The Silver Linings of Email Unsubscribes

publication date: May 9, 2017
 | 
author/source: Charlotte Field

Few things inspire fear in the heart of an email fundraiser like an unsubscribe.

After all, you worked so hard to gain that contact! There was so much you could’ve done together – all the change you could make, all the revenue you could drive! Lost, forever!

Actually – not really.

Although unsubscribes can feel painful, they’re part of building and maintaining an email list that actually raises money. Today, I’m going to help you find the silver lining in the unsubscribe, and direct your attention to what you should REALLY be worried about.

What’s a normal unsubscribe rate? Your unsubscribe rate is calculated by dividing the number of unsubscribes to a given email by the total of emails delivered. So, if you sent 1000 emails and had 5 unsubscribes, that’s an unsub rate of 0.005%. Normal is different for every list, but sector benchmarks put a normal unsubscribe rate to fundraising emails at 0.16%. This varies by list size and by cause, so it’s worth taking a closer look at M+R’s amazing benchmarks for a clearer idea of what’s normal for you. And as always, benchmark against yourself to establish even better guidelines for success or failure.

Why are people unsubscribing? This is the most common question I hear when clients are concerned about unsubscribe rates. And sometimes, yes, we can easily attribute the unsubscribes to something, like a change in volume, a particularly divisive stance, or a technical issue that broke the email. But more often than not, it’s nothing you’ve done. Unsubscribing is simply a contact’s way of telling you: “I’m just not that interested anymore”. In other words: it’s not you, it’s them. And that’s kind of awesome. Why? Because a person who unsubscribes from your email list was probably never going to donate. If they’re driven enough to take the action to unsubscribe – especially if you have intentional processes in place to deter unsubscribes, such as preference management – it means that no matter how great your emails were, you weren’t going to move them.

Why would I WANT someone to unsubscribe!? We call those ‘just not interested’ folks inactive. That means they haven’t engaged with an email in a set period of time, or for a certain number of emails (usually between 5-10). These people inflate your email list. But because they’re inactive, they’re also artificially deflating your open rate, click-through rate, and conversion rate. Plus, they’re eating up fundraising resources without ever planning to give! They’re email dead weight. By removing themselves from your list, unsubscribers are actually helping you create a healthier, most engaged list of contacts, giving you more accurate metrics, and saving you money! And don’t fret. All hope is not lost. There are great ways to re-activate inactive subscribers, so you can clean out the truly inactive folks, and re-engage those who just went dormant for a while.

What should I focus on instead?

List Churn

Your Churn Rate is the number of subscribers who leave your list in a given period of time – whether they’ve unsubscribed, hard or soft bounced, or marked your emails as spam. Most charities are finding themselves with churn rates of around 5-10%. If yours is sky-high, that’s a sign that people aren’t staying on your list for long. Time to find out why.

List Health

Would you rather have a small, super-engaged list? Or a huge one with low opens, lower clicks, and no conversions? I’m betting you’d pick Option A every time – because it’s a healthier list. Keep an eye on what portion of your list is active, and see if it’s rising or falling – especially with respect to the overall growth of your list. Then, respond accordingly.

Unsubscribes are a natural part of email fundraising Unsubscribes don’t need to feel so painful. There are things you can do to reduce them, with creative unsubscribe processes and persuasive re-engagement emails. And when they ultimately happen, see it as an amicable break-up – and focus your energy on the engaged folks who stay subscribed because they know that you can help them make an amazing difference!

Charlotte Field is an Integrated Marketing Strategist at Good Works, a national consulting firm that specializes in helping charities build highly loyal donor constituencies. She’s passionate about helping charities get the most out of digital to acquire new supporters, build donor loyalty, and leverage giving. Tweet her at @cfield or email her at charlotte@goodworksco.ca.



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