Email Segmentation for Nonprofits: 7 Easy Segments that Increase Donations


Being a newsletter subscriber can be like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: One newsletter sends way too frequently, one never sends anything you want to read, and one sends just enough. We want you to hit the sweet spot right in between, and send just enough emails to move the needle forward on your impact. The challenge with this is that there isn’t just one Goldilocks: Your email subscribers have various interests and a range of thresholds for too little and too much. Enter: Email segmentation.

What is email segmentation?

List segmentation in email marketing means that you’re able to deliver more relevant content at optimal frequencies to your email subscribers. This comes in handy given that email is a tipping point for permission marketing, meaning that your supporters are giving you permission to interact with them on a deeper level than social media or your website. This is also why email has an ROI of 122% — more than 4x the ROI of social media, direct mail and paid search. It feels more personal — and segmentation goes a long way towards an even greater sense of email personalization that scales with your contacts.
When you use segmentation, you can tailor content to different users and send targeted emails to those who will be interested. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about being too aggressive or too passive, and further engage those who want to be engaged. Mailchimp reports that emails sent to segmented lists get an almost 15% increase in click rate.

A segmented email list is a hygienic email list

To start with email list segmentation, let’s first talk about hygiene.
For optimal data hygiene, we suggest having 1 master email list and then multiple groups and segments within that list
The groups within your email list are sections of your list based on interest categories (e.g., event attendees, current donors, or past volunteers). Your list’s segments are sections of your list based on subscriber behavior (i.e. users that opened your last 5 emails, or new subscribers). 

Why this subscriber list format works

There are a few reasons we recommend this strategy for your email marketing list.

It avoids double-sends

If a user is in 2 lists and you want to send an email to both lists, they will get the email twice. If a user is in multiple groups or segments and you send an email across multiple groups and segments within a master list, they will only get 1 email.

If you’re using Mailchimp, it saves money

If a user signs up for 2 lists, then they count as 2 credits in your Mailchimp account. If a user signs up for 1 list and many groups, they only count as 1 credit. This adds up over time and as your email database continues to grow. 

It allows for one sign-up form

This is more user friendly — and can mean more completed email signups! 

7 Easy segmentation strategies for nonprofits

Once you have your list structure in place, you can play with targeted messaging to appeal to different users. Some examples of email marketing segmentation for nonprofits include:

7 Nonprofit Email Segments1. Past volunteers

This can be used to share updates on new opportunities or give past volunteers first access to other openings at your organization (this is one of the perks offered by Crisis Text Line to its volunteer crisis counselors).

2. Event attendees

If they attended once, they’re more likely to attend again. You’ll talk to these supporters in a different way than you would talk with audiences who have yet to join you for a gala, race, or other get-together.

3. Lapsed users

These are users who signed up for your email list but haven’t taken action since that sign-up. Use this segmentation for to remind these subscribers why they signed up in the first place. New York Cares sends reminders to users who have signed up but haven’t volunteered yet to remind them of all the great projects in their area.

4. Demographic segmentation

This can be centered on age, gender identification, or location — or you can have fun with demographics based on the data you have for your subscribers. This might be their interests as they relate to your organization, such as programming. 

5. Geographic location

This can be especially useful if you have nationwide affiliates. And if you run local programs, you’ll also want to speak to users in your neighborhood differently than those who subscribe to your list but live on the other side of the globe.  

6. Donors

Like event attendees, these are going to be people more invested in your work. Also consider segmenting between current donors and lapsed donors.

7. Board Members, Staff, and Advisors

Again, you wouldn’t talk to your parents the same way you’d talk to your friends. Make it a little more compartmentalized with these key groups.

Show me the money: Targeted email marketing and donation asks

Donation asks are a great way to put segments and groups to use: In your email campaigns, you can tailor your donation asks to users based on whether they are repeat or lapsed donors, or if they have donated a small amount of money versus a large sum.
When a donor feels like their previous contributions are remembered, that their donations make a tangible impact, and the ask that is made of them is in the realm of what they can afford, they are more likely to contribute again. 
Those are the basics of email segmentation. If you want to find out how to put this email segmentation into use to get more users, check out 9 ways to grow your email list

“What are email users doing on my site?” asked every nonprofit ever. With Lighthouse by Whole Whale, we’ve created a virtual handshake between your email marketing provider and your Google Analytics to better understand the online activities of high-value email subscribers. Get more information and sign up for a demo at