Digital Outreach

How to Configure List Segmentation for Email Marketing


With its high ROI, email marketing continues to be one of the most effective tools in an inbound marketer’s toolkit. However, we’ve all clicked unsubscribe and seem to be doing so more frequently. What’s a nonprofit to do to maintain the contact list for which it’s worked so hard?

As discussed in a recent post interviewing ArcStone’s marketing manager Joli, the key to maintaining and increasing your subscribers is to focus on list-segmentation-for-email-marketing. According to Joli, in the next year,

“users will get pickier about what shows up in their inboxes, and they won’t be afraid to click unsubscribe.”

Let’s walk through 3 ways to segment your list effectively.

1. By audience.

The first part is fairly simple. As a nonprofit you have donors, volunteers, users of your service, and the general community. When donors are curious about how much has been raised, volunteers want to know how to sign up for the next event. Determine your audience personas by walking through this guide, and then cater your emails to each audience.


Similarly, you can think of your audience in terms of how long they’ve been connected to your nonprofit. Are they long-time contacts who even rally support for your cause from their friends? Or a contact that recently gave you their email in an online form? Just like with any communication, it all depends on how familiar people are with one another. Keep the tone appropriate according to the connection you have with each contact.

2. By activity frequency. 

Consider how often this donor or volunteer visits your site, interacts with you on social media or asks for more information. We use a CRM Hubspot (read about using this for nonprofits here) which tracks each contact’s activity and history – we can track if they’ve opened an email, downloaded an ebook, read a blog, etc. From there, we can build an email list including people who have read a certain blog or those who came to a recent event.


Keep in mind how connected contacts are with your nonprofit before sending out frequent emails. In general, if they’ve come to an event or made a large donation, it’s more likely that they want to hear from you and you aren’t being a nuisance. If they are a one-time donor, reach out right after they donate but don’t pester them so much that they unsubscribe immediately and you lose the connection.

3. By interest.

Pay attention to what that particular contact is most interested in. Have they mostly contributed to your fundraising campaigns that discuss statistics and facts or are they more moved by stories? Do they volunteer at events with children or the elderly? Send them information regarding the types of issues they care most about. You can also ask them via online forms or if you talk to them in person, which issues they’d like to stay updated on.

An example? I spent an hour or so looking at men’s watches and they sent me this:


It wasn’t just an add regarding all their latest deals, but rather something I cared about. Granted Amazon has a HUGE marketing budget to work with and many systems in place to automate this, but we can still do some of this through list segmentation.


All in all, email marketing isn’t easy. Just because it has an ROI does not mean you can skip the difficult part of really studying your audience. Make sure to think about what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, rather than using email blasts to all your contacts. The more you meet their needs, the more likely they’ll stay subscribed.

For more read, “How to Use Email Segmentation to Increase Your Conversion Rate” and “10 Ways to Segment Your Donors to Improve Fundraising Effectiveness.”