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Email Deliverability Best Practices
Authored by:
on 5/29/2024 2:35:00 PM


The most beautifully crafted, inspiring, exquisitely designed email can help your fundraising skyrocket... unless it lands in a spam folder. Is there anything nonprofits can do to help get those emails into inboxes? Yes, there's a lot you can do to improve your delivery rates and drive open rates. It starts with understanding why emails get routed to spam and knowing the anti-spam rules put in place to protect consumers. And then, there are best practices when crafting and sending your emails that can significantly impact deliverability to email service providers (ESPs).

CharityEngine clients see email deliverability rates north of 99%, so we spend a lot of time understanding how to avoid that spam folder. It's a mix of what you do with the content, actively managing your email list, leveraging reports and technology to adjust sending practices, and always updating both to ensure legit emails get where we need them to go.

Email providers have security measures in place to prevent unwanted messages from landing in their users’ inboxes. CAN-SPAM Act regulations and email service providers (ESPs) individual algorithms can impact your ability to land in your donor's inboxes. But as an email sender, there are things you can, and should do to ensure strong reputation.


  1. It is the user's responsibility to ensure good delivery practices. Clients must adhere to CAN-SPAM requirements, monitor their email sending results, and maintain proper email list hygiene practices.
  2. Email list cleansing, also known as email validation, is seamlessly integrated within CharityEngine. Fees may apply. For inquiries regarding pricing, please reach out to your account manager.
  3. If you require further support and consultation, please don't hesitate to contact your account manager.

Best Practices for Email Sending

Email deliverability refers to the ability of an email to reach the intended recipient's inbox successfully. Achieving good email deliverability involves following best practices to increase the chances of your emails landing in the inbox rather than getting filtered as spam.

Here are some key best practices:

1. Permission-based list: Only send emails to recipients who have explicitly opted in to receive them. Avoid purchasing email lists or sending to contacts who haven't consented.
2. Use double opt-in: Implement a double opt-in process where subscribers confirm their subscription. This helps ensure that the email addresses in your list are valid and engaged.
3. Quality content: Provide valuable, relevant, and engaging content to your subscribers. Avoid spammy language, misleading subject lines, or overly promotional content.
4. Segment your audience: Divide your email list based on demographics, preferences, behavior, or engagement level. Targeted and personalized emails tend to have better engagement rates.
5. Maintain a clean list: Regularly clean your email list by removing inactive or bouncing email addresses. High bounce rates negatively affect deliverability.
6. Authenticate your emails: Implement SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) to authenticate your domain and prevent spoofing and phishing.
7. Optimize for mobile: Ensure your emails are mobile-responsive as a significant portion of users access emails on mobile devices.
8. Monitor email frequency: Avoid overwhelming your subscribers with too many emails. Find a balance in frequency to maintain engagement without causing fatigue.
9. Provide easy opt-out options: Include a visible and easy-to-use unsubscribe link in your emails. Making it difficult for users to unsubscribe can lead to spam complaints.
10. Monitor performance and metrics: Track key metrics like open rates, click-through rates, bounce rates, and spam complaints. Analyze this data to improve your email strategies continually.
11. Avoid spam triggers: Refrain from using excessive exclamation marks, all caps, or trigger words commonly associated with spam in your subject lines and content.
12. Comply with regulations: Adhere to email marketing laws such as the CAN-SPAM Act (in the US) and GDPR (in the EU). Ensure you have the necessary permissions and include a physical address and clear sender identification.

By following these best practices, you can significantly enhance your email deliverability and increase the likelihood of your emails reaching the intended audience's inboxes rather than being filtered as spam.

Use Double Opt-In: CharityEngine Out of Box Feature

How can I activate Email Verification?

Navigate to the Configuration App > Campaigns > Default Settings > Deliverability > Email Delivery Verification = on > UPDATE

Regardless of the constituent's response, it signifies the engagement of a real person, emphasizing the importance of organizations sending emails to genuine individuals.

Constituent's email addresses that are added through various means such as web forms, data imports, or APIs will receive a personalized email confirming permission to receive emails from the non-profit organization. The email will provide options for the constituent to either confirm their consent by clicking "Yes, I'm ok with receiving emails" or to indicate otherwise by clicking "Click here if you did not authorize this."

