    • Set timed events or triggers to send the right type of automated emails at the right time.
    • In Neon, system emails and sequential emails allows you to set automated messages

2. Testing: take advantage of instant feedback to improve your open rates

Utilize A/B testing: randomly divide your list into two segments and give them different versions of the message (ideally with an isolated variable), such as different subject lines, and track the response rates. MailChimp offers A/B testing function that automatically picks the “winning” version and adapts successful aspects. Also, consider testing the call-to-action and timing.

TIP: People tend to prioritize the to and from lines and forget that the first thing people see and use to determine whether to open is the subject line. Always include the organization name in either the from-name or subject line.

3. Coordination: all communication efforts working together

Some are determined to go completely digital and are surprised to see declining attendance/response. Don’t just ditch offline efforts; analyze return on investment. Competition for attention is very intense so an integrated multichannel strategy is important. Coordinate timing of various efforts and maintain consistency in messaging and branding. Also, think of it as cultivating a relationship with constituents throughout the year. Don’t be the person that only emails when you need something. Oppositely, sending too many can lead to unsubscription.

TIP: In regards to tying email and social media, let dedicate members be your advocates by taking advantage of social-sharing add-ins on Maichimp emails. However, be wary of auto-tweet/post functions as each platform has its own style and demographic. Certain elements don’t translate well to other platforms so customize according to each platform.


Of course, nonprofits may not have the resources to invest in everything suggested here. Louise urged that you should not feel overwhelmed and to do what you can. The key is to plan with your organization and focus on a few major elements. Plan ahead, start small!


  1. Email timing: how much is too frequent?

    There is no universal rule. It depends on the type of organization and the constituent base as well as available resources. Use testing to find what is most appropriate for you. As a rule of thumb daily emailing is likely too frequent and consider the maxim “do to others as you would like done to you.” Consider what your constituents expect.

  2. Does one donation give you the right to begin soliciting?

    This is a difficult issue, but it probably does not. Consider reviewing your existing transactional web-forms and perhaps asking for permission. Consider the nature of the relationship, the size of the organization, and the relevance of the message.
    **Next webinar will be about compliance! Click here to learn more and sign-up.**

  3. Should emails include opt-outs?

    Yes, all emails should include opt-outs. Be mindful of syncing opt-outs in MailChimp and Neon as MailChimp only updates by list.

  4. What’s the ideal sample size for A/B testing?

    MailChimp recommends 5000 but understandably nonprofits may not have this a base this size. Likely statistically unrealistic for list in the hundreds, but perhaps viable for a few thousand.

  5. Should email segmentation efforts be focused to Neon or MailChimp?

    This doesn’t have to be an either/or. MailChimp may be better for design, Neon better in minimizing data duplication or inconsistencies. Take time to consider meaningful segments and consider using NeonCRM to use various custom fields and apply them to MailChimp.

  6. How important are graphics in emails?

    Photos and images can be powerful but avoid making the entire email an image as it may fail to load on certain email clients. A mix of text and images is ideal. Tag images in case they don’t load and test your emails by sending them to yourself and checking on various platforms.

  7. How do you avoid spam filters?

    Domain reputation may be important. Use opt-in practices since all it takes is one person to complain and report as spam to get emails blacklisted.

Want to learn more about email marketing? Check out these posts from our blog on improving your correspondence strategy:

Also, keep on the lookout for more webinars at NeonCRM.

  • Toudjidoum

    As regaards Nonprofit Email marketing I already started this activity with the various sent articles yet NeonCRM extraordinary gave me the oportunity of advancing in my sent emails. And then I connect myself in the evening only.
    Obviously the size of my organization is of 11 members.
    In addition I truly thank to you for everything you to do in order to facilitate our task.

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