How to Segment Email Lists for Nonprofits

Being a newsletter subscriber can be like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One newsletter sends way too frequently, one never sends anything you want to read, and one sends just enough – we want you to be the “just enough.”

You will learn:
-What a segment or groups is
-Why you should group and segment your lists
-When you should use groups and segments

The problem with finding that sweet spot is that your newsletter readers are have varied interests and varied thresholds for too little and too much – not all users are alike. And thus, we must find ways to combat that so that everyone gets their “just right.”

1.Build groups and segments (00:35)

For starters, groups are sections of a list based on interest categories (i.e. event attendees or past volunteers) and segments are sections of a list based on subscriber behavior (i.e. users that opened your last 5 emails).

When you use segmentation you can tailor content to different users and only send certain emails to those who will be interested. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about being too aggressive or too passive and further engage those who want to be engaged. MailChimp reports that emails sent to segmented lists get an almost 15% increase in click rate.

For optimal data hygiene, we suggest having 1 master list and then multiple groups + segments within that list


This avoids double sends: if a user is in 2 lists + you want to send an email to both lists, they get the email twice. If a user is in multiple groups/segments, and you send an email across multiple groups/segments within a master list, they will only get 1 email.

If you are using MailChimp, this cuts costs: If they sign up for 2 lists then they count as 2 credits. if a user signs up for 1 list and many groups, they count as 1 credit.

It allows for only 1 signup form, which is more user friendly.

2. Get personal! (01:47)

Once you have your list structure in place, you can play with targeted messaging to appeal to different users. For example, you can:

1) Group for Past Volunteers or event attendees. For example, you can give updates on new opportunities or dibs on first spots, or segment based on location if you have nationwide affiliates or opportunities.

2) Segment for lapsed users. Users signed up for your list and then haven’t taken action. Remind them why they signed up in the first place

A great example of using both of these ideas is New York Cares. They send reminders to users who have signed up but haven’t volunteered yet to remind them of all the great projects in their area.

3. Donation Asks (02:26)

Donation asks are a great way to put segments and groups into use. Tailor your donation asks to users based on whether they are repeat donors or lapsed donors, or if they have donated a little money vs. a lot of money. When a donor feels like they are remembered, their donation makes an impact, and the ask is in the realm of what they can afford, they are more likely to contribute again.

Those are the basics of email segmentation. If you want to find out how to put this email segmentation into use to get more users, check out our article about the best ways to grow your email list!

Whole Whale is a digital agency that leverages data and technology to increase the impact of nonprofits. In the same way the Inuits used every part of whale, Whole Whale leverages existing resources to see, “What else can this do for us?”

By using data analysis, digital strategy, web development, and training, WW builds a ‘Data Culture’ within every nonprofit organization they work with.

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