Nonprofits love sending email. It doesn’t take all the printing time of direct mail. And it costs less.

But what if your emails aren’t getting to your list?

In the last few weeks, Google and Yahoo have tweaked their algorithms – the systems they use to determine if your email is wanted or unwanted. In fact, Yahoo is reported to be deactivating thousands of email accounts that haven’t been logged into. Some of these they’ll delete. But some they’ll turn into spam traps.

This means that “getting” your emails legally isn’t all you have to watch. It’s not just how people get onto your list that matters. It’s what they do with your emails once you start sending them.

A Handful of Email Addresses May Be Messing Up Your List for Everyone Else

Email service providers like Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo all monitor how users interact with email. They’re constantly tweaking systems to help make sure you only get email you’re interested in. The rest they mark “promotions” or “bulk” or “spam.”

So even if you get your emails legitimately – even making donors confirm a second time that they want to be on your list – you’re not done. You now have to be watching how people respond or interact with your emails. Ignoring this can be hurting you, stopping people on your list from seeing your emails.


This was a rude awakening for me. I always make sure people double opt-in to my lists. So I thought I was fine. But in our industry, people change jobs all the time. Many get on my list for help but then don’t get off the list when they move to a different career. So people wanting to hear from me were getting hindered because of those dormant emails. Email list providers so those dormant emails and assumed that my emails may not be something subscribers really wanted.

Those of you on my Ask Without Fear! email list (or lists from The Concord Leadership Group or The Nonprofit Academy) know this first hand! When Yahoo deactivated accounts, over 200 of my list (of around 10,000 total) were impacted. My email service provider (Infusionsoft – sort of like MailChimp on steroids) warned me they would close my account if I kept emailing to these addresses. Addresses I didn’t even know were no longer being used!

Click image to enlargeSo I deleted those accounts. But then I decided to do some email list hygiene. You see, Infusionsoft marks people as “unengaged” if it can’t see someone’s opened an email or clicked on a link in the last 4 months.

Which is why many of you saw an email from me with “ACTION REQUIRED” in the subject line. Unfortunately, the email was in a couple different fonts and a couple different sizes. 15 years ago, the Courier font was a normal font for this type of email. Today it’s not. Worse, if you look at it closely, it’s got different font sizes and even a duplicate “unsubscribe” link at the bottom – in two different fonts.

Many people replied back to me, worried that I’d been hacked. They thought this “ACTION REQUIRED” email was a phishing scheme, trying to get information from them or install malware. The good news is they knew how I normally send emails (Arial font). The bad news is people who wanted to stay on my list probably didn’t respond because they didn’t trust this to be legitimate.

What I Learned

Some things I’ve learned from this attempt at list hygiene:

  1. Make sure you’re confirming only those needing confirmation. Many of the people getting my “confirm you want our emails” email were not getting them to begin with. I’d searched “unengaged” but neglected to see if they were even on a list.
  2. Consider if you use multiple domains. I use three domains for the three different parts that make up The Concord Leadership Group:,, and But, despite being the largest list and longest brand name of the three, I sent it from the lesser known This probably confused people. Even people who would gladly hear from or
  3. Test your confirmation email. I wish I’d tested my confirmation email. Unfortunately, I didn’t send myself a test one before emailing a few thousand people. So many people wanting my emails my not get them because they thought this “click here” link (forced on my by my provider) was a hoax. I could’ve worded it differently if I’d sent myself a test email first.
  4. Get professional help. We in the nonprofit sector like to do things on the cheap. But just as you’d likely not try to repair your own car or do your own heart surgery, you shouldn’t exclusively work on your own email list. Emails are the vehicle with which you communicate your mission. They often provide the lifeblood of donations and support. So spend a little money to have an expert make sure your MX, SPF, and DMARC. There are many providers who can help. I use Evan Samurin at Fundamental Marketing. (Not an affiliate or anything. He’s just super-knowledgable and helpful. And I wish I’d checked with him before trying to do this recent cleaning on my own!) Darryl Swain also says he works with nonprofits on this.

Email list health is going to be something you’ll need to check regularly. GMail alone is reported to make changes to its algorithms 500-600 times a year. If you want to an early warning for possible problems, check out or

Doing this will likely result in a smaller list. But a more engaged list, a list of people actually wanting to know more about your work, will be much more effective for you than a large list of unengaged people that causes your emails to go to “bulk” or “spam.”

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