How to Get Your Emails Into Your Donor’s Inbox

Today we welcome a special guest on the blog: Stelter Email Marketing Team Leader, Jacinda Bevilacqua. Jacinda joins us to share her insights on email deliverability.

Staying out of the spam folder can be a challenge. With 14.5 billion spam messages sent per day globally, email service providers (ESPs) are working harder than ever to have emails arrive in inboxes.

So, you’re probably wondering: How exactly do we, ESPs, keep your emails from hitting the spam folder?

Well, there is no magic wand and we are strategically making improvements all the time. Content, images, links, subject lines and even senders are just some things we have to test to ensure we are providing our clients with the best quality marketing emails. Additionally, all ESPs must work rigorously on reputation and list quality to avoid being blacklisted.

Below are some items you should consider to increase your email deliverability, whether you’re sending emails on your own or partnering with an email marketing team.

Email Reputation

First: Make sure you have a trusted domain and IP (internet protocol) address (also known as a server). Email domain is important to email servers. And without a trusted mail server, your messages will go straight to spam.

Does this mean that if you a have trusted domain your emails will never end up as spam? Unfortunately, no. This just helps keep your organization from being marked as an immediate spam or a phishing email. Here is some additional information around domains and IP addresses:

Domain Reputation

Domains have scores to determine their reputation rank. Medium to high ranking is crucial. Check your sender score here.


Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) is a policy and reporting protocol that email providers follow to authenticate email IPs. This improves IP reputation. As a result, emails are less likely to be treated as phishing and, in turn, left undelivered.


Sender Policy Framework (SPF) validates an email has been sent from an authorized mail server. This protects us all from potential spammers.


Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) is a form of email authentication that allows your organization to claim an email, so it can be validated by the recipient.

Email List Quality

Keep your lists clean with these simple rules to better email deliverability:

1. Run Email Diagnostics

  • Run email diagnostics on your lists. Clean your lists by reviewing them and pulling out the possible spam trap emails.
  • Here are some list cleaning services available:

2. Have Recipients Opt-In or Double Opt-In

  • Ensure all people on your lists have opted to receive an email from you. When a list is outdated or purchased, you run the risk of spam traps and blacklisting your mail server. (A list of people who have not opted into your emails, and probably aren’t familiar with your organization, will cause your emails to be marked as spam.)
  • Even better than an opt-in, is a double opt-in. This is when a person signs up online and then receives an email to authenticate their willingness to receive your communications. These contacts are most likely not to mark your email as spam.

3. Remove the Unengaged

  • Frequently remove the unengaged. If a person has not opened your emails, then you do not want them to be a part of your email program. Emails can be marked as spam by users who no longer want to receive these emails, and this hinders your sender score.

4. Remove Hard Bounces

  • Make sure to remove hard bounces from your lists. These email addresses are invalid and should not be on your list. Continuing to include these hard bounces will bring down your IP reputation and could blacklist your mail server.

Spam Traps and Blacklisting

Knowing your email list is critical. Sending to any of the following spam traps could result in being flagged as a spammer, and even blacklist your mail server:

Pristine Spam Traps

  • These are impossible to detect in a list, even if it has been scrubbed by email cleaning tools.
  • Pristine spam traps mainly occur with purchased lists—which are not advised by many ESPs.
  • A purchased list may contain these spam traps. Purchasing lists will harm your reputation and can cause all your emails to instantly be marked as spam or blacklist your mail server.

Recycled Email Traps

  • Even organizations that double opt-in emails can encounter this trap.
  • This type of trap happens when people change email addresses or don’t actively use their email account. Their account is then disabled.
  • Prevent this trap with unengaged processing: review opens and recipients’ activity.


  • Blacklisting happens. It can be due to a large volume of emails coming out of a single server. A large amount of complaints/spams can also flag a server and result in being blacklisted.
  • You (or your email team) must then request to be de-listed from blacklists, which can take up to a week.
  • Holding off on sending during blacklisting is best, as this can impact your sender reputation score.

Email deliverability isn’t easy. Knowing where your list comes from and working with your ESP to understand their IP and Domain reputation will help you improve your email deliverability.

Getting your emails to your donors is one thing, getting them to read them is another. For more on this, check out How to Make Your Donors Want to Read Your Emails.

Leave a Reply