Here at Nonprofit Marketing Guide, we’ve been experimenting with how we send our Wednesday email newsletter. We wanted to see what would happen if we sent the newsletter in segments, based on current engagement.

Last fall, our newsletter open rate was averaging 18-20%. That’s not horrible, but I wanted to understand what was really going on.

Everyone who gets email from us gets a “lead score” in our CRM based on how many emails they have opened in the last three months. We broke our email newsletter list into four segments based on the lead scores, which are indicated by little flames — 5 flames being the highest.

I call these four segments Hot (5 flames in our lead scoring tool), Warm (3-4 flames), Lukewarm (1-2 flames) and Cool (0 flames — even though they score zero, they are still engaged in some small way or they wouldn’t be on the newsletter list at all anymore).

Every Wednesday, instead of sending the newsletter to everyone all at once, we started sending the same newsletter four different times. I send it to the Hot list first, then resend the same email to the Warm list, and so forth.

The difference in open rates followed the pattern we expected (Hot opened more than Cool), but the actual numbers were amazing!

Over the last ten weeks, our Hot segment, which is about 25% of our email list, had an average open rate of 64%!

The average for the Warm segment (about 21% of our list) was 30% — still very good.

While the open rates predictably dipped for our Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve sends, they were still pretty high.


These lists are dynamic, meaning they change daily based on the lead scores that each person in the database has.

At the beginning of the experiment, 41% of our list fell into the Hot/Warm segment. At the end (now), 46% of the list is in the Hot/Warm segment.

Isn’t that much more interesting and useful data? I can say with confidence that the Hot/Warm half of our email newsletter list has an open rate of over 50%!

In addition to doing this experiment to see the impact on open rates, we also did it to help improve our sender reputation. Our deliverability consultant told us that it would be much better for both our sender reputation and the deliverability of the newsletter (i.e., whether it lands in the inbox or in spam) if we regularly sent to segments with very high open rates (like that 64%).

As I understand it, when you hit open rates that high while still sending to thousands of people, it demonstrates that you are in fact sending engaging content to a well-managed list. Now, of course, the flip side is that we are also sending emails with much lower open rates for the Lukewarm and Cold segments. But that is still better than lumping them all together in one send that gets a “meh” open rate of 18-20%.

Of course, there are lots of other lessons and implications from this data, but we’ll cover those another time.

We’ll talk about email list management and engagement trends like these in our brand-new webinar series later this month, Email Marketing Trends for Nonprofits.

Have you tried segmenting your email newsletter sends by engagement? Let us know what you found in the comments!



Published On: February 6, 2020|Categories: Email List Management, Email Marketing|