Managing Email Deliverability

The days of the Pony Express had its challenges. Airmail may never go away, but it can’t keep up with our desire for instant delivery. Emails drastically changed communication, but it too is plagued with delivery concerns.

Email deliverability is a common problem amongst social enterprises and nonprofits, especially when developing a platform that sends newsletters or quarterly reports; relies on email registration or notifications; or services your organization’s marketing campaigns.

Here are some insights based on experiences working with nonprofits and other social entrepreneurs that might help you setup your campaigns and email communications for maximum deliverability. Here’s a quick checklist of dos and don’ts to ensure your emails are properly delivered to your contacts’ inbox.


  • engage your recipients and ask them to whitelist your email address;
  • configure your domain Sender Policy Framework (SPF);
  • consider integrating an Email Service Provider (ESP) such as SendGrid or AWS SES;
  • segment your distribution lists into smaller targeted groups;
  • ask users to opt in for emails;
  • provide users with a way to opt out of your lists;
  • know your email reputation;
  • keep your emails succinct.


  • use link shorteners;
  • include content that might get flagged;
  • email too frequently.


How to Improve Deliverability

Symantec reported that over 50% of email messages are identified as spam. Some messages are improperly identified as spam and recipients never know about it. So how do you avoid being marked as spam?

More on whitelisting: Engage your users and ask them to whitelist your email address. Adding you to their address book or marking your address as “whitelisted” or “trusted” will ensure that your emails are successfully delivered. While this is a potential solution for successful email deliverability, it requires action to be taken by the recipient. Since this is out of your control you can’t know if a user has added your email address to their contact list and can’t ensure delivery.

SPF has nothing to do with sunblock. Configure the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) for your “from” domain. It is quite simple to implement and will likely increase the inbox placement of your emails.

An email service provider can save the day. Integrate an Email Service Provider (ESP) – With new platforms and domains, email deliverability issues can often be attributed to the email’s age. Thus, utilizing an ESP can get your emails into a user’s inbox without the common issues of alerts, spam filtering or server rejection. With infrastructures specifically built for delivering emails reliably this is one of the easiest solutions to managing your emails.

Invest in deliverability monitoring tools. Doing so will allow you to track your email reputation, remove bounced/old/opted out email addresses, and view delivery statistics. A better email reputation helps prevent your mails from landing in the spam folder. Your ESP should be the first stop for these tools.

Know and maintain your reputation. Factors that impact your email reputation include:

  • Complaints
  • Cleanliness of data
  • Number of bounces or unknown users
  • Content
  • Frequency
  • Relevancy
  • Infrastructure the mail is sent from
  • Authentication scheme

Remember that sending emails to a person’s inbox is a privilege that can be taken away. Respect your audience.

Understand the path each email takes. Emails go through several buckets and at any point may be rejected. A gateway filter checks to see if the IP address is blocked. Hosted filters evaluate the content and reputation. Top filters are built into mail clients such as Outlook.

Avoid writing content that might get flagged. Avoid typing “f.r.e.e.” or “m4k3 mon3y n0w” and other such examples.

Avoid link shorteners. Only use reputable links and avoid link shorteners. Due to the abuse of these link shorteners, emails containing these links are often flagged as junk mail.

Size does matter. The size of your mailing list (mass mailing) affects your email reputation. It is best to segment your distribution list.

Email less frequently. This is probably a “given” since spam is something we’re all so familiar with as something that consumes our digital mailboxes. Along these same lines, whether or not you have an opt in feature, you should provide your recipients with an opt out link.

References & Resources

B2B Email Deliverability

Understanding and Improving Email Deliverability

Eight Easy Ways to Improve Your Email Deliverability

Other ESPs for Marketing Campaigns: Constant Contact and EMMA


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