News and analysis
April 23, 2015

Nonprofits Lose an Average of $15,000 a Year Due to Spam Filters, Study Says

Nonprofits annually lose an average of nearly $15,000 because of fundraising solicitations intercepted by spam filters, according to a new study.

Donations made in response to emails accounted for about a third of online fundraising revenue in 2013, but one in eight emails never reaches an inbox — a percentage almost as high as the share of emails that are opened, the report says. Nonprofits could boost email fundraising revenue by around 14 percent by reducing their spam rate.

An organization’s emails may be sent directly to the junk mailbox — or not delivered at all — when an Internet Service Provider notices that many of its users are marking emails from a certain IP address as spam. Other triggers are emails from a sender that frequently are deleted without being read or are never opened.

It may take months or years for an IP address flagged as a bad sender by a service provider to recover, the report says. An IP address with a poor reputation may have to take steps including cutting down an email list to remove those who have blacklisted the sender or asking everyone on the list to opt-in again.

The 2015 Nonprofit Email Deliverability Study, authored by Brett Schenker, the email deliverability specialist at the Washington, D.C.-based tech start-up EveryAction, which helps nonprofits organize fundraising campaigns, analyzed 55 national organizations with email lists of at least 100,000. The nonprofits in the study use a variety of email service providers.

Nonprofits included in the study had an average of 12.29 percent of emails a month marked as spam last year. For an organization with an email list of 100,000 people sending 24 fundraising messages annually, every 1 percent of email going to spam results in a loss of $1,203.84 potential revenue a year, according to the study. That estimate was calculated by taking into account the benchmark email open rate, click rate, the rate at which people fill out forms, and the average one-time email donation from the consulting firm M+R’s 2014 Nonprofit Benchmarks Study. Factors including size of an organization’s email list, the number of fundraising asks, and the average donation size were all taken into account.

EveryAction provides six tips for keeping email solicitations out of donors’ junk mailboxes:

  • Ask individuals to opt-in to your email list and send a follow-up message to confirm their address is correct.
  • Consider sending a welcome series of several emails to give recipients an idea of what to expect. People who read these messages are more likely to continue reading your emails in the future.
  • Look beyond opens, clicks, and how many people make a donation after getting the email. Analyze what recipients do with the email — open it, fill out a form, and so forth — with different subject lines and content and measure how different segments respond.
  • See what can be done to prevent emails from bouncing back; too many occurrences are a red flag for service providers. Remove an email address from your list if messages bounce back more than a few times.
  • Send a different message to individuals who have not opened or engaged with an email in more than a month to encourage them to re-engage. Addresses that remain inactive should be removed from your list.
  • Work with your email service provider to get more information about your email deliverability, IP address reputation, and other data that can help you fix problems and ensure your messages are seen.

A free copy of the full report is available for download.

Send an email to Eden Stiffman.