How We Cleaned Up Our Email List and Re-Engaged Our Subscribers

Aubrey Brennan

We love to hear how it goes when you’ve used one of our tactics! Today’s post comes from Aubrey Brennan of Green Bay Botanical Garden who took our suggestions regarding finding engaged email subscribers and deleting everyone else. Find out how it worked for her organization. ~Kristina

Guest Post by Aubrey Brennan

Thanks to Nonprofit Marketing Guide, we knew it was important to segment our email list to increase engagement. But, what was the best way for our organization to do that? Since the beginning of time, we had people select their interests when subscribing to our list.

But, let’s be real, who has time to send out six different emails based on interest every week? Plus, you lose the opportunity to cross-promote programs.

In March, we had 18,859 subscribers on our email list, had been sending the same weekly email to everyone, and our open rate had dropped to 12%.

It was time for a change!

First, we tried less content.

In an attempt to do some sort of segmentation and re-engagement, we sent a very slimmed down “Here’s what’s happening in April” email to subscribers who had not opened any of our last 5 emails. There were about 13,000 subscribers (yep – more than half our list!) on the list. The open rate for that email was 8.1%, which I considered a win since they hadn’t opened any of our last 5 emails. It was safe to say – they appreciated the trimmed down version.

After segmenting the monthly subscribers, our weekly email list was down to about 5,800 subscribers. The open rate for the next weekly email we sent was a whopping 45%! I was elated, but realized I still didn’t know how many of those subscribers were actually engaged and consistently opening our emails. Who were our true fans that would probably be okay with more frequent communication?

Then, we determined our “committed cultivars”.

Queue Kivi’s blog, “Find Your Frequent Readers Using Excel” and Karin’s pivot table method. I’m not overfly fluent in Excel, so after stumbling a bit with the pivot table, I discovered that of those that opened the emails, our weekly subscribers were 40% engaged and our monthly subscribers were 41% engaged. If you opened just 1 of our last 4 weekly emails or 2 of our last 4 monthly emails, I considered you engaged. The pivot table helped me break it out even more, which was very helpful to see. The results showed we could really get away with emailing 50% of our weekly list even more, especially around fundraising events when we need an extra push for attendance.

Note: MailChimp users, I compared these opens to the star rating MailChimp gives subscribers and they did not match closely enough for my liking. If you’re a new subscriber to the list you automatically get a 2 star rating which gave a lot of our new members low ratings, even if they had been opening emails. We won’t be using their star rating to determine engaged subscribers moving forward for fear of excluding the wrong people.

Here’s how it looked in the pivot table.

5,847 Subscribers (Weekly)

13,012 Subscribers (Monthly)

Next, we tried to re-engage.

So, what happened to the 9,800 subscribers who hadn’t been opening our weekly or monthly emails? I ran another report in MailChimp that pulled anyone who hadn’t opened any of our last 50 emails, which took us back to December of 2016. There were 7,800 subscribers (I kept the 1,900 others on our monthly list in the hopes of re-engaging them) on the list.

Those 7,800 subscribers received two “Love Me, Love Me Not” themed emails in an attempt to win them back. The message varied slightly, but each gave them three options: stay subscribed by opening the email, change their frequency preference or unsubscribe with the option to re-subscribe if they missed us. The second email was sent to anyone that didn’t open the first.

We had about 130 unsubscribes and 800 opens. On Monday, August 21, we did what went against every grain of my communications being and removed about 7,000 subscribers from our email list. GASP!

But, you know what? We survived! Some of our weeklies switched to monthly and vice versa, some unsubscribed, but overall, we now have a clean list of engaged subscribers segmented by frequency and a much more effective system in place to communicate with them.

Here are the post re-engagement campaign results.

4,558 Subscribers (Weekly)

7,861 Subscribers (Monthly)

We’ve only sent one email since the re-engagement campaign, but we had a 20% open rate compared to a 10% average in the previous 4 months!

Where do we go from here?

We’ve determined how to segment our list and now we’ll monitor our subscribers and be more confident in reaching out to our committed cultivars and hardy harvesters for additional promotion. We plan to clean up our list at least two times per year and hope to continue to increase our engagement rate and people’s passion for connecting people with plants!

Aubrey Brennan is the Marketing & Communications Manager at Green Bay Botanical Garden in Wisconsin. As a nonprofit organization, the Garden touches the lives of more than 125,000 visitors each year while connecting people with plants. Aubrey’s heart has always been in the nonprofit world, living out her passion for people and community. She loves watching the Garden’s story come to life through the many adventures visitors are able to experience. When she’s not sharing the Garden’s story, Aubrey can be found spending time with her husband, kids and dog.



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Author: Kristina Leroux, Community Engagement Manager

I am the Community Engagement Manager at Nonprofit Marketing Guide.com.

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  • Melanie Hooyenga

    This is very helpful. Thank you so much for sharing how you cleaned up your list!