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Charity sector: managing inactive emails apart?

The advantage of an association is that it sends emails for just causes. The recipient's perception is far less virulent than the umpteenth promotional email received from a commercial advertiser. Based on this observation, we could consider adapting the emailing strategy. Could the charitable sector have a email inactivity management different from other sectors?

Prerequisites for understanding the following points

The challenge with deliverability topics is that you need to understand the ins and outs to follow the reasoning! So here's a summary of deliverability essentials to find out what happens next.

Why do some emails arrive in your inbox, others in your spam folder, and still others in your promo box?

The aim of a mailbox is to make the user experience as pleasant as possible by filtering out unwanted e-mails by its users.

To achieve this, mailboxes have defined criteria which automatically distribute incoming e-mails:

  • They distribute in inbox emails they deem desired and expected by their users: emails from friends and family, confirmation emails, etc.
  • They distribute in promo box emailings that they consider that are sent in large quantities newsletters, invitations, donation appeals, etc.
  • They distribute in junk mail emailings that they consider unwanted by their users: the above examples may therefore be included if the sender has a bad reputation.
  • They block emails they deem dangerous for their users.

Always a good reminder:

  • An email delivered to a mailbox is an email that is technically delivered. It may therefore have been delivered to an inbox or promo box, or as junk mail.
  • The deliverability rate in your routing tool is therefore not necessarily the rate of emails actually delivered to the inbox or promo box.

A reminder of the criteria that trigger French & American anti-spam filters to categorize emails

French ISPs / Webmails (Orange,, Free, SFR) primarily use the universal signals to filter emails: spam complaint, number of unknown email addresses (cf. hardbounce, NPAI), number of spamtraps, volume, frequency of sending and reputation history.

The complaints have a very negative effect on an advertiser's reputation.

American Webmails (Gmail, Microsoft, Yahoo!...) use the universal and behavioral signals to filter emails: spam complaints, opens, clicks, move emails to folders, forward emails, reply to emails.

The no clicks or openings also have a strong impact on reputation.

All these signals form the basis for calculate reputation from sender. Don't forget that each ISP / Webmail has its own filtering systems and even if some French ISPs use the same filter, each will use it in its own way.

Internet users have four ways of expressing their dissatisfaction with an email they receive

  • It can complain via the spam complaint button in your mailbox, which has a very negative impact on your reputation.
  • It can unsubscribe in two ways: (no major impact on reputation if you don't observe unsubscribe peaks)
  • It can do not open email (negative impact on reputation)
  • It can do not click in an email (negative impact on reputation)

About routing tools :

  • The number of unsubscribes can include those made via the footer as well as those made via the list-unsubscribe.
  • The number of complaints generated stems from feedback loops from Microsoft, Yahoo! and Validity. (Complainants are automatically unsubscribed or quarantined)

Standard definition of inactive e-mail addresses

In all sectors, an email address is generally considered inactive. if she hasn't clicked on any links or opened any emails in the last six months.

Why 6 months?
The lifecycle of an email address can be defined in three main stages:

  1. The email address is created by the user, who must make full use of it.
  2. The user no longer connects to his mailbox and the ISP deactivates the address according to its own rules:
    • La Poste A mailbox without a connection for 4 months is considered inactive and can be automatically purged of its contents (email, calendar, address book, folders, settings, etc.).
    • Orange After termination of the mobile or internet offer, the associated email address remains accessible for 6 months. Thereafter, the email address is deleted.
    • SFR If the SFR Mail service is not used for 6 consecutive months, SFR may block access to the user's e-mail account.
    • Gmail A Google Account not used for 2 years is considered inactive, and its content and data can be deleted.
    • Outlook Since 2019, inactive accounts are automatically deleted if they have not been used for 2 years.
    • Yahoo A Yahoo Mail mailbox that has not been consulted for at least 12 months is considered inactive.
  3. After a variable period of inactivity on the part of the user, the ISP can transform the email address into either spamtrap or hard bounce, rendering the alias irretrievable and unusable by anyone.

What are the real risks of routing to inactive email addresses?

