How to Pick an Email Service Provider for Your Nonprofit

Nonprofit Email Service Provider

Using Gmail to send a few work emails is great. Using Gmail to send a message to your nonprofit’s entire email list is not. If this has been your approach to your nonprofit’s email marketing to date, this post is for you. You need an email service provider (ESP).

Email marketing is a great way to further engage people interested in your nonprofit. It allows you to keep in touch and deepen your relationship with them. But, when you’re email list is hundreds of names long, this can’t be accomplished through individual emails, and it can’t be done from your personal account. In fact, in many cases, it may actually be illegal to send mass emails in this way.

Email service providers make keeping in touch with your subscribers easy. More than that though, they help you stay organized and allow you to be more strategic with your communication. While this is true of all ESPs, it’s important to note that no two providers are the same. Doing your homework and finding the one that best fits your nonprofit’s needs is key.

If you’re not sure where to get started, we can help. Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself when evaluating your options.

What’s Your Budget?

The price tag attached to email service providers varies. Many offer their services for free up to a certain number of subscribers or sent emails. Depending on your budget, the size of your email list and the frequency at which you’re planning to send emails, this could be an important factor to consider. Shop around. Find the best deal from the provider best suited to fit your needs.

Do they offer a discount for nonprofits?

Being a nonprofit, I’m sure you’re aware that a lot of businesses want to help you out. Scour their site or reach out to ask about what they offer nonprofits. You might just score a deal. Many of the major providers out there offer nonprofit discounts.

How Advanced are You Wanting to Get with Your Campaigns?

Depending on what you’re looking to do, you’ll want to pay attention to the different features they offer. Things like list segmentation, the ability to run A/B tests, social sharing, subscriber information profiles, and more can play a big role in helping you reach your goals.

Don’t get too caught up in those features though. I’m not recommending you choose the provider with the longest laundry list. Focus on your specific goals, and pick the provider who offers features that will best help you meet them.

What’s Their Delivery Rate?

First, to clear up some jargon, “delivery rate” just refers to the number of emails that make it into your subscribers’ inboxes rather than being marked as junk mail. You’re using an ESP to deliver your emails for you. You want one with a good track record of actually getting emails into inboxes.

For the majority of the more well-known email service providers, this isn’t an issue. Some even offer message testing so you can check on whether or not your message is likely to be marked as spam. But if you’re going with a “bargain brand” provider to save a couple of bucks, I’d definitely check out what they have to say about their delivery rate.

What Templates Do They Offer?

One great thing about email service providers is that most come with templates. You don’t have to design your emails or email newsletter from scratch. This not only improves efficiency, it ensures your emails will always look clean, professional and have a consistent design. Many of them are also responsive, so they’ll adapt to phone screens and tablets.

Take a look at the different email templates and designs available with the various email service providers you’re considering. One might match your needs better than the rest.

Is Marketing Automation On Your Horizon?

If marketing automation is something your nonprofit is potentially interested in pursuing, take it into account when looking at the different email service providers out there. Many are starting to offer more advanced automation software services along with their traditional email services. It might be worth seeing what they have to offer on that end now. This could make life a little easier when you decide to jump into marketing automation.

Will It Integrate with Your Website?

For some nonprofits, this just may be the most important question on the list. Ideally, you want your email service provider to work with your website. It just makes life easier for both you and your visitors. And making life easier for your visitors can mean many more subscribers actually signing up. There are four common ways the relationship between your website and your email service provider can go:

  1. Full Integration – You create forms on your website so they match your site’s style perfectly, and information transfers seamlessly between the two
  2. Partial Integration – You create the forms in your ESP and embed them in your site, so while the styles may not match perfectly it allows information to flow between the two
  3. Website Links to Email Service Provider – You link from your site to forms hosted on your ESP, which is often leads to a negative user experience and contributes to visitors leaving without signing up
  4. No Integration – The process is entirely manual, meaning your ESP and website don’t work together at all and you have to manually import subscribers to your mailing list

Investing in an email service provider will help you take your email marketing to the next level. It’s also going to make your email marketing campaigns a lot easier to manage. Hopefully, these questions help you figure out which provider is going to be the best choice for your nonprofit. It’s not about how many frills and features they offer, it’s about whether or not they provide the services you need to meet your goals.

Does your nonprofit use an email service provider? How have they helped you with your email marketing? Do you have a service you’d recommend or steer clear of? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Britt Vogel is the wordsmith at Wired Impact. She spends most of her day reading and writing about nonprofits and how to create more dynamic digital content.

4 Comments on “How to Pick an Email Service Provider for Your Nonprofit

  1. 1 Jim MacDiarmid August 3, 2017

    Hi Britt, Thank you for posting this. I know it’s been a while but I’m hoping you can help me. I found your blog post while doing a search for email marketing service providers for non-profits. I’m a volunteer web developer and web admin with Historic Gordonsville, Inc, a non-profit organization in Gordonsville, Virginia. At the moment, we are using an email marketing extension for the Joomla CMS software. I’m also interested in learning how to help the HGI locate volunteers, donors, members, sponsors, and grants, as well as ideas for blogging. Here is a bit about what the organization. Historic Gordonsville, Inc owns, operates and maintains a nationally registered historic landmark known as “The Exchange Hotel” and “Virginia’s only standing Civil War Receiving Hospital”. During the Civil War, the hospital provided care for both Confederate and Union soldiers. I’ve attached a link where you can learn more. Thank you again for posting this, as well as your time and any comments you can provide.

    Best regards,

    1. 2 Christine Soucy August 9, 2017

      Hi, Jim. We’d recommend using MailChimp as an email service provider. It allows you to create professional-looking and well-designed emails that can produce real results. Plus, they offer a pretty sweet discount for nonprofits. For tips on your other marketing questions, our blog and guides are great resources for nonprofit marketers. I hope that helps answer your questions. Best of luck!

  2. 3 Olga Benda August 31, 2017

    Hi Britt,
    thank you for your informative article.
    I am a volunteer website administrator for a tiny non-profit in San Diego Area. The House of Czech and Slovak Republics is one of the international cottages located under the umbrella of House of Pacific Relations in Balboa Park. So far I have had my my personal e-mail address attached to the website but it came to my attention that we need to get a business or non profit e-mail address in order to be able to recruit volunteers from local colleges. I use the e-mail very rarely. We only get about 5 messages per month.
    Would you have a recomendation for e-mail provider for a small non-profit like us?
    Thank you.

    1. 4 Christine Soucy August 31, 2017

      Hi, Olga. I’d recommend using MailChimp as an email service provider. They have a free plan option that allows you to have a list of up to 2,000 subscribers and send 12,000 emails per month. It’s easy to use and your nonprofit’s emails will look professional when you recruit volunteers. Plus, if you ever decide to upgrade your account, they offer a pretty great discount for nonprofits.

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