Happy Fundraisers Make for Happy Nonprofits
November 12, 2014
The Three Hard Fundraising Questions Every Board Should Ask
December 3, 2014

The Opportunity of the E-mail Unsubscribe

egg with loveLately I’ve been cleaning out my inbox with gusto. I’m a bit of an e-mail junkie. I try to get on all of our clients’ lists (yes, I’m watching you). I read as many posts and articles by other fundraisers and consultants as possible. And I love food, home, and fashion blogs. Let’s just say, I get a lot of e-mail.

The last few weeks, I’ve unsubscribed to about 12 different e-mail streams with budgets as high as The Container Store and as low as a local food blog. And I also unsubscribed to a bunch of political lists before the election (even I was fed up!).

Here’s what I noticed when I clicked on Unsubscribe:

  • Some companies and organizations have a very boilerplate response. When I clicked on “unsubscribe” from the e-mail, I was taken to a mostly blank page that confirmed my unsubscribed status.
  • Some had a message of “Sorry to see you go!” They had a branded page that reminded me of the value of the organization or company to encourage me to stay. And a few really made me think about my decision.
  • Some had a page that gave me choices for reducing or changing the amount of e-mail I get. They used the opportunity to allow me to set my own preferences for the kind of the e-mail I wanted in the future.

It got me thinking about the opportunities an unsubscribe presents for nonprofit e-mailers.

If you really want to provide good donor service and save some of those folks from leaving your e-mail list (and your solicitation process), consider what happens after the donor or supporter clicks on that “unsubscribe” button.

  1. Does your unsubscribe page have a message on it that speaks directly to the donor? Does it remind them what they might gain by staying subscribed to your organization?
  2. Does your unsubscribe page have the look and feel of your organization? Maybe a photo of a real staff member or of a client you serve?
  3. Does your unsubscribe process encourage people to change the frequency with which they receive your e-mail? Does it allow then to opt out of certain e-mails?
  4. Does your unsubscribe page allow supporters them to select their communication based on their interest areas (like “Just send me information on the food bank or whales or the visual arts program)?
  5. Does your unsubscribe page ask for an alternative channel? If someone doesn’t want to receive your e-mail, could we contact them via SMS or phone or snail mail?

Your organization may not have the people-power, the resources, or the data management system to implement some of these ideas, but any organization that does e-mail can take the spirit of this donor service and make it real.

Think about it. In nearly every other fundraising communications channel we put a priority on retention and we know it’s the way to make the most money for our organization. But in the e-mail space, we seem to only care about acquisition – or how many e-mails we get on our list. This is short sighted in a world where e-mail continues to grow faster than any other fundraising channel.

So, instead of worrying about how many new e-mail addresses you can get, consider trying to keep those that you already have. When someone does hit that unsubscribe button, you want to make sure that you are doing your best to re-engage the supporter and making them think twice about not hearing from you.

And finally, when someone really does unsubscribe, do you actually make it happen? Because nearly a quarter of e-mail lists that I have unsubscribed to are still sending me stuff. And I’m super annoyed – hope you’re not doing that to your donors!


  1. Greg Wright says:

    Tara and I were just talking about this. By the time you’re ready to unsubscribe, it may be too late. Some great ideas to consider. Thanks, Leslie!

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