When the constituent clicks "Yes, I'm ok with receiving emails," their contact record email address will be labeled as verified.


Step 2: Users then leverage the Reputation Mode: Verified Email Only when sending emails from CharityEngine. This will ensure only "Verified" emails are included in the total audience count.

Maintain a Clean List: CharityEngine Queries

This may sound simple and obvious, but it makes a difference!  Being a good email sender is the number one most important contributor to your domain reputation and IP reputation which, in turn, is the largest contributor to whether your email lands in the inbox or is considered spam. Email providers notice if their users never open emails coming from your domain, so if someone has not opened a message from your organization for a long time, then it is recommended you remove them from your email list (even if they subscribed at one point).

Why does this matter? Because other recipients’ lack of engagement on your messages can tell the email provider that your domain sends unwanted email and they could start sorting your messages as spam rather than desired inbox content, even to recipients who do like to open your mail.

Note: Never purchase email lists. Purchasing of an email list can result in the introduction of SPAM traps and harm your email reputation making it difficult to successfully get your emails into inboxes.

The following instructions can be utilized to create a sending list that considers constituent engagement defined as Viewed Email in last 6 months

Please note: Email Service Providers like Microsoft might not register a "View" if the user has only viewed the preview message within the Outlook application. Organizations may want to consider list cleansing based on "Click Through" instead. It's important to carefully evaluate the appropriate thresholds needed for your organization's specific needs and timeframes.

Step 1: Access the Automation & Workflow App > General > Queries > Create New > Filter: Contacts | Select: Contacts
Step 2: Add fields in SELECT that are important to the user for evaluation
Note: Include Contact Id to leverage within Email Blast feature
Step 3: Add fields in FILTER to create automated list cleansing
    1. Received Email = True - includes Global Email Opt In
    2. Primary Email Receive Email = True - includes Primary Emails set as Opt In
    3. (Primary Email Meta Data Sub Table) Latest View Date = Last 6 Months (use the formula icon to locate filter) - this will limit all email address in which the constituent has viewed an email in 6 months or sooner demonstrating engagement
    4. (Primary Email Meta Data Sub Table) Is Blacklisted = False - this will eliminate any blacklisted email address
Step 4: Click SAVE to name and secure the new email sending list
Step 5: Leverage the sending list via the Campaigns App > Quick Actions > Email Blast
Step 6: Select Source: List
Step 7: Select the query name as created above and continue with sending activities. Note, if using Email Verification, access Additional Settings > Reputation Mode: Verified Email Only
  1. Where can I monitor and investigate my failed emails? See more at Campaigns & Marketing: Unveiling Success: The Art of Monitoring Results in Non-Profit Email Campaign
  2. Have you hit Spam traps? We have a list of providers and actions you can take to remove and correct your reputation Spam Removal: Provider Recommended Actions

Maintain a Clean List: CharityEngine Data Enrichment Job

Email list hygiene is recommended from time to time to make sure you are not emailing bad email addresses. Bad email addresses can range from a common domain misspelling (yaho, gamil, hotmal) (Typo Spam Traps) to known spammy email addresses that end up in lists because of inaccurate data appends or bad list purchases (Pristine Spam Traps). So how can you make sure you are reaching donors who want to hear from you?

  1. CharityEngine uses an email verification tool on forms (Online Donation Forms, Advocacy Forms, Shopping Cart checkout, etc...) that is used as an opt-in verification, asking your donors if they would want to receive emails from your organization.
  2. Another valuable tool is the email validation process that on a regular cadence, completes list cleansing leveraging a third-party vendors. Fees may apply.  This validation of emails will ensure that there are no bad emails in your sending population and will help maintain a good list. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to your account manager.

CharityEngine Data Enrichment Job (Bulk Job)

Completing an Email Address Validation Data Enrichment Job (fees may apply)

Step 1: Access the Automation & Workflow Ap > General > Data Enrichment > Create New
Step 2: Select Type: Email Address Validation > NEXT
Step 3: Name the job, select start date/time if applicable, description if applicable > NEXT
Step 4: Review intended job and click PROCESS to initiate
Step 5: Contact email records will reflect with a status of Validation: Valid
Note: Emails identified as "Invalid" will be blocked with a status of Blacklisted and will be restricted through Email Blast functionality to preserve email deliverability.

