Using Gmail or a personal email account to send a few work emails is fine. Using it to send a message to your organization’s entire email list is not. If this has been your approach to your email marketing to date, this post is for you. You need an email service provider for nonprofits.

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 your 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 be illegal to send mass emails in this way.

Email service providers (ESPs) 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 communications. While this is true of all ESPs, it’s important to note that no two providers are exactly the same. You’ll need to do your homework and find the one that best fits your nonprofit’s needs.

Choosing an Email Service Provider for Nonprofits

If you’re not sure where to get started, we can help. Here are ten essential 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 the number of emails you send. Depending on your budget, the size of your email list and how frequently 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? Many major providers do, including Mailchimp, MailerLite, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact and Vertical Response.

How will you organize your contacts?

While you might start with one big list, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll want to segment your email contacts based on their relationship to you: newsletter subscriber, donor, volunteer, event attendee and more. As a best practice, list segmentation ensures that you send relevant messages to the right people. And as your email list grows, it becomes increasingly important to keep your contacts in order.

You don’t have to have it all figured out right now, but it’s helpful to think about list organization when you’re evaluating different ESPs. Some will base their pricing based on the number of contacts or the number of mailing lists you have in the account. For example, Mailchimp allows you to have multiple lists, but the service doesn’t take into account that some contacts are duplicated, like someone who is on the newsletter list and the donor list. They end up being double-counted, which means you end up paying more or hitting your limit on a free plan faster.

What’s the email builder like?

If at all possible, get a free trial of potential email services before you commit. Anyone who will be involved in creating and sending emails, from design to list management, should take it for a test run to see how you like it.

Take a look at how core features work, the process for importing your contacts, and the user experience of building an email. If it feels clunky, slow, buggy or outdated, take that as a sign of what you’d be committing to in the long term.

How advanced do you want 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 the ability to run A/B tests, enable social sharing, build 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. We’re not recommending you choose the provider with the longest laundry list. Focus on your specific goals for the near future, and pick the provider who offers features that will best help you meet them.

How’s their email deliverability?

To clear up some jargon, “deliverability” 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, check out what they have to say about their deliverability.

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, but it also 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, even if you’re planning to experiment with plain text emails from time to time.

And don’t forget to look into whether or not the ESP requires their own branding or logo to be included within the designs, especially on free plans. That could be a dealbreaker depending on your style preferences.

Is marketing automation on your horizon?

If marketing automation is something your nonprofit is interested in pursuing, take it into account when looking at the different email service providers out there. Many offer more advanced automation services along with their traditional emails. This could make life a little easier when you decide to jump into automated email campaigns like a welcome series for new subscribers or cultivation emails for fundraising.

Will it integrate with your website?

Ideally, any email service provider for nonprofits will work with your website. It makes life easier for both you and your visitors, meaning more subscribers sign up and you don’t have to be as hands-on with list management.

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 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.

What kinds of customer support are offered?

Even the tech-savvy folks run into email marketing questions from time to time, especially when you’re moving to a new piece of software and getting to know its capabilities. Depending on how you prefer to learn and handle any stressful situations that might arise (email mistakes and tech fails happen!), consider the level of support you get with each ESP.

For example, do they have a self-serve library of support articles? Chat, email or phone-based support with customer representatives? Opportunities for ongoing training? And how does your access to these support services vary based on your plan?

How will you measure email performance and engagement?

Most services will offer some basic metrics and data about email campaign performance, like open and click rates plus the number of unsubscribes or spam reports. If you’re hoping for more in-depth analysis about the behavior of email subscribers, like the ability to track them on your website or to build subscriber profiles, be sure to look into what’s possible with integrations like Google Analytics and customer relationship management (CRM) tools.

Investing in an email service provider will help you take your email marketing to the next level and 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 recommend Mailchimp to our clients, but we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Originally published on 10/7/15 by Britt Vogel. Updated with new information and additional email service provider considerations on 1/19/22.


