Making sure your e-mail gets through

Increase email delivery to improve ROI (MTA = Mail Transfer Agent)

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Getting emails delivered, opened and read is tough enough due to spam filtering technology, which sometimes mistakenly blocks legitimate email. When emails do get through spam filters, constituents with  overloaded “inboxes” do their own filtering and decide which messages to read or delete, unopened. What’s a nonprofit to do?

The ugly truth is that there is no way to ensure that 100% of your emails will get through to their intended recipient. But, there are ways to maximize your email delivery. Following are a few things that affect email delivery and the things you can do to avoid common delivery problems.


Recipient Complaints

If recipients report your email as spam to their Internet Service Provider (ISP) or email software provider, your organization’s communications may be rejected or diverted to the spam folder. Here are a few tips for keeping your organization’s complaint rates low:

  • Acquire explicit opt-in from all individuals you add to your email list
    Avoid list building methods that assume a supporter wants to be added to your list because they donated to your organization, participated in an event, or have some offline relationship with your organization. Supporters expect to be asked for their consent before you send them email. 
  • Study where your complaints are coming from to identify and avoid problematic list building practices.
  • Stay “white listed”. Since nonprofits typically email to “home” rather than “work” addresses, half of a group’s typical email file consists of addresses at major ISPs, or consumer providers, such as AOL™, Yahoo!™ and Hotmail™. Check with your email software provider to ensure it has white list relationships, or exemptions from volume filters, with these major providers so your email does not get blocked.

List Hygiene

Keeping your list “clean” is critical to deliverability. If you repeatedly send email to invalid addresses that a recipient’s system has hard bounced, delivery barriers will be raised. Some tips:

  • Review email addresses that are collected offline and correct common mistakes, such as misspelling of domain names, prior to import. 
  • Examine your hard bounces on a quarterly basis, and consider using an email change of address service to recover working addresses for unreachable supporters. The delivery status of an email address should not be reset without evidence that a hard bounce was in error or spam-policy related.

A Word of Caution 

Bounced email consumes resources, so Internet Service Providers do not appreciate repeated emails to addresses already identified as bad. They use high bounce rates as an indicator of spam, or unsolicited email. 


Supporter Options 

Be sure to let supporters choose the types of email communications they want to receiveFollow these best practices:

  • Provide tools that enable self-serve subscription management. 
  • Allow users to maintain profiles with their contact data and interest preferences. 
  • Make it easier for subscribers to remove themselves from your email list than make spam complaints. 
  • Ensure your “remove me” procedures across all touch points are operational. 

When It comes to content, use common sense

While it is rare that typical nonprofit content will trigger spam filters, it can occur even when you are sending to a fully qualified, fully opted-in list of highly engaged constituents. Avoid content practices that can impact delivery by following the following best practices:

  • Use a light, lean style with significant chunks of meaningful content (spam filters look for a high ratio of HTML tagging to actual text). Avoid single image email. 
  • Design your email to render well even with images suppressed. 
  • Provide a link to the online version of your HTML newsletter. 
  • For quality control, test your content thoroughly before you send it. 

Quick Tip 

Your email marketing software should offer a spam checker so you can check your email communications for any potential spam violations and correct them before sending your email. This capability helps ensure that more of your recipients receive your communications.