Why People Unsubscribe from Your Emails (And Tips to Make It Stop!)

Posted by Ryan Finkelstein on March 30, 2017

You’ve got an unspoken agreement with subscribers, and you have to honor it.

Donors and supporters may have asked you to send them emails, but if many of them are unsubscribing, you have a problem. You may not know exactly why they’re leaving, just that they’re opting out. We’ve done some digging to discover the most common reasons people unsubscribe from nonprofit organization mailing lists – and compiled some essential tips to stop the defections.

You’re emailing people who haven’t opted into receiving communication from you.

Permission-based marketing is an effective way to ensure that recipients are looking forward to your updates. This means you ask someone to sign up to receive communication from you before you start sending them emails. It may seem like an extra step that will bother people, but it’s no bother at all if you’re communicating with someone who agrees with your mission and wants to support you. In fact, it’s likely they’ll appreciate that you cared to ask.

A simple way to implement this is on your website. You can add a banner that says something like, “Want to keep up with all the great work we’re doing? Subscribe to our newsletter.” Include a field for individuals to add their email address and a button that says something like, “Keep me posted!” By submitting their email, they are actively telling you that they want to hear from you and are giving you explicit permission to do so.

We even use this on our own website. Scroll to the bottom of this article to see a confirmation protocol in in action!

You’re emailing irrelevant content

When someone signs up to receive communication from you, there is an unspoken agreement that you’ll respect their time and attention in exchange for permission to engage them through email. Your unsubscribe rate will skyrocket if you send out messages that are irrelevant to recipients, or if they are exclusively focused on making asks instead of providing interesting content.

To ensure that your subscribers stay interested, you must deliver the specific, relevant content that they asked to receive. Straying from your core message and the promise you made when they opted to receive emails from you is one of the quickest ways to lose subscribers. Many nonprofits use email to make asks without providing anything of value in return. And people want to help, but they also want to know that they’re doing good.

Let’s pretend you were the person who signed up for the newsletter in our last example. You were genuinely interested in keeping up with all the great work of your favorite nonprofit. How would you feel if they never told you what they were doing but kept asking for more money?

Customize your message and segment your list to ensure your messages are always relevant

Recipients of your email communications may have different support roles and interests, or may be at different stages in their relationship with you. Segmenting your email list so that the messages and calls to action speak specifically to the recipient is an effective way to keep them engaged with you.

If your list was segmented by “recent donors,” “inactive donors,” and “signed up but never donated,” you would have the opportunity to customize your call to action in light of their giving history. While it’s true that existing supporters are often your best source of additional revenue, it’s not a good idea for recent donors to see a message generically asking for something they’ve already (and very recently) provided.

Your message to recent donors might start with a thank you, provide an update on how much you’ve already raised, and outline how far you still are from your goal. Then, depending on the date of their previous contribution, you can ask for another donation, ask them to sign up for a monthly recurring donation, or remove the ask altogether—perhaps suggesting they volunteer for an upcoming event or share your message with others who are willing and able to help.

Inactive donors may get an email with a personal story about someone your nonprofit is helping with messaging that says the assistance you give is only possible through the contributions of people like the reader. You can include an ask in this call to action or request that they get involved in some other way.

Supporters who have signed up to receive communication but haven’t donated may get the same story with a stronger ask, whether you’d like them to make a one-time donation or to sign up for a smaller monthly contribution.

Segmenting also gives you the power to skip individuals on your email list who wouldn’t find relevance in a certain message. A recent Radicati Group study showed that the average person receives 121 emails a day while they’re at the office. They’re not going to be angry because you kept a message that they didn’t need to read out of their inbox.

If you decide to send an email to your entire list, make sure it’s pertinent to all of them. A success story or an organizational benchmark, like meeting a fundraising goal, would be a great message to share with everyone.

It needs to be relevant, but personalization is even more important

Relevance is only the beginning – the ability to personalize messages has become a requirement and an expectation from subscribers. Your email list may contain many thousands of names, but emails should be personalized enough to make recipients feel important. Generic messages are often perceived as spam and can quickly have an impact on the number of opt-outs from your database.

There are a variety of products that can help you personalize messages, including our own all-in-one fundraising software. But simply putting a recipient’s name in the greeting won’t get you too much appreciation anymore.

Powerful, personalized messages take advantage of databases that have identified and segmented your email list. The more nuanced your segments, the more personalized your messages can be. Donor profiles are an extremely valuable tool because they can help you sort constituents by geography, size or frequency of donation, and even deeper traits, like age or where they went to school. These personal identifiers will help you craft messages that speak to everyone in your community on a deeper level.

Don’t take opt-outs personally.

An unsubscribe request isn’t always an indication of a lost supporter. If someone is getting 121 emails a day, they might just be on the lookout for ways to decrease that number. Sometimes, a lost subscriber doesn’t result from dissatisfaction with your organization or how you’re communicating – it’s just email fatigue.

Segmenting your list and providing relevant content will prioritize your emails with supporters and help you make the cut when they decide to streamline their online subscriptions. Be sure to get the appropriate messages to the right recipients. Non-contributing supporters may need messages that prompt them to donate. Donors need communications that acknowledge their support and inspire them to move their involvement to a higher level. And everyone needs interesting updates on exactly how your organization is making a difference.

A final piece of advice: if you segment, personalize, and focus on relevant content but people still unsubscribe, the cause may not be you or your messages, and you should make an attempt to find out why. Effective email marketers offer unsubscribers an avenue to explain their decision by sending them to a simple landing page with one multiple-choice question. Consider this option if your unsubscribe rate remains high after you incorporate the tips we’ve shared in this article.

Topics: Nonprofit Marketing, Email Marketing

Written by Ryan Finkelstein

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