CharityEngine Data Enrichment Job (Limited Records)

Completing an Email Address Validation Data Enrichment Job (fees may apply). This use case will allow users to select specific emails for email validation.

Step 1: Navigate to the Contacts App > Organization & People > Emails
Step 2: Use the Quick Filter to select Validation = Not Validated to locate all non validated emails. Use other filters as needed for targeted review.
Step 3: Select one or more email address.
Step 4: From the top left drop down select Validate
Step 5: On the confirmation, click PROCESS to begin processing selected contacts
Step 6: Upon completion of the job, a message will complete verification of the job.

Step 7: Validation status will be updated as Valid or Invalid

CharityEngine Data Enrichment Job (Select Emails)

Users can also elect to clean a subset of available emails from their CRM. In order to execute this approach, the user should identify all targeted emails with the associate Contact ID. 

set automated email address verification via the Configuration App > Campaigns > Campaign Default Settings > Deliverability. Set Email Address Validation = on for automated activation of

CharityEngine Data Enrichment Job (Integrated Ongoing)

Users can set automated email address verification via the Configuration App > Campaigns > Campaign Default Settings > Deliverability. Set Email Address Validation = on for automated activation of email cleansing for any new email address.

Authenticate your emails: CharityEngine & External Monitoring

Note: Participants in the CharityEngine Shared Pool will receive the advantage of CharityEngine overseeing and configuring SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) to authenticate their domain and mitigate spoofing and phishing risks.

For users with a unique sending domain, CharityEngine will assist in the initial setup and verification of SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. However, users will be responsible for ongoing management and monitoring.

Users can monitor internal checks/status by navigating to the Campaigns App > Popular Reports > Email Deliverability

Scroll to the bottom of the report to view the Configuration Analysis section

Monitor Email Frequency

Maintaining a balanced email sending frequency is crucial to prevent email fatigue, which can lead to constituents opting out or marking emails as spam. Such actions can negatively impact the reputation of email service providers (ESPs).

Complaints/Feedback Loop

A Feedback Loop (FBL) (or Complaint) is an essential tool provided by internet service providers (ISPs) and email service providers (ESPs) to help maintain good email deliverability. It allows senders to receive notifications when recipients mark their emails as spam or junk.

Here's how a Feedback Loop typically works:

1. Recipient Marks Email as Spam: When an email recipient considers an email as spam or junk, they have the option to mark it as such within their email client (like Outlook, Yahoo, etc.).
2. ISP/ESP Notification: The ISP or ESP then sends a notification, known as a feedback loop, to the sender of the email whose message was marked as spam. This notification typically include details such as the recipient's email address, the timestamp, and sometimes the reason for the complaint. In some cases, such as Gmail, these ESPs will not provide these details creating a requirement for the user to review and assess.
3. Sender's Action: Upon receiving this feedback, the sender can take necessary actions, such as removing the recipient from the mailing list, analyzing the content for potential issues, ensuring proper opt-out mechanisms, or improving email engagement strategies. In this use case, CharityEngine will automatically assign the email address as Blacklisted to prevent future email delivery.

Feedback Loops are beneficial for several reasons:

- Maintaining Sender Reputation: Monitoring FBL reports allows senders to promptly address issues that might negatively impact their sender reputation, such as high spam complaint rates.
- Improving Email Content: By analyzing the reasons behind spam complaints, senders can identify problematic content, subject lines, or frequency issues and adjust their email marketing strategies accordingly.
- List Hygiene: FBLs assist in maintaining a clean email list by promptly removing recipients who mark emails as spam, reducing the likelihood of future complaints.

Different ISPs and ESPs may have varying procedures for configuring and accessing Feedback Loops. Typically, senders are required to register and authenticate their email sending domains to receive FBL notifications. For users of CharityEngine's shared pool, integration to the client's account will be automatically set up by CharityEngine. For users with a unique sending domain, CharityEngine will assist in the initial setup of the Feedback Loop. Users will be responsible for ongoing maintenance and monitoring.

Effectively utilizing Feedback Loops as part of your email marketing strategy can improve deliverability, reduce the likelihood of your emails being flagged as spam, and enhance overall engagement with your audience.

