As you build your nonprofit’s email list, you’ll want to have a strategy for segmenting your subscribers along the way. Dividing your contacts based on the audience and their interests makes it easier to send them relevant information and requests. We think MailChimp is one of the best email marketing services for nonprofits, so this post will explain best practices for organizing your emails using a MailChimp master list.
Our tips will be particularly helpful if any of the following describes your nonprofit’s current situation:
- Your organization is just getting started with email marketing using MailChimp.
- Your nonprofit is moving to MailChimp from another service that manages lists and subscribers in a different way.
- You are already using MailChimp but have a few (or way too many) lists that you’re trying to manage.
We think you’ll still walk away with some good ideas for email list management even if you don’t use MailChimp. For example, Constant Contact users that are familiar with tags will find that they are similar to MailChimp groups, and services like MailerLite and Emma use groups, too.
No matter the service you use, an effective email list takes active management over time and it won’t be such a headache if you use a good structure from the start. As you’ll see, a good list structure that uses segmentation can save you time and money while offering a better experience for your subscribers.
MailChimp Lists vs. MailChimp Groups
The most common mistake we see in MailChimp accounts is the use of multiple lists to organize email contacts. Maybe you have a list for donors, a list for website signups and a list for an upcoming event. The issue isn’t that you’ve divided up your subscribers this way — it’s that you can get more out of MailChimp’s features if you use a single list that’s divided up into groups instead.
So what’s the difference between lists and groups? In MailChimp, a list is the top-level way to organize your subscribers while a group is a way to refine that list into smaller pieces. Each group is made up of a “group category” with individual options (called “group names”) for different types of subscribers in the category.
Here’s a simple way to think about it:
In this example, the three donor-related group names are all a part of the Donor group category. You could quickly send an email to just one small part of your total donor audience. Or, to send to all donors, you’d select all of the group names in this category when you choose your recipients.
There are lots of possibilities when you use groups! Your email list can be made up dozens of group categories depending on your organization’s needs, although you are capped at a total of 60 different group names for a single list.
And, of course, you can always simply send an email to everyone on your list when you need to, which is why it’s called a MailChimp master list.
Benefits of a MailChimp Master List
At this point, we hope you’re starting to see how groups can be helpful and that it’s possible to only have one list in your account and still effectively segment your subscribers. But if you’re wondering how this approach is any better than multiple lists, let us explain.
While MailChimp has some great tips about best practices for email lists, you might not realize that each list is treated completely independently of one another. Subscriber information that’s updated in one list isn’t automatically updated in another one. If you have people in more than one list in your account, MailChimp sees them as unique contacts.
Since lists don’t talk to each other or sync up, here are some ways you might run into trouble:
MailChimp will scan for duplicate email addresses within a list so that you don’t accidentally send the same email multiple times to a single subscriber. But if you decide to send that email to another list in your account, you could end up sending to someone that received it already.
The total amount of subscribers in your list is what determines your monthly billing rate. Even if you’re on the free plan, your account has a cap on the number of subscribers before you have to pay. When you have the same people on more than one list in your account, these duplicates still count individually toward your total, pushing you unnecessarily closer to the next pricing tier.
While it’s sad to see subscribers leave your list, imagine how frustrated they’ll be when you email them again because they are still included in one of your other lists! Using a MailChimp master list helps you avoid having your emails marked as spam because it lets someone completely unsubscribe without you having to manually remove them from any other lists in your account.
Creating email automation workflows
Have you been thinking about using automated emails to engage with your subscribers? It’s really difficult to use automation effectively when you have more than one list, especially when you want to run multiple automations. When everyone is on one list, you can fine-tune the sending of automated campaigns so that subscribers get the most relevant emails, or even stop getting certain emails, depending on their activity and preferences.
Analyzing list data
MailChimp offers stats for each list in your account, including metrics like average open, click and unsubscribe rates as well as an overall look at list growth. Using a MailChimp master list keeps all of your data in one place for straightforward review and reporting.
Sample Email List Structure
Need some help visualizing what your list could look like? We’ve put together a sample master list structure with groups so that you can see the possibilities for your nonprofit. Pick and choose categories that work for you and start brainstorming new groups that meet your needs.
Our Nonprofit Master List
Group category: Internal Communications
- Advisory Committee
Group category: Newsletter Subscribers
- All Subscribers
Group category: Donors
- Online Donors
- Monthly Donors
- Lapsed Donors
Group category: Volunteers
- All Volunteers
Group category: Annual Gala
- Event Invitation
- Registered Guests
- Gala Sponsors
Based on this example, you could send an email to the entire master list, contact your Annual Gala guests and sponsors, or just reach out to volunteers.
Creating Groups in a Master List
When you’re ready to create your list, MailChimp offers step by step instructions depending on your preferred method of importing any existing contacts. Then it’s time to think about your options for putting people in the right groups.
While some nonprofits use MailChimp’s website signup forms or signup forms built into their websites to put people into groups, it’s OK if you are only collecting email addresses or if you have older contacts that are missing some information. You can manually import people into each group just like you can do with a list. Check out next steps for creating your groups. Anyone that you add in a group will automatically become a subscriber in the full master list.
When you’re ready to send to a group, you’ll go through the normal process to select recipients but instead choose a group category and one or more group names rather than choose the entire list.
Already using multiple lists?
Don’t worry! You can still move to a master list structure. Follow instructions to combine lists into a master list with groups. The process that MailChimp outlines will also help you deal with any duplicates and unsubscribes that need to be accounted for across your lists. The main downside to combining existing lists is that you will lose some data about the performance of past campaigns and related subscriber activity. Be sure to back up your account before taking a major action like this one.
Become a MailChimp Master!
Get your email marketing house in order with a list structure that follows best practices. In addition to making email list management less manual and time-consuming, a master list helps you unlock more of the features that MailChimp offers.
Lastly, be sure to refer to the MailChimp support articles we’ve linked throughout the post for detailed instructions and helpful definitions. We know this is a lot to tackle in one post, but you should be able to count on their content to have the latest information about the MailChimp platform and recent updates.
Do you think a MailChimp master list will work for your organization? What questions do you have about segmenting your email subscribers? Let’s talk in the comments.