Your email list has a problem: Every day, people are disappearing from it. Through changing email addresses and unsubscribes your list is always getting smaller. Like a leaky bucket with a persistent drip, it is always emptying out. In email marketing circles, this is known as churn.

So what do you do with a leaky bucket?

Common sense tells you to do a few different things. Plugging the bucket by providing interesting and dynamic content is a good step to take. Replenishing the bucket by making it as easy as possible for people to subscribe to your email list is another good tactic. But no matter how well you present compelling content and gain new subscribers, your bucket will inevitably keep leaking. So today we’re talking about a third technique: swapping out your buckets.

What do I mean when I talk about swapping out buckets?

I mean subscription management. Subscription management is a fantastic technique to keep your list from becoming exhausted and unresponsive. Exhausted is fancy marketing speak for people getting tired of receiving emails and deciding to unsubscribe or filter their emails to the point where they might as well have unsubscribed.

When someone first joins your newsletter list, how do you respond? Do you send them a thank you message right away? That’s a great start, but what comes next? Are you sending them the exact same communications and messages (with the same frequency) that you do to your higher level supporters? Treating everyone who has ever subscribed to your email list the exact same way is a sure-fire method to exhaust your list. Highly engaged volunteers need different communications than new, one-time donors. A high-value sustaining donor should be receiving different messaging than someone who who visited your website for the first time last week.

How does subscription management work in practice?

Let’s take a look at the fictional ‘Our Nonprofit’.

When someone first signs up from the website, they are automatically subscribed to an introductory email list. This is a low-risk list since they’ve expressed interest in Our Nonprofit, but haven’t really done anything yet. With only one or two messages going out per month, this list mainly offers information about the organization and a few simple ways to get involved like signing a petition or donating a small amount of money.

When someone follows through on one of these simple actions, Our Nonprofit takes advantage of their support. The “Thank You” page includes either an option to subscribe to alerts only available to “insiders”, or sometimes automatically subscribes people to a new email list. A better bucket, if you will.

As supporters continue taking action and responding to asks, keep putting them into new subscription lists depending on the level of engagement. Did someone become a sustaining donor? Time for the sustainers bucket!

Each bucket, or subscription list if we want to be technical, will have fewer people in it than the one before, but each bucket will also have less leaks. Segmenting subscription lists lets one:

  • Provide targeted messages to groups
  • Prioritize time and energy by focusing on more valuable lists
  • Keep subscription lists from getting exhausted (you want people to move into a new bucket, not leak out the side)

With a solid plan and goals set, subscription list management can effectively keep your lists vibrant, responsive and, most importantly, leak-free.

Remember, if you are automatically signing people up for a subscription list, be upfront about it. You don’t want people wondering how you got their name and email address and why you are sending them messages. You especially don’t want them thinking it’s SPAM!

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