Spam Filters Causing Nonprofits to Lose Online Revenue

July 4, 2019 — Although email deliverability rates for nonprofits improved last year, over the year before, nonprofits are losing 20% of email revenue due to spam filters, a recently concluded study has found.

For example, a nonprofit with a list of 100,000 email addresses, and standard performance across all other email metrics, lost more than $1,000 for every percentage point of email that went to spam in 2018, a total of $20,833.88 of revenue lost to spam filters, according to the 2019 Email Deliverability Benchmarks Study produced by Everyaction, which develops fundraising, engagement, and advocacy tools for nonprofits.

Of the $410 billion donated last year to nonprofit in the United States, 8.5% was classified as “online revenue," and 13% of that amount originated from email appeals—for a total of $460 million raised by email over the course of the year.

But, nationally, nonprofits lost out on $92.8 million in 2018due to spam filters and low deliverability rates, Everyaction concluded, based on its analysis of 55 organizations.

In 2018, the average email spam rate across the nonprofit sector was 20.18%, down from its peak last year at 24.16%, but still high above pre-2016 levels (the average spam rate was at 7.03% in 2015).

"While most conversations about email marketing metrics revolve around list sizes, open rates, and clicks, it’s clear that ignoring the impact of deliverability is a costly oversight," Everyaction wrote in its report.

As spam filters become more and more adept at sifting through “gray mail”—email that falls in somewhere between the categories of “wanted” and “spam”—it is increasingly important for nonprofits to follow best practices for managing and maintaining their email lists, Everyaction said. Those practices include the following:
  • Opt-in and confirm: Not only should you be explicitly asking individuals to opt-in to your email list, you should also send a follow-up email to confirm that their address is correct.

  • Segment your list and provide personalized content: Rather than sending blast content to your entire list, segment your list into smaller universes based on the specific types of appeals the are likely to respond to, and send content that is likely to resonate with each affinity group

  • Focus on bounces and inactives: If bounces happen more than 2 or 3 times, remove them. Also, if an email address has been inactive for more than a year, remove it from your list

  • Automate email series to provide timely communication: Automated email series allow an organization to communicate with a supporter based on various triggers, ensuring that no one falls through the cracks when it comes to receiving timely communication. For instance, welcome series are an important facet of building engagement and rapport among new supporters, and win-back series can help draw in subscribers on the verge of becoming inactive.