Stop Emailing Inactive, Nonresponsive Lists

Date Published
JC Bouvier

Reconsider the longevity of the email addresses on your org’s file

I recently had a conversation with a direct response fundraiser about organization email files and, specifically, the health of email addresses on them. Let’s consider why and how, for a host of reasons, those addresses can go stale, or become “inactive.”

For direct mail fundraisers who haven’t really considered this phenomenon, some examples of reasons for this change in users’ status can include the following.

  1. Losing access to and abandoning their account
  2. Leaving their employer-provided email address
  3. Simply wanting to use a newer, better service
  4. Organizational email being filtered into Gmail’s promotions tab
  5. Lack of interest in your messaging and too lazy to unsubscribe…

…We’ll talk about dreaded item number 5 in a bit.

Regardless of the reason for the inactivity, considering these facts of marketing life is important in ensuring that your organization’s house email file stays healthy. You don’t want to keep email addresses to which you can no longer successfully deliver email.

If you’re an offline, direct response marketer, you may be asking, “Why not?”

Isn’t email the cheap way to stay in touch with those folks I can’t mail?

Won’t one of those “inactive” addresses eventually open, click, and give? Think about it this way: Would you spend postage dollars mailing to households of people whose addresses you know have changed?

Of course not.

The answer is obvious; Because it costs more money to mail them. Again, that’s only one of the reasons. The fundamental reason is because you want a well-qualified and active target audience of recipients. You certainly do not want to be mailing or emailing people who are uninterested or ignoring your attempts.

In neglecting to maintain a healthy house email file and letting it grow wild with inactive or, worse, uninterested and lazy names, two things will eventually happen.

  • Your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be obscured by the weight of inactive addresses on the file. The outcome –– opportunities to improve effort performance and grow revenue, the goal of your digital program, will almost certainly be missed.
  • As the inactive portion grows –– surrounding your active supporter names and email addresses –– those lazy or forgetful folks could report you for spamming them; or worse still your domain could be blacklisted by your service provider because so many emails aren’t being delivered, leaving your organization unable to send email at all!

How do I know if I have “inactive” names on my organization’s email file?

Most Email Service Providers (ESPs) have reports with metrics you can use to filter out those inactive names on your email file.

More specifically, organization email files can become unhealthy when any of the following practices have been the main approach:

  • Only new addresses have ever been added
  • No efforts have been made to review inactive segment performance
  • There is no automated reactivation or list hygiene campaign in place

All of the above contribute to a bloated and stale email list.

From the data and analytical frame, additional unhealthy email file metrics include:

  • Low open rates (< 10%)
  • Low click-through rates (CTRs) (< .3% for fundraising, < 2% for newsletter)
  • High unsubscribe rates (> .5%)

While whole businesses have been built on “purging” inactive names from mail and email files with varying frequency and degrees of accuracy, sometimes organizations want to take a more proactive approach. With some thought given to ongoing business logic, automated email reactivation campaigns can be designed to do just that.

Windows for reactivation programs can be as short as 3 to 4 weeks or as long as a year or more. Creating an A/B test for two trial windows can offer a sense of how your organization’s email file will react to these more proactive efforts.

You may have seen email reactivation attempts in your online shopping experiences. Like this one I received from Philips below:

Figure 1: Here’s an attempt from Philips to get yours truly to reengage with their marketing email.

Usually, classifying emails as inactive in a range from 2 to 6 months is a good start. Again, your organization should base this decision on your existing send frequency, seasonality, and baseline KPIs.

Once the inactive names are identified, organizations should create an “inactive” segment for these emails and omit them from their outbound engagement and email solicitation communications.

The organizational benefits in executing these email file health steps should include increased email subscriber engagement rates, specifically:

  • Increasing open rate percentages 
  • Increasing click-through rate percentages

Additionally, in combination with proper digital fundraising program execution, organizations should see:

  • Increased donor conversion rates

It is a given that every member of an organization’s fundraising team isn’t and shouldn’t need to have thought through every aspect of their email marketing strategy. With a thoughtful and progressive team approach, house email files can be kept healthy and performing at peak efficiency.

Need help with your email strategy? Contact us today!

About the Author:
J.C. Bouvier
Vice President, Digital Fundraising, Agency Services

Role at the Company

Working with the President of Agency Services and the CEO of AFG, I’m responsible for setting digital fundraising strategy and tactics for the Agency Services Client Management team and our clients.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

The opportunity to both build on and refine the digital practice and, working with our sister companies, to help create a sum greater than the parts.

If you weren’t at AFG, what would you be doing?

Helping others improve their marketing efforts, working on my own startup.

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

Trying to get back to writing screenplays, discovering hidden terrific restaurants on the South Shore (Oro anyone?) and on Cape Cod (Terra Luna), playing competitive tennis, finding reasonable prices on outstanding wine, and sitting on the board of the Woods Hole Film Festival.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I’m a first cousin once removed of Ram Dass, ( :: Timothy Leary’s partner at Harvard during the 1960’s LSD experiments, on my mother’s side.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

Opening the wrapped toy Eagle from the “Space 1999” TV show one Christmas.

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