Risk of loss of reputation

A good reputation almost guarantees 100% an inbox arrival (with the exception of Microsoft which, with a green indicator, guarantees 90% an inbox arrival).

Risk of limited dispatch speeds

This is a minor impact that can occur when an advertiser generates many bounces in a short space of time. The ISP / Webmail can limit the number of errors or the number of connections on its servers.

A campaign has a limited lifespan (between 24 and 48 hours).
The router attempts to resend the campaign to addresses that have generated soft bounces during this period. After 48 hours, it stops the attempts. It is therefore possible that the campaign will never be delivered to all addresses in the database.

Risk of email blocking

In the event of significant impact, the ISP/Webmail may automatically or manually block all emails from an advertiser. Blocking can occur due to a large number of complaints or a high rate of complaints, but also if the email is detected as spam.

Reputational risk

In the event of recurrent impacts, ISPs/Webmails may choose not to unblock an IP address because they no longer trust the sender.

In reality, shooting at inactives doesn't necessarily have a negative impact on reputation and generates donations, so why deprive yourself?

This is the heart of the matter. The advantage for an association sending out emails appealing for donations to just causes is that the user's perception is generally less negative than to yet another promotional email from an advertiser.

If an appeal for donations is very occasionally sent to a segment of inactive e-mail addresses, this may not lead to a drop in reputation. Why not? Because the recipients aren't particularly annoyed by the email. But How often does this remain true? What would happen if all your campaigns were sent to your inactive target audience? At some point, even if you're defending noble causes, the recurrence of mailings could annoy your recipients.

It should also be noted that anti-spam filters do not have the empathy of humans, and if certain thresholds are exceeded, the advertiser will be penalized. The advertiser, whether in the commercial or non-commercial sector, will be penalized.

Sending your campaign to your inactive segment can certainly generate more income in volume terms. In fact, as always, the issue is to demonstrate that a one-off strategy yielding €90,000 is less profitable than a long-term approach that builds lasting relationships with donors.

So it's a question of striking a balance between revenue imperatives, the perception of ISPs/webmails and that of recipients, and above all, deciding on an ethical data management policy.

Can't there be a fair balance? What would it be?

Based on this observation, we could consider including a specific campaign routed to inactive emails once a month. The monthly sending schedule could be as follows:

Campaign typesContent descriptionTargeting
3 Editorial newslettersAssociation news, results of field actionsopt-in and active emails
1 Emailing Appeal for donationsProgram presentation + donation driveopt-in and active emails
Inactive EmailingPush don + a digest of editorial newsopti-in and inactive emails

Over one month, for the active email base: four editorialized emails plus one push for donation.
The inactive target, on the other hand, would receive the donation push along with a digest of the 3 editorialized emails.

A few precautions should be taken:

  • Isolating inactives in a specific segment and create sub-segments of this segment inactive emails :
    • Inactive 6-9 months
    • Inactive 9-12 months
    • Inactive 12-18 months
  • Watch performance of campaigns by sub-segment
  • Monitor reputation levels from sender
  • Set up a seedlist for control the arrival of emails into a mailbox.
  • Readjust strategy if reputation declines.

In short, this approach requires careful planning and an adapted editorial strategy.

Is it better to generate inactives rather than unsubscribers?

Hey, the trickster question! No, that doesn't mean you have to do everything you can to limit unsubscribes!

  • If you've placed an unsubscribe link in the header of your emails, that's great, leave it.
  • If you set up a communication preference center, it is imperative to respect it.

It's a question of volume! You'll never get half your base to visit your preference center or click on the unsubscribe link. On the other hand, you're likely to have half your base inactive.

It is best tobe transparent with your recipients. You can display an alert message such as :

"Our emailings represent X% of our donation collection sources. These donations are crucial to continuing our mission. Without your donations, our ability to act is limited."

Badsender's final word

As emailing and deliverability consultants, we generally advocate a rigorous approach to deliverability. compliance with emailing best practices. However, taking into account the charitable sector of activity, the adoption of a moderate, monitored strategy may prove acceptable, allowing inactive addresses to be exploited while minimizing the associated risks. However, it is essential to maintain a balance between fundraising, recipient perception and ISP/webmail perception.

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