Email Hygiene: Cleaning Email Lists with the DMS to Drive Email Engagement

August 30, 2022

How do we get bits of meaty Spam out from between our teeth? We’ll brush, floss, and maybe even slosh around some mouthwash for good measure.

I mean, it’s just oral hygiene 101.

What about keeping spam out of donors’ inboxes? Emails that are unwanted, unopened and, at worst, may get marked as spam.

Well, that’s what email hygiene is for.

Email hygiene is how successful charity marketing and communication teams treat the problems of low email engagement and high spam complaints.

And by email engagement, we mean email opens and click-throughs.

By measuring email opens, you can tell if the subject or topic of your emails reflects your donors’ interests.

Similarly, measuring click-throughs helps you understand if your email content is compelling enough for the donor to take further actions - whether it’s to learn more, volunteer, donate, or anything in between.

Thus, performing email hygiene at least once every quarter is an easy way for your charity to help ensure you’re only emailing subscribers interested in your mission to help drive email engagement.

And thanks to the DMS, email hygiene is easier than flossing.


In this blog, you’ll learn how to use the DMS to drive email engagement by:


Cleaning Up Inactive Subscribers

Many email service providers such as Gmail consider an email subscriber inactive if they haven’t engaged with an email for a while. This period can be anywhere from 60 to 120 days. For this blog, let’s define a while as 90 days.

So, an inactive subscriber is someone who:

❌Hasn’t clicked on a link in an email in the last 90 days; or
❌Hasn’t opened an email in the last 90 days

Just because these subscribers aren’t engaging with your emails doesn’t mean they’re a lost cause.

Indeed, email hygiene isn’t just about removing inactive subscribers; it’s an opportunity for your charity to send these subscribers a re-engagement email. It’s a way to remind them why they first subscribed to your list and get them excited about your cause again.

You could send them valuable content such as a whitepaper or something as simple as asking them to update their email preferences. 

Whatever your approach, re-engagement emails are a way to remind your audience why they first subscribed to your list and get them excited about your cause again.

But if your inactive subscribers aren’t opening your re-engagement email either, it might be best to remove these contacts from your email lists or at least suspend bulk emails. 

By emailing inactive subscribers, you run into the risk of skewing your charity’s email engagement metrics. Not only will your charity report lower email open and click-through rates, but the results won’t provide an accurate picture of your marketing or communication team’s performance.

Remember, your subscribers support your charity for different reasons.

Successful charity marketing and communications teams track email engagement metrics to learn what type of content resonates with different audiences in their subscriber list.

For example, Generation Z audiences may appreciate that you’ve recognized their limited purchasing power and send fewer donation requests and more emails about volunteering opportunities. Baby boomers, on the other hand, might not want any emails at all and prefer direct mail.

Sending too many irrelevant emails to subscribers is a surefire way to annoy your subscribers.

Do it often enough and they’ll hit the unsubscribe button.

So, if you’re interested in providing value and keeping your subscriber happy, you need to have accurate engagement metrics.

In addition, emails with very low open rates are at higher risk of being marked as spam by email service providers. Inactive subscribers are also more likely to flag your emails as spam. 

All of these things impact your charity’s email deliverability - meaning your emails may get banished to your donors’ spam folders rather than arriving in inboxes.

Thankfully, the DMS helps you alleviate all these issues.

Below you’ll learn how quick and easy it is to set up an automated list of inactive subscribers, suspend bulk emails to this list, and remove inactive subscribers from existing lists.

Creating an Inactive Subscribers List

In the DMS, automated contact lists are called Smart Groups. In Smart Groups, contacts will automatically be added or removed from the list depending on predefined criteria.

Here’s how to create an inactive email subscriber Smart Group with the DMS - subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked-through an email in the last 90 days.


With this list, you’re now ready to send a re-engagement email to your inactive subscribers.

Best yet, this list is automated. So when it’s time to start removing contacts from your inactive list, you won’t need to worry about accidentally removing someone who opened or clicked through the re-engagement email.

Suspending Bulk Emails to Inactive Subscribers

Suspending emails to your subscribers can be a difficult decision. Yet, it’s a necessary decision to help ensure you’re collecting accurate email engagement metrics and that your emails stay out of spam folders.