  1. 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,

    • 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. 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.

    • 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.

  3. The problem with this site is it throws out terms without defining them.

    We are a non-profit not familiar with options for our email system.

    You seem to assume we all are already educated in terms you use. Not!

    Like: “Marketing Automation”. What the heck in that?

    • Hi, Bill. Sorry you found this post confusing! As we explain in the linked post, marketing automation allows you to schedule and send emails based on user behavior. For example, when a supporter initially subscribes to your newsletter, you might set up a series of automated emails that welcome them to your mailing list and give them some helpful background information on your organization. Let me know if you have any more questions! And if you’re looking for a great, free email service provider, we recommend MailChimp to all of our nonprofit clients. See why and check out our comparison table in this post.

  4. Hi we are currenty using mailchimp and I think for some members of our non for profit dance club eg those sending the club emails are finding mail chimp difficult to use as you have to create campaigns etc and also some members are saying they dont recieve their emails about events. Our club has 200 members. Is there a simplier email system that can be used. As we only send out a monthly email newsletter and sometimes reminders for events.
    You advcie would be app[eciated,
    Di Strong on behalp of Tassie Rockers Club

    • Hi, Diane. We actually recommend MailChimp for nonprofits. We’ve found it to be easier to use than similar services, plus it’s tough to beat the free features and nonprofit discount.

      In the world of email marketing, an email campaign is an email or group of connected emails sent out to a list of people with a specific goal in mind. In MailChimp, when you create a campaign, you’re creating an email to send out to your members. Without knowing all of the details, it’s tough to know why some emails might not be reaching their intended recipients. If the emails are going straight to their spam folders, asking them to add your email to their contacts could prevent this in the future. It’s also possible that their inboxes were full, the email address was invalid or a variety of other issues is taking place.

      If you’re still interested in switching email service providers, some other big names to consider are Constant Contact and Vertical Response. Check out how they compare to MailChimp. I hope that helps answer your question. Best of luck!

  5. Hi, I volunteer with a tiny non profit dedicated to communicating the teachings of Shivabalayogi to his devotee community. We have about 500 people in this community. We are currently using gmail and having problems with sending emails to our email list. If we try to send to entire list, Gmail is blocking us because I believe we are exceeding their guide lines for the limit of addresses one can send an email. Our needs are simple; we just need to be able to send emails to our entire list announcing events and / or other general communications. Is there a service that you would suggest? I see that you suggest MailChimp. Do they provide an email address for us or would we continue to use gmail. If so, how does this get around gmail’s prohibition on how many email addresses you can send an email. As I mentioned before we are tiny and have no paid employees. We are all volunteers and our knowledge of the world of mass emailing is minimum. Any guidance in this matter and where we might better educate ourselves would be most appreciated.

    • Hi, Ridley. We would recommend setting up MailChimp and sending your emails through their service from now on. They have a free version that should fulfill your needs, depending on how large your list is. Current laws in the US require you to offer an unsubscribe option within your emails, which is tough to do with a personal gmail account, as well as other restrictions and expectations for email marketing. Whatever you do, stop sending emails through your personal account.

      Since you’re not sending the email through the Gmail service, but through MailChimp and following the laws for commercial emails, you can send to as many people as have willingly signed up for your list. And if you would like the “From Name” in the email to be the same, you can set that up within MailChimp as you’re building out your email. But we’d recommend setting up a more professional email through the free G Suite basic account available through Google for Nonprofits. I hope that answers your question. Good luck with your nonprofit’s email marketing!

  6. Just got a new title in my nonprofit and have to catch up on all the email marketing knowledge (close to non-existent) and these articles come very handy – thanks!
    I’m pleasantly surprised that previous colleague responsible for this had chosen some not so well know (for me) email service provider Mailerlite. After googling it, it seems it has one of the highest deliverability rated (Well, acording to this: and also after combing their website found this very nice advice article: Now I already feel more confident on how to further build our email strategy as the service has nice feature set as well. Just wanted to share how this article put me in a better mood and discoveries on improving our nonprofit daily job! Thank you!

