My organization uses Mailchimp to send mass emails, and we hear back from a lot of people that they never see them — mostly because they end up in a promotions folder. I've heard of solutions like GMass but that limits the number of senders unless you pay a bundle. Is there a way to get around the promotions tab in Mailchimp? Or is there another inexpensive alternative that allows for multiple senders? Once people get the email, any suggestions for how to increase the number of people who open the email, read the email, and click through to any links we send?


We’ve all been there. Pouring so much time and energy into your email campaign only to find out that your subscribers aren’t getting them is every digital organizer’s nightmare. Of course, we’d love for each send to be at the top of our subscribers’ inbox. We can’t always get what we want, but that doesn’t mean that the promotions folder is where all of our emails must go to die.

It all boils down to quality. Are you sending quality content that is useful and compelling? Are your emails resonating with your list, and are you building a relationship with your subscribers? The good news is that it sounds like the answer is yes! Getting feedback from your subscribers that they’re not getting your emails is an excellent problem to have. It means they want to hear from you. 

Ask them to manually drag the email from the promotions tab to the primary tab or add your “from” email address to their google contacts. This is technically the only way to ensure that your emails will go to the primary folder. Moving forward, you may want to invite new subscribers to do the same when they sign up, which you can do in an automated welcome message. MailChimp has great automated email software that is easy to use and can create very simple to highly complex drip marketing campaigns — a series of scheduled emails that gradually take subscribers through a set ladder of engagement.

Besides asking and hoping your subscribers change their Gmail settings, there are a few other things you can do to make sure your emails are getting read.

Keep your emails simple and personal. Google is typically looking for emails from advertisers to place in the promotions folder. We’ve all seen those emails: the subject line, usually in all caps, is about a limited time offer; they’re loaded with big, flashy images; the layout is over the top; there are a million places to click; and, most of all, they’re generic enough to send en masse. While this may be an effective way to lure you into impulse buying a sushi bazooka at 3am, it may not be the best way to get your campaign messaging off the ground.

Make sure you’re not pitching your campaign like a salesperson. Write your emails in a conversational tone and, when appropriate, use Liquid code in the body text to automatically insert information, like a subscriber’s name or location, in template form. Make sure your “from” email is a real name instead of “info@.” Keep your subject line short and to the point, like leading with the phrase “take action” if you’re sending an action item. Leaving some suspense and mystery may seem like a good way to get folks to open your email, but be sure to stay away from obvious clickbait. No one likes to be tricked into clicking something they’re not interested in, and if your email sounds like it’s trying to sell something, Gmail will flag it as a promotion.

You also want to avoid emails that are too large in size, meaning that there are too many images and too much fancy code. Again, this might set off Google’s promotion sensors. Be sure to use images sparingly and keep them under 600px wide. This will also help with email load times for subscribers with slower internet speeds. Keep the amount of design-heavy HTML code to a minimum for the same reasons and avoid going overboard with the amount of clickable links (no more than three-to-four CTA links is a good rule of thumb). 

Of all the CRMs I’ve tried, MailChimp is the best in terms of intuitive user experience. The drag-and-drop design makes it easy to create beautiful layouts with no HTML experience required. MailChimp’s best feature, in my opinion, is Time Warp, which schedules email campaigns based on each individual subscriber's time zone, so subscribers receive your campaigns at the correct time for them. This is incredibly helpful if you have a large, varied list, and it can help keep your subscribers happy — and more likely to open your emails. But MailChimp is designed for marketing, not mobilizing the revolution.

Besides MailChimp, other CRMs I’ve used include NationBuilder and ActionNetwork. NationBuilder is designed for building communities around a common cause, most notably election-based campaigns. It has robust data management software for individual subscribers so you can create emails based on user records, notes, tags, or place in your ladder of engagement or “path.” This is useful for canvassing, phone banking, or other volunteer tracking and may increase your metrics if you’re sending highly targeted emails. The main pro to having NationBuilder is its integration across platforms. From website and email to social media and donations, all your data is handled by NationBuilder — meaning it’s all in one place. The main con is its high price and limited flexibility. 

The email software I currently use is ActionNetwork. Out of the three CRMs I’ve used, ActionNetwork is the platform that is best aligned with grassroots organizing. It’s intuitive, they have frequent live tutorials and recorded tutorials for reference, and they are constantly rolling out new features like mobile texting. It’s far from perfect, but some key features are automated testing and easy petition swap facilitation. If you’re looking for a quick way to boost your numbers on a petition, partnering with another org is the way to go. The best part is, ActionNetwork can automatically share signatories between you and the partners sponsoring the petition, so you don’t have to worry about downloading and uploading encrypted .csv files.

Whichever CRM you choose, what matters most in email is genuine and consistent communication. If you’re sending good emails and engaging your list on a regular basis, your subscribers will look forward to your next send and will check their inbox. Personally, I like having my email organized into different folders, but everyone uses email differently — that’s why testing is so key. Test multiple subject lines, body text length, image vs. no image, buttons vs. links. Over time, as you continue to send out emails, you’ll get to know your list better and your open/click rates will go up. Once you have a large enough list, you can start tagging subscribers and segmenting your list according to interest to increase engagement. The more you know about your folks, the more you can tailor your messaging and get information to them in the best way possible. Happy list, happy organizer.



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