How to Revive an Old Email List

August 22, 2016 | NGP VAN

These days there’s an email series for everything, and by far the most popular is the (very important) welcome series – by this point you’ve likely read article after article about why you should be creating one. A quick search returned over 10 articles from this year alone. If you haven’t already set one up, go do that now, I’ll wait.

See, that wasn’t so bad was it?

A lot of campaigns set up a welcome series for new supporters, but very few go beyond that. While there are a lot of important email series you can use, a re-engagement series is one of the most important if you’re considering reviving an old list, or your open and click rates are low.


Why Re-Engage?

A re-engagement series is a way for you to reach back out to your supporters who have gone silent for the past six months. If they haven’t opened or clicked on any emails during that time, they are considered inactive and could be negatively impacting your email deliverability.

For nonprofits running similar email campaigns, our 2016 Nonprofit email Deliverability Study found that spam complaints cost organizations 7.56% in fundraising revenue in 2015 alone. Let that sink in for a moment…

By re-engaging your inactive supporters, you are increasing the likelihood they take action, or purging them from your list where continued emails will hurt your campaign.

There could be a lot of reasons they aren’t opening your email, but all of them will have a negative effect on your email program – here’s a few:

They changed their email address

If it has been inactive for too long, it can become a spam trap[hyperlink]. If you continue to send to them, the email service providers will see this and downgrade your deliverability score.

You’re sending irrelevant content

There may have been a reason they signed up with you, but they aren’t finding value in your content now. Much like in life, you always want to be improving – find out what it is your subscribers want from you.

They want to unsubscribe

This is a hard one for some folks. Some people just aren’t that into you or your campaign. They have made up their mind and you won’t win them back.

Each time you email them, you lose them a little more, and it hurts your overall email program by increasing the likelihood your emails will be marked as spam, creating much bigger problems for you. The problem could even be that they just can’t find your unsubscribe link.

You assumed they wanted to be on your list

The individual may have engaged with your organization through an action, event, or donation, but never opted in to receive email in the first place.

It wasn’t the right address to begin with

Email mistypes happen. Was it even the correct email address to begin with? If you’re not confirming your opt-ins, this is likely happening.

So What Should I Do?

Just because supporters haven’t been opening your email, it doesn’t mean you can’t win them back. Set up an email series to try and engage them!

Send it out to anyone who hasn’t opened your email in the last six months and make sure to focus on the following areas:

Have a catchy subject line

Try and have a subject line that is different from what you normally send. Your other ones weren’t working so it’s time to get creative.

Make the ask

Have a clear, simple action for subscribers to perform, for instance clicking a button in your email to confirm they want to stay engaged. Don’t make them jump through hoops. The goal here is to get them to engage with you first and, once they’ve done that, you can work on moving them up the ladder of engagement.

Learn what they care about

Just ask your supporters what they care about with an open question – you may not get a lot of responses, but the ones you get could be illuminating and have a positive impact on your email program.

Let them go

Make it easy for people to want unsubscribe to do so – it’s not helping you to keep them on your subscriber list if they still aren’t interacting with your organization. If they aren’t opening your email to even unsubscribe, make sure you filter them out of your future emails or remove them from your list entirely.

Increasing the deliverability of your emails – and ensuring that those who want to receive your email actually receive it – is the key outcome of this. Once you’ve determined the subscribers that still aren’t engaging, make sure you’re removing them from all future emails.

The series isn’t difficult to set up using tools like NGP’s email series tool, especially if you already have a welcome series to base it on. Once it’s active, you should be tracking the rate of active users and deliverability rate over time to ensure they are steadily improving.

You may be emailing fewer subscribers, but you’ll be making sure that everyone who is interested in engaging with your organization gets your full attention, and avoiding getting caught up in a deliverability nightmare that threatens your entire email program.