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How best to segment your readers for more effective nonprofit email marketing

Nonprofit Email Marketing

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your email marketing it is essential that you segment your subscribers.

Why? Because you always need to be delivering targeted and relevant email messages to your subscribers.

This will ensure they stay on your list and will help move them along their journey to becoming a donor.

So what is the best way to segment your readers?

How do you know what lists to make and who should be on what list?

Below I’ll discuss why segmentation is important, explain the primary intention behind segmentation, and offer a simple solution to help you determine how best to segment your readers.

Segmenting your list is essential for effective nonprofit email marketing.

A segmented list is one of the five essential components of an effective email marketing system.


Because it allows you to more effectively communicate with your readers based on their past actions and current relationship with your nonprofit.

Remember the primary objective of nonprofit email marketing?

In order to turn you readers into raving fans you have to speak to them based on where they are now.

For example, it makes no sense at all to make a major gift ask of a person who just signed up to your email list.

They just want to learn more about who you are and what you do.

They are not ready to make a substantial donation.

Asking them to do so too early can come off as money grubbing and can leave a bad taste in the mouth of this potential new donor.

Instead, you should be giving them the information they are seeking.

They should be going through your introductory email welcome series.

Save the big donation request for further down the road.

Build the relationship first.

Here’s another example…

Say you were able to find a major gift donor through smart email marketing.

Once they’ve made a donation of $5,000 they are no longer interested in your pleas of “even $5 would make a big difference.”

It is likely to do more harm than good to speak to them in this way as they could find it insulting.

Wouldn’t it be better to send them separate emails, acknowledging their generosity and how important they are to organizations like yours?

Wouldn’t it be better to tell them all the ways in which their major gift made a deep impact on the people you serve?

This is why you need segmentation.

Without it, you prevent your email marketing from being fully effective.

The driving force behind your segmentation decisions.

There is a simple philosophy to segmentation that will help clarify when, who, and how to segment your email list.

This simple philosophy goes like this:

I will provide the information that is most useful and of most interest to my readers at all times.

This philosophy is the driving force behind all segmentation decisions.

If the emails you are writing are not relevant or of interest to a group of people on your email list then sending that email to them will do more harm than good.

It helps no one.

Send someone too many irrelevant emails and they will decide that staying on your email list is no longer worth it to them.


You have to keep your emails relevant and useful.

The best way to determine what information is most useful and most relevant to each segment is by looking at their last actions and current relationship with your organization.

The past actions are easy to track and define.

Was their last action to sign up to learn more?
Then they get put on the Introduction list.

Was their last action to volunteer?
Then they go on the volunteer list.

Did they just make their first donation?
Then they go on the first donation list.

Looking at the current relationship is also important.

This explores the reader’s engagement with the organization.

Are they highly engaged? Or do they just write a check every December and then disappear?

Understanding their relationship with the organization is important because it will allow you to better leverage hyper-responsive supporters.

Say you need help with a fundraising campaign and you want to get your supporters involved in peer-to-peer fundraising to help you meet your goal.

Knowing which readers are hyper-responsive and ready to jump in will allow you to tailor emails calling them to action.

You would benefit from sending emails with a different approach to readers who are not very engaged.

Pushing them too hard to take more action than they are comfortable with could result in losing a reader who was willing to write a check, but not much else.

A simple tool to help you segment your list

If you know that segmenting your list is the right thing to do and an important next step to ramp up your email marketing effectiveness, then here is a simple tool that will help define your segments.

Map your donor journey.

Once you have completed that simple process you will see that it creates a nice road map for your list segmentation.


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  1. Segmentation is extremely important and will increase the effectiveness of your email marketing
  2. The driving force behind your segmentation decision is to ensure you are providing the reader with the information they need when they need it.
  3. Base segmentation on past actions and their relationship with your organization
  4. Map your donor journey in order to create a road map for list segmentation.

I know that segmenting your list can seem intimidating at first.

It really is not as complicated as it sounds and it will improve your communications and relationships with your subscribers.

Keep doing good work,
Jeremy Signature




1 comment… add one
  • Great post Jeremy! List segmentation is such a simple concept but important concept that a lot of organizations fail to implement.

    I would like to point out that segmenting on donor behavior can be even easier to do with the Fundraising Report Card. Say you want to send an appeal to all lapsed donors among a specific giving segment. Well, the Fundraising Report Card produces that list for you. Take a peak if you have the time, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    Great post.


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