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Keep Your Nonprofit Safe from Spam Complaints

Lori Halley 10 May 2010 2 comments

no-spam Does your nonprofit send out e-newsletters, fundraising appeals by email, and/or group “email blasts” to your mailing list?  And do those messages sometimes get refused or marked as spam?  If so, that’s a problem – for your messaging and for your organization’s reputation – but fortunately it’s a problem you can do something to fix.

Here are a few good resources to help you keep your emails out of the spam filters, and improve your organization’s email deliverability rate:

Mailermailer’s Checklist for Email List Managers suggests 7 easy ways to reduce the chance of spam complaints from your email contacts, protect your organization’s reputation, and make sure those email messages keep getting through to your supporters. You’ll want to read the original article for detailed explanations, of course, but here are the highlights:

  • Be careful how you word your "Subject" line (you can probably guess some of the key words to avoid!)
  • Send a "Welcome" message to every list member
  • Keep sign-up records
  • Remind people that they subscribed
  • Include an alternate means of contact
  • Send your mailings regularly (so people don’t forget who you are!)
  • Adhere to your privacy policy (which means, in effect, don’t sell or otherwise share your mailing list – or use it to contact people for purposes other than what they signed up for)

CAN-SPAM Friendly Emails that Work (also from Mailermailer) gives a great non-technical overview of the legal requirements for commercial emailers, penalties for spammers, and the rights of consumers under the United States CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 – as well as practical suggestions for your organization to avoid running afoul of the FTC and your audience.

Although CAN-SPAM  is an American law, it sets the standards (and expectations) for best practices for business email in much of the world, so it’s worthwhile to take a good look at the Federal Trade Commission’s Compliance Guide for Business, which is set out like an FAQ so really quite readable.

Email Deliverability: Do's, Don'ts and How to Reach the Inbox, an excellent free guide from the friendly giant of email marketing, AWeber, lays out 7 simple steps you can take to get more of your mail delivered. “And to make sure you stay on the right path, we threw in 5 pitfalls that can derail an otherwise deliverable campaign” so you’ll know what not to do, too. AWeber will ask for your email address to send you the download link for the guide, but no worries there – you can bet that you won’t get spammed!

As more and more nonprofits rely on email contact with their members, donors, volunteers, and blog or newsletter subscribers as a vital communication channel, to keep supporters updated on the issues or as part of their fundraising programs, email deliverability is critical.  When things go awry with your mailing list and your messages don’t get through, It can be tempting to blame the email services provider. As it turns out, however – sometimes the deliverability problem is you. Taking an hour or so to brush up on email marketing “best practices” could save a lot of grief for your organization, and maybe even boost your fundraiser’s bottom line.

What lessons have you learned about keeping bulk emails from getting marked as spam? Any useful resources you’d like to recommend to other list managers in the nonprofit sector?  Please share in the comments, below.

Photo credit: ‘No Spam’ by Stefano Brivio

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 10 May 2010 at 6:06 AM


  • AJ said:

    Wednesday, 12 May 2010 at 7:15 PM

    Thanks for this post; the spam question is very delicate, especially considering many organizations reliance on email campaigns as their primary source of online fundraising.  Thanks for all the resources.

    Check out our blog posts on how to put together a successful email marketing  campaign here:


  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Saturday, 15 May 2010 at 5:32 PM

    Michael Sola has posted a follow-up with a really important point about "staff who select the local / internal email client to circumvent the normal bulk email web distribution process and instead contact their lists via internal channels" - see http://michaelsola.posterous.com/keeping-your-nonprofit-safe-from-spam

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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