Email list segmentation is not being done

Nonprofits should be segmenting their email lists, but an estimated one-third of them don’t because they don’t know how, said Erin Viray, associate client manager at Change.org in San Francisco. Viray spoke about benefits to and techniques of email list segmenting at Salsa Labs’ FUSE 2014 conference in Annandale, Va.

The benefits of segmented emailing are myriad, said Viray. “Segmentation boosts response rates and deepens engagement.” People will naturally be more interested in some facets of your organization than others. “You can tailor messages and give them more of what they want,” she said. She noted that activists respond three to five times higher on average than a given list as a whole, and those rates jump to five to 10 times higher for past donors.

Viray identified three basic ways to segment a list. The first is demographic, which can be based on geography, age, gender, household income or occupation, to name a few. She cited Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which segments based on military service. Any veterans for whom the organization has an email address go into a separate email stream where they will never be asked to donate. Civilians, on the other hand, will be solicited and asked to take actions.

Collecting demographic information can be tricky. You need enough to use, but not so much as to scare off prospects. “It’s great to ask for information up front if you’re going to be using it right away,” said Viray. “Otherwise, you could send out a survey. To start, ask for what you need to know so you don’t overwhelm supporters.”

The second way to segment an email list is based on past actions. For new supporters, “One of the best ways is to send targeted emails over the first two or three weeks and giving small actions they can take,” said Viray. “It can be tempting throw all the actions you have in the first email, but we recommend one small action and parse the rest out over time.” She also noted to thank new supporters with an email within 24 hours.

Oceana, based in Washington, D.C., puts its so-called super-activists, those who take three or more actions over six months, into their own segment. While the organization usually sends one action per month to its full list, super-activists get more. “(Oceana) can pull a query, group them, label them and send out every action because they’re people who love taking action,” said Viray.

The third segmentation method is by donation history. You can segment non-donors and donors, and then further segment the donors into donation amounts. The Environmental Group does this with its 600,000 subscriber list, said Viray. Subscribers are “grouped into donor buckets by amount,” she said. “By understanding non-donors and donors, they can test between the two.”