Reaching people with email as well as possible
November 28, 2017 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I work for a small non-profit, and sometimes I need to send an email out, such as an invitation to our annual meeting, or to remind people who've signed up for a class, or to gather a bunch of volunteers. I find that many people report having not received these messages.

I send these emails from Apple Mail, addressing them to myself in the to: field and everyone else within BCC for privacy and to prevent reply-all. I send from our official address: "", with the name field filled out as Non-Profit Name. They go to a variety of addresses - private domains, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, official Town addresses, other non-profits' domains. There are no links or images in the body of the email.

Any tips for making these more receivable? Is a certain percentage of non-reception standard these days?
posted by xo to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're sending the email to a large group of people at once, I think it might be flagged as spam, and you might want to use a service like Mailchimp. I think Mailchimp has a free plan that you can use as long as the group is not too big.
posted by pinochiette at 8:33 AM on November 28, 2017 [10 favorites]

pinochiette is dead on.

How many recipients are there?

Anything over~100, and the mail service you're using could be throttling it, the mail could be marked as spam, there are a myriad of reasons. Who does your non-profit use for email?
posted by deezil at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also if you use a service like MailChimp, I believe you get some analytics data - like how many people actually open the email, how many click on a link in the email, etc.

Another problem, though, is that a lot of people just don't see/read a lot of the email that gets delivered to them. "I never got it" could very easily mean "I got overwhelmed by my inbox and deleted a bunch of things without really looking at them" or "It is the 600th message of 12000 messages currently in my inbox" or "It got filtered to a folder that I never read" or any number of things.
posted by mskyle at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I do the same (put myself in to field, recipients in bcc) and I agree, above a certain number of recipient s you will be blocked or even your domain black listed. I find that 25 is the maximum, less even better.
I have this problem mostly with either emails to addresses at large orgs, or unis, and in one entire country where our domain is now on a black list.
Also, it happens a lot with gmail.

In addition, people do tend to claim they did not receive email, or use some web application for email on their smart phone and have difficult y just seeing everything.

What does help i think is to give a very succinct header especially if your recepients get a lot of email, and instead of use
posted by 15L06 at 9:17 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Assuming you’re in the US, it’s possible your organization may be violating the CAN SPAM Act by sending emails this way. It’s why some domains will prevent allowing bulk emails to be sent directly. I bet making sure you’re in compliance would help resolve this issue.
posted by girlmightlive at 9:20 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

A follow-up: Most of these BCC emails are going to approximately 20 people. We use MailChimp for our newsletter and get about a 60% open rate, so I am hoping to do better than that for these more essential communications.
posted by xo at 9:40 AM on November 28, 2017

I'd also recommend very clear subject lines. This might help get people's attention if they're just overlooking the email.

ABC Org: Reminder - Meeting Wednesday, 7pm

ABC Org: Volunteers Needed this Saturday!
posted by hydra77 at 10:00 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am an email postmaster. I am not your email postmaster.

I don't hear anything in what you've written that would imply a CAN-SPAM violation (sorry, girlmightlive). CAN-SPAM covers commercial mail, email "which advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website operated for a commercial purpose". The examples you've cited would more likely fall into 'transactional' (reminders of classes they've signed up for) or 'other' (calls for volunteers, invitations to meetings).

Do you guys run your own mail server, or are you outsourcing that? In other words, do you know your Apple Mail client is connecting to some local machine, or are you sending and receiving via (for example) a hosted Gmail instance? If it's the former, then the frequency and volume that you send mail at may be playing into it. Servers that send 'bursts' of mail infrequently may end up with lower 'reputations', and mail from them (especially identical emails bcc:ed to folks) may be treated as more likely to be spam. On the plus side, if you're doing it in house, you may be able to get access to logs that would show whether or not you've at least handed the mail off to the recipient's mail server, or if you're getting rejected for some reason.

I'm assuming '' is an address that can accept mail, and that you guys regularly check to see if bounce or reject messages are going to it? You're not filtering out bounces to that address?
posted by hanov3r at 10:05 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would try using the mailing list feature in Apple Mail.

FWIW, a club I belong to uses Constant Contact for mailings.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:10 AM on November 28, 2017

I had a business friend report the same problem. After some investigation (and some inspired guesswork), it turned out he was starting his newsletter with the phrase "Dear friend", and Windows Outlook includes that expression in their list of trigger expressions for recognising spam and diverting it to the spam inbox. Since many people apparently don't bother to examine the file containing these triggers, his newsletters were being binned by a large majority of the members of his association. Once he stopped opening the newsletter with "Dear Friend", the problem virtually disappeared. YMMV.
posted by aqsakal at 10:25 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

or to remind people who've signed up for a class

I could be in the minority here but the second someone starts sending me reminders, I treat them as spam and I will often go as far as marking them as such, knowing full well that it may make the sender's future emails undeliverable. This may sound harsh but I have a couple businesses, a young child, two elderly parents, and regular volunteering, and anyone who doesn't respect my time is my mortal enemy.

