Top 5 Nonprofit Email Newsletter Mistakes


email newsletter mistakes

According to the Nonprofit Communications Trends Report for 2015, nonprofit marketers spend a great deal of time publishing email newsletters. After all, it’s one of the most effective ways to stay in touch with supporters.


But while most nonprofits spend lots of resources writing their email newsletters, many that I talk to aren’t using it as effectively as they could.

Avoid These 5 Nonprofit Email Newsletter Mistakes

Here are the most common nonprofit email newsletter mistakes I’ve seen as a trainer and a consultant. The good news is that once they’re fixed, opens, clicks and conversions usually follow.

1. Adding total strangers to your list without their permission

If you want to build an email list that’s worthless, start by adding total strangers to your list. Add people who didn’t give you permission. If you do this (and I hope you don’t), you will eventually see dismal open and click rates, as well as poor deliverability.

Instead, you should be asking every email subscriber for permission to join your list.

The easiest way to ensure that you have permission is through a verified opt-in (example below).


Verified opt-in ensures is that people subscribing are actual human beings (not bots or people entering their friend’s email), which will help you build a list of people who are open to donating, volunteering, and promoting your cause.

And while it’s true that your list won’t grow as fast with a verified opt-in, quality will win over quantity in the long run.

2. Giving Subscribers Content That Isn’t That Interesting

Take a moment and log into your email marketing software. Pull up the reports for your most recent email newsletter and look at the click rate. How does it compare to your best-performing emails?

If the click rates are less than 50% of your best performing email, you have a lot of room for improvement, which is awesome!

Here are four quick tips for improving email newsletter engagement:

  1. Make sure the person writing the newsletter is passionate about your cause.
  2. Make sure your newsletter has excellent stories (about outcomes and volunteers).
  3. Make sure your newsletter has clear calls-to-action, answering the subscriber’s question: “How can I get more involved?”
  4. Make sure the messaging is about the subscriber (second person narrative), not your organization.

3. Sending Your Newsletter to Everyone

Just because someone attended an annual event doesn’t mean they want to receive your email newsletter. Sending your newsletter to people who didn’t give you permission will cause your list quality to go through the basement.

Instead, follow up with event attendees and invite them to join your newsletter as a next step. They just attended your event, so surely they’d want to hear from you the day after! Many of them will be asking themselves, “How can I get more involved?”

4. Not Asking People to Take Action

The purpose of your email newsletter is NOT to give supporters information! It’s to engage your supporters in ways that are meaningful to them.

Remember, they are past the honeymoon phase. They’ve already donated, volunteered, signed that petition, or joined your email list. They are interested in your cause and they want to know what else they can do.

Whether it’s making a donation or simply watching a video, your email newsletters should include specific actions subscribers can take to get more involved.

Little clicks are little “yeses” that lead to big “yeses”.

5. Not using a mobile email template

According to research from Litmus, 80% of your email subscribers will delete an email if they can’t read it.


More and more people are reading mobile emails with their mobile device, and all email marketing tools now provide mobile templates (Constant Contact, iContact, Emma, MailChimp). So there’s really is no excuse for not publishing a mobile-friendly email newsletter.

What say you?

These are my choice for the top five biggest mistakes. What would you add? Leave a comment below so we can all learn together.

If you’re interested in learning more about getting more from your email newsletter, check out my class “Stellar Email Newsletters” (next session: March 19th).


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