Users can access and monitor these Complaints from the Feedback Loop by accessing the Campaigns App > Popular Reports > Email Deliverability report.

  1. Navigate to the Complaints section to see complaint rates, provider specific complaints, and prioritized list of emails which generated complaints for the assigned time frame.
  2. Note: Industry best practices recommend keeping complaint rates at 0.01% or lower. Persistent reports of complaints from constituents can lead to email deliverability problems, such as emails being routed to spam or promotional folders, or potentially being blocked entirely by one or more ESPs.
  3. User can see specific email reports by user. Access the Reports & Analytics App > Campaigns > Spam Complaints


Monitoring unsubscribes from your email list is an essential component of email marketing campaign management. This process entails tracking and analyzing the number of subscribers who choose to opt-out or unsubscribe from further email communications from your mailing list.

  1. Use the CharityEngine reporting features to track opt-outs over time. Navigate to the Reports & Analytics App > Campaigns > Email List Health (pivot). From this view users to can visually review trends and rates of email opt out by constituents.
  2. To see constituent detail, select the Reports & Analytics App > Campaigns > List Unsubscribes

Email Contact: Avoid Spam Triggers

Avoiding spam triggers is crucial to improving email deliverability and ensuring that your emails reach recipients' inboxes instead of being flagged as spam. Here are some best practices to help you steer clear of common spam triggers:

1. Avoid Spammy Content:
- Refrain from using excessive exclamation marks!!! or all CAPS in your subject lines or email body.
- Avoid using words and phrases commonly associated with spam, such as "free," "guarantee," "limited time," "act now," etc.
- Minimize the use of aggressive sales language or overly promotional content.

2. Authenticate Your Emails:
- Implement SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) to authenticate your domain. Authentication helps verify your identity and prevents spoofing, which can trigger spam filters.

3. Optimize HTML and Plain Text Versions:
- Ensure your HTML emails are well-structured and not overly code-heavy. Provide both HTML and plain text versions of your emails to accommodate recipients' preferences and avoid triggering spam filters due to poor HTML coding.

4. Carefully Manage Images and Links:
- Avoid using too many images without accompanying text. Some spam filters may flag emails with a high image-to-text ratio.
- Be cautious with link usage; don't use URL shorteners or include too many links in your emails.

5. Regularly Update Your Subscriber List:
- Keep your subscriber list up-to-date by removing inactive or bouncing email addresses. High bounce rates can negatively impact your sender reputation.

6. Personalize Your Emails:
- Personalize your emails by addressing recipients by name when possible. Personalized and targeted emails tend to perform better and are less likely to be marked as spam.

7. Provide Clear Unsubscribe Options:
- Ensure that your emails include a visible and easy-to-use unsubscribe link. Making it difficult to unsubscribe can lead to recipients marking your emails as spam instead.

8. Avoid Misleading Subject Lines or Content:
- Ensure your subject lines accurately represent the content of your emails. Misleading subject lines can result in higher spam complaints.

9. Monitor and Test Your Emails:
- Regularly test your emails using spam-checking tools provided by your ESP or third-party services. Monitor deliverability metrics and adjust your strategy based on the results.

By following these practices and staying updated on email industry guidelines and best practices, you can minimize the chances of triggering spam filters and improve the deliverability of your emails.

Also, using CharityEngine's integrated Spam Analysis tool can assist users in assessing for potential blocks due to spammy content. Learn more Campaigns & Marketing: Creatives - Crafting and Managing Compelling Pieces for Non-Profit Campaigns.

Sending by Engagement

Quality email lists are critical for successful inbox delivery. ESP's algorithms will evaluate how their users respond to your emails. Do their users mark your emails as Spam? Do their users look at your emails or simply delete? Are you sending to invalid or inactive email addresses of the ESP? These actions (or inactions) by your donors can trigger an ESP to begin moving your emails to Spam or Promotional inboxes - or in extreme cases, potentially block your emails all together. Consider behavior of constituents to remove sending practices for individuals who have not viewed/opened your emails in 6 or more months. Also, periodically prune your contact list, check for spelling mistakes, typos and remove constituents who either do not engage or have requested to unsubscribe.