To belabor the point: I quite literally don't know a single person over 18 who doesn't use a calendar, be it digital or paper, so I don't know what purpose these "reminders" are supposed to serve, other than allow the sender to express their frustration with the inevitable uncertainty of event attendance, and I say that as someone who regularly organizes events for my volunteer organization.
posted by rada at 10:25 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I deal with this constantly. Constantly. Whether it's because of spam filtering, or people not checking their Promotions folder in Gmail, or my message getting buried under the deluge of actual spam people get (and let's face it, most people have over 10,000 unread messages in their inbox and that number will only ever grow), email is getting to be really problematic.

At only 20 recipients I suggest you give in like I have and just address them all individually, by hand, sending from an address that corresponds to you personally as opposed to your organization, including a sentence or two of personalization in each one. I.e. what I do is write out the most generic parts of a template, something like—
Committee Meeting on Budget Revision
Wednesday, December 6th
6:00 PM - 7:00 PM
123 Main Street
Schenectady, NY 12345

The committee will receive Pat's report on venue selection, then vote on where to host our next convention.
Then I open the spreadsheet with the mailing list I'm sending to in one window (if I don't just know it by heart at this point…) to the left of my screen, and Mail to the right. I Cmd+C copy my template, click the Compose new message button, start typing in the first person on the list (who are all in my Contacts so they auto-complete), hit Tab to go to the Subject line, type that in (trying to subtly vary through each repetition of this process, e.g. Budget Committee Meeting December 6, December 6 Budget Meeting, &c), hit Tab to the body, type out a greeting and opening sentence (greeting them by name, trying to drop in some personal info or just change the wording enough so that this e-mail has some substantial differences to all the others in this batch), Cmd+V paste in the template, finish with another custom bit of text and my signature. So it ultimately looks like—
From: books for weapons
To: Sam
Subject: Meeting on Budget December 6 for ABC Org

Hi Sam,

How was your vacation? Hope you're ready to jump back in with us on Budget!

Committee Meeting on Budget Revision
Wednesday, December 6th
6:00 PM - 7:00 PM
123 Main Street
Schenectady, NY 12345

The committee will receive Pat's report on venue selection, then vote on where to host our next convention.

See you next Wednesday, tell Alex I said hi.

books for weapons
Despite being annoying and tedious this seems to work. People like the personal touch too. And because I'm a pretty speedy typist a list of 20 people only takes me about 10 minutes, which I figure is time well spent.
posted by books for weapons at 10:33 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

A 60% open rate sounds pretty good to me. I'm not sure you're going to do much better than that as an organization. People are flooded with e-mail. It is hard enough to keep up with e-mails from people. E-mail from organizations are often left unopened.

For infrequent, short, high-priority messages you might want to investigate using a text messaging service. I prefer that for things like dentist appointment reminders. It shows up, I see it, and it's gone. When those things come into my e-mail mailbox, I usually just delete them after glancing at the subject line. Of course, your membership would need to opt into this service.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:36 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are definitely some email plugins that will tell you how many people have read an email...not sure if they work with Outlook or just Gmail.

Honestly, 60% open rate is fantastic for an email newsletter! So you're not going to get higher than that from anything else, even reminders or other targeted transactional emails.

Also...people are always going to complain that they don't get emails. People are *terrible* at managing their inboxes. They don't check the GMail promotions tab, they never unsubscribe for anything so their inboxes are totally flooded, they accidentally mark your email as spam, they never check their spam folder...
posted by radioamy at 10:59 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Request that the non-receivers add your "" as an accepted sender. If too much mail is coming out of this address (including donation solicitations) your mail may be getting diverted to spam because previous stuff has already been flagged that way. Maybe you need a separate "" or your own "" instead.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:10 PM on November 28, 2017

If most people are getting your email, then I'd bet the others just didn't notice it. I've definitely told people I didn't receive an email and then give back and checked and I had.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 12:46 PM on November 28, 2017

This is kinda tangential, but I've seen the consistent 60% open rate figure, and the question immediately pops into my mind: are we talking about the same 60% each time? That is, if you're sending the email to 20 people and 12 are reading it, are they people A-L each time, and never people M-T? Or are they mixed: A, B, D, E, F, G, I, J, K, L, M, and N read one; A, C, D, E, F, H, K, L, M, O, P, T read another?

If it's the former, I'd send a verification email to the ones who consistently don't read it to make sure they're real addresses.

If it's the latter, though, 60% will probably be the best you can do.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:20 PM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

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