email marketing myths

Does hitting the Send button on an email blast to your list make your pits sweat? That’s totally normal. It makes my pits sweat too, and I have a healthy obsession with writing emails. 

But let’s face it—there’s a lot to worry about! You could make a few typos, offend someone, send too many emails, or land in the Spam folder. Maybe you’re worried your email is packed with meaningless garbage that your CEO or Board Chair made you add (I hope not!). Maybe you’re sweating because your donors and prospects all get the same exact message since you don’t do any segmentation. 

In that case, you should be worried. Nothing makes a reader hit unsubscribe faster than feeling like you have no idea who they are. 

Smart fundraisers (I’m talking about you here, friend) know one of the greatest gifts we can give our donors is the gift of being known by us.

Before the sweat starts to bead on your forehead like mine does when I’m more than 5 minutes into my virtual Camp Gladiator workout, I’m going to bust some email marketing myths. Why? There are some really dangerous email marketing myths that could be hurting your fundraising efforts and donor relationships.

These are email marketing myths that your CEO or one of your board members might swear to be true. The problem is that they’re dead wrong, and the sooner you know the truth, the sooner you can start delighting donors, getting more opens, and raising more money!

Myth #1: “People read our emails.”

Truth: You can prove this point to yourself in about 3 seconds by checking your open rate. If you’re like most nonprofits, it’s around 23%. 

That means 77% of people on your list did not read your email. You think your donors read all of your emails. You want to believe it. But they don’t! They only open and read the ones with great subject lines, and they only give to the nonprofits with a compelling ask that inspires them. 

Myth #2: “I don’t email my list a lot, so they’ll be super excited to hear from me and open my email!”

Truth: Uh, no.

Sending emails less frequently actually hurts your reputation. Providers penalize senders who send emails that are opened at a low rate. The less frequently you email your list, the less likely people are to open your email. 

Consider how busy your inbox is and how many messages it might take for you to notice or take action. The same is true for your readers!

Myth #3: “If I send too many emails, I’ll go into the Spam folder.” 

Truth: The more people open your emails, the better your deliverability to those people and the better your deliverability overall. This means more of your messages will get through, not less.

Bad emails can send you to a Spam folder, but writing good emails that have great subject lines and bring value to your readers will keep you out of it. 

Myth #4: “Some words are ‘trigger words’ that are considered spammy.” 

Truth: Deliverability is based on reputation more than content. 

Predicting what words are considered Spam is a bit like predicting the weather. Every inbox has different rules and is constantly updating the way they target.

There are two magic words to keep you out of the Spam filter: great reputation. The only way to get a great reputation is to get people to open your emails. Avoiding the Spam filter is as simple as getting subscribers to open your emails regularly and consistently. To do that you need to write killer subject lines and great content your readers find valuable.

Myth #5: “Unsubscribes will hurt my reputation.”

Truth: Unsubscribes from the direct unsubscribe link in your email have no known effect on your sender reputation or deliverability.

Unsubscribes are actually a good thing! When someone unsubscribes, your list is now cleaner and more targeted towards the people who want to hear from you. Stop stressing over pleasing everyone and focus on building a community of people who love what you do.

Myth #6: “The value of my list is in the number of subscribers I have.”

Truth: The value of your list is in the number of engaged subscribers you have. 

Having hundreds or thousands of people on your list might make you feel important, but it’s actually hurting your sender reputation and deliverability if they’re not opening your emails.

This is why you should regularly scrub your list. If you’re sending messages each week and people go months without opening them, send a series of re-engagement emails over several weeks. If they still don’t respond, unsubscribe them. Not only will you pay less money to your nonprofit email provider, but you’ll also boost your open rates and deliverability. 

Myth #7: “It’s OK to keep people on my list for months and even years even if they never open anything.” 

Truth: Keeping these people on your list will only cost you money and hurt your deliverability.

Give re-engaging them one last college try with a spunky re-engagement campaign—that’s a series of 2-3 emails with eye-catching subject lines to invite them to re-engage with you. If they don’t open those up, say goodbye to inactive subscribers and hello to lower fees and higher open rates!

What email marketing myths would you add to this list?

Are you ready to give your donors the content they deserve? Here’s a Donor-Centered Content Marketing worksheet you can use as a template to enhance your donor communication efforts.

Rachel Muir
Rachel Muir, CFRE transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers. When she was 26 years old, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. Several years later she had raised over 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show.