By completing the steps below, you can stop inactive subscribers from receiving bulk marketing emails without having to remove contacts from your Groups.


Removing Inactive Subscribers from Existing Lists

When needed, the DMS also provides the flexibility for charities to remove inactive subscribers from existing Groups, such as one-time donors, LYBUNT and SYBUNT donors, and P2P donors.


Targeting Engaged Subscribers

Earlier in this blog, we defined an inactive email subscriber as someone who hasn’t engaged with an email in the last 90 days.

Then, an engaged email subscriber is someone who:

✔️ Has clicked on a link in an email in the last 90 days; or
✔️ Has opened an email in the last 90 days

By identifying engaged subscribers, you’ll learn which of your subscribers are interested in receiving your emails. Focus your email campaigns on providing value to these engaged subscribers. Because the more engaged a contact is, the easier it is to convert them into first-time, repeat, or monthly donors.

Not to mention, you’ll get more accurate metrics about the performance of your emails.

I know we already mentioned it above, but it’s worth repeating. Because for marketing and communication teams, this is a HUGE benefit!

The immediate benefit is that you should see a bump in email open and click-through rates.

In the long term, you can learn what type of content resonates with different audiences.

Millennials, for example, are more accustomed to and interested in subscription services than any other generation. If your charity has a lot of engaged millennial subscribers, this is an opportunity for your charity to request modest monthly gifts. Since they’re already used to subscriptions, it’s a great way to keep them part of your charity’s ecosystem.

That’s how powerful and valuable your donors’ data can be.

Below you’ll learn how to create an engaged subscribers list in the DMS and segment that list even further for your highly-targeted email campaigns.

Creating an Engaged Subscribers List

Like the inactive email subscriber Smart Group above, an engaged subscriber list just takes a minute to create with the DMS.

And to create this list, we want to create a Smart Group for subscribers who opened or clicked through an email in the last 90 days.


Remember, Smart Groups are automated lists. Suppose a subscriber hasn’t opened or clicked through an email in 90 days. In that case, they are removed automatically from the engaged subscriber list, so you won’t have to worry about accidentally emailing the wrong contact.

Segmenting an Engaged Subscribers List

Successful charity marketing teams target niche audiences within their larger contact lists to supercharge engagement results.

Essentially, they create a list within a list.

List-ception, if you will.

With the DMS, your charity can easily segment your engaged subscriber list, or any other list for that matter, with the Advanced Search function.

For example, let’s create a segmented Smart Group of VIP donors using the engaged subscriber list in the guide above. 

These are donors who:

  • Engaged with an email in the last 90 days; and
  • Made a significant contribution in the last 12 months


Segmenting a Year-End Engaged Donor List

As a charity ourselves, we know just how important year-end giving is. As part of your email hygiene practices, charities should consider that some donors are only active towards the end of the year. Thus, this specific audience might end up in your inactive email subscribers list because they don’t engage with your emails until late fall or early winter.

However, these donors are still crucial to your charity’s success and shouldn’t be neglected in your year-end giving email campaigns.

For charity marketing and communications teams, segmenting these audiences help ensure you email supporters who primarily engage with your charity at the end of the year without skewing annual engagement metrics.

Below we’ll show you how to create the following year-end-specific lists with the DMS:

  • Year-End Engaged Subscribers: Contacts who engaged with one of your emails last November or December
  • Year-End Engaged Donors: Contacts who engaged with one of your emails and made a contribution to your charity last November or December


With these segmented lists, your charity can send targeted year-end emails such as: 

  • A summary of powerful impact stories from the year
  • GivingTuesday promotional emails
  • Reminders to donate by midnight on December 31 to save on their taxes

And specifically for your year-end engaged donors, make sure to send:

  • Thank you emails for contributions from the previous year
  • Reminders to donate again this year
  • You could even test the waters in January and February and send emails preparing them for Make it Monthly! In moderation, of course…

Key Takeaways

If you find that your marketing or communications team deals with low email open, click-through rates, or higher spam complaints, you must start practicing email hygiene techniques.

By following the email hygiene steps above, your charity can use the DMS to:

  • Start re-engaging inactive subscribers to convert them into engaged ones
  • Get more accurate email engagement metrics
  • Increase email open and click-through rates while reducing spam complaints
  • Only target engaged subscribers who are interested in your emails

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