Frequently Monitor Your Deliverability Reports

Frequent monitoring and tracking of your email campaigns is an essential part of email sending best practices. Monitoring for delivery rates, complaint rates (i.e. users who reported your email as Spam directly within the ESP), email failures and bounce rates, and deferrals (ESPs who are throttling email delivery to inboxes).

  1. By accessing the Reports & Analytics App > Campaigns > Email Deliverability
  2. Alternatively, access the Campaigns App> Popular Reports > Email Deliverability

  1. Review Delivery Rate trends to identify performance. Use the Failures and Bounce summary to see reason for failed delivery.

  1. Monitor Complaints (i.e. users who reported your email as Spam directly via the ESP). Industry best practice is to maintain rates below 0.01%.
  2. Deferrals will demonstrate ESPs that may be deferring or stalling delivery of your email over the course of hours/days.
  3. Finally, from this report, monitor the health of your SPF/DKIM/DMARC (if on a custom sending domain) and also check for configuration of email address verification and/or email validation.

After gaining an overview from the Email Deliverability Dashboard, your organization should take action upon identifying trends or potential negative outcomes. Access more detailed analytics and performance insights by examining email initiative reporting. To do so, navigate to the Campaigns App > Create & Publish > Initiatives. Review sent initiatives to delve into delivery performance. Hover over reporting elements for summarized views and/or click through for detailed transactional reporting.

The Email List Health feature, found in the Reports & Analytics App > Campaigns > Email List Health, enables users to track trends and assess the performance of deliverability and audience response activities. Monitoring metrics such as Opt Outs, Suppression Counts, and Spam Complaints is crucial for maintaining deliverability reputation when sending mass emails. Achieving positive growth and improved results ensures successful delivery to recipients' inboxes rather than being filtered into spam or promotional folders by email service providers.

Leverage CharityEngine's comprehensive campaign analytics to analyze the outcomes and response rates of each of your email campaigns. This allows you to monitor both positive and negative trends and make adjustments promptly. Additionally, if you are a medium or high-volume sender, it is advisable to utilize third-party inbox monitoring services.

The primary advantage of using an inbox monitoring service is that it offers insights into the delivery performance of your emails, particularly with major email service providers like Gmail and Yahoo. These services also furnish anonymized statistics regarding complaints and spam traps, which can indicate potential list hygiene issues.

Although CharityEngine does not directly offer these services, our Client Services team possesses substantial expertise in effective email sending practices. They can recommend reputable providers that both we and our clients have had favorable experiences with.

Where can I monitor and investigate my failed emails? See more at Campaigns & Marketing: Unveiling Success: The Art of Monitoring Results in Non-Profit Email Campaign

FAQs & Additional Materials

Q. How do I initiate an email to contact those who have not yet verified with our organization?
A. CharityEngine makes it easy to send emails to contacts that have not verified their emails. First you will have to create your list by creating a query that identifies anyone who has not verified their emails. Navigate to the Automation & Workflow App > General > Queries > Create New

Select database Type: Contacts and table Select:Email Address

Add Contact Id, Email Address Id, and Verified to your SELECT fields. Then add Verified to the FILTER section with setting Equals False. This will provide a list of contacts with emails that are not yet verified. Click SAVE to secure your query.

After the query has been created, create an email to send to this contact list. Navigate to the Campaigns App > Create & Publish > Creative > Create New > craft your message.

CharityEngine does have an out of the box token that can be added to your email that will lead the contact to verify their email. In the creative tool bar, click on the Merge Tokens icon to find the Contact.Email Address.Verification URL token.
In the search box, type in Verification, then click on the token. Once clicked, click Copy Selected.

Paste the token into the email creative. This will populate the url for the individual when sent to the identified list.

Click SAVE to secure change and initiate an email blast as normal. Select the audience source as the query name developed above.

Q. How do I review and address emails that have been blacklisted?
A. While CharityEngine strongly recommends following the blacklisting status when applied to an email, learn more here Email Campaign: Email Blacklist Management

Q. Why did this email address fail to send?
A. CharityEngine offers integrated reporting which allows organizations to investigate and take action on failed emails. Learn more here Email Campaign: Investigating Failed Email Delivery

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