Embrace the Unsubscribe

The traditional thinking in email cultivation goes like this: Get as many people on your list as you can and make it really hard for them to get off. But promoting quantity over quality in your email subscriber base might cost you constituent trust.

Email is a relationship

You are always communicating. Each component of the emails you send tells a reader something about your organization. What does your unsubscribe link communicate? It’s likely the least important content in your email, buried below the footer, impossible to read, enough to remain CAN-SPAM compliant, but so obscure no one will ever click it. Ever.

In a contract, we call that the fine print. And no one trusts “the fine print.”

Emails are a contract between you and your subscribers. You communicate the parameters for contacting them; they agree to let your message take up space in their inboxes from time to time. If you keep your end of the deal, the contract will grow into a relationship, one where subscribers read your message and take a response.

Start with engaging content

People skim emails to see if the content is interesting to them. If they decide your cause is interesting, they’ll respond. But, as the 2011 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study showed, people will “unsubscribe because they read your message and decide your cause isn’t interesting to them.” Take heart. This is a good thing. It means you’re communicating well. The subscriber understood your message, but decided it isn’t relevant to them.

Make unsubscribing easy

And if your cause isn’t relevant to a subscriber they shouldn’t be on your list. Making it easy to unsubscribe will build trust with your subscribers by reminding them that you only want to send them messages they want. It can also save you time, money and credibility. (You could have big problems if your IP is flagged by a “REPORT SPAM,” even if you are CAN-SPAM compliant.)

Make a lasting impression

I moved recently and suddenly a popular group coupon service was no longer relevant to me. Their unsubscribe process was very easy, and even inserted a little bit of fun. They communicated that they were sorry to see me go. So sorry in fact that they want me to punish Derrick, the guy who thought I’d enjoy their emails. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

This group coupon service has definitely made an impression on me, and I’ll be sure to re-subscribe once their message is relevant to me again. Their exact approach may not work for your organization. But if you get creative, and embrace the unsubscribe you’ll see the quality of your subscriber base and your retention rate grow.