    • I’m glad you found the post helpful and were able to find an email service that works for your organization. And thanks for sharing those resources! I’m looking forward to checking them out.

  7. I am revamping a VERY small non-profit. We have 5 board members and don’t do any emails other than thank you messages for donations. One of our issues it to have the 5 members copied on all incoming email (or at least accessible) because we are all part time.

    I think the free version should be fine but can we have different accounts such as treasurer and animal_care that are just kind of categories in the full email?

    • Great to hear you’re looking to organize your nonprofit’s email marketing, Diana! With just the details you’ve provided it’s possible Mailchimp could be a good choice, especially if you’re able to integrate the email service with your website and/or donation tools. You can weigh the pros and cons and compare with some other popular email options in our recommendation blog post.

      To make sure that your board members have access to emails, you might create a general info account, for example, to use as your reply email and give everyone access to that account.

      I hope that helps to answer your questions. Good luck, Diana!

  8. “…“delivery rate” just refers to the number of emails that make it into your subscribers’ inboxes rather than being marked as junk mail.”

    This is incorrect.

    Email delivery rates are calculated by dividing the number of emails sent minus bounces by the number of emails sent.

    Whether mail goes to the Inbox vs SPAM folder is “deliverability” – delivery and deliverability are not interchangeable terms.

    • Thanks for the correction, Jack! We’ve updated the post to use “deliverability” instead of “delivery rate”.

  9. Hi Christine,
    We are a non-profit group of about 500 people in California that is just getting started with digital communications. Until now, we have communicated only once or twice a year and then always by USPS. We have acquired from third party lists email addresses for about half the group but do not have their consent to send them emails, which we would like to do because we now have a website to which we post a monthly newsletter. We have ambitions that go beyond that, but we do not plan to solicit contributions or to market anything. Sending out the initial email inviting them to come to our website and sign up seems to be legal because “non-commercial” but seems to violate the Mailchimp terms of service. How can we work around this problem?

    • That’s a great question, Ed. I typically would not recommend sending emails without the recipient’s consent or collecting emails from a third party. Since your supporters did not sign up for emails from you or give you their email address, communicating with them through email could come off as spammy and hurt your reputation in their eyes.

      As an alternative, you might highlight your new website and let your audience know how they can sign up for email communications in the future through your print communications. This way, those who would like to receive emails from you can sign up on their own, and you won’t have to worry about any ethical or legal violations.

  10. Mailchimp is not the best anymore as it falls as “spam” into almost everyone’s email- I don’t want to turn around and send everyone a separate email that the Chamber letter just went.

    It’s very frustrating!

    • I can definitely understand your frustration here Peggy. Doing email right takes way too much time for all of your messages to end up in your subscriber’s spam.

      Have you tried reaching out to Mailchimp about this spam issue? You could also check out this resource if you haven’t already: How to Avoid Email Spam Filters

  11. I tried MailChimp for our small non-profit social club and found it totally non-intuitive and extremely clunky to use. Formatting a simple email to just a couple of people is a major chore and the email formatting is beyond comprehension. We are dropping this service immediately.

    • Thanks for the comment Mike. And sorry to hear you’ve had such a frustrating experience with Mailchimp.

      If you find a tool you like more, definitely let us know. We always love hearing from nonprofits using these various tools so we can pass the recommendations on to other orgs.

  12. Hi Britt, Thanks for posting this informative blog. But I am not satisfied with the Mailchimp services. After attempting to use MailChimp for our little non-profit socializing group, I found it to be extremely complicated and unintuitive. Even creating a simple email for a few recipients proved tough, with email formatting being especially difficult to understand. So we decided to stop utilizing this service and switch to digitalaka.

    • Thanks for the note Brayden! Glad you were able to find an email provider that feels like a better fit for you all.