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 automated email campaigns like a welcome series for new subscribers.

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 recommend MailChimp to our clients, but 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.

12 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,
    Jim

    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.
    Olga

    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.

  3. 5 bill December 10, 2017

    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?

    1. 6 Christine Soucy December 11, 2017

      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. 7 diane strong February 20, 2018

    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

    1. 8 Christine Soucy February 21, 2018

      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. 9 Ridley Hutchinson July 26, 2019

    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.

    1. 10 Christine Soucy July 31, 2019

      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. 11 Bill September 28, 2019

    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: https://www.emailtooltester.com/en/blog/email-deliverability-july-2019/) and also after combing their website found this very nice advice article: https://www.mailerlite.com/email-marketing-by-industry/nonprofit. 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!

    1. 12 Christine Soucy October 2, 2019

      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.

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