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Email deliverability has worsened to the point that roughly a third of the messages that campaigns, groups and nonprofits are sending to their supporters are going to spam.

That trend will continue unless senders adopt a strategy that incorporates better list maintenance and more segmentation.

That’s the warning from NGP VAN’s Brett Schenker whose new report on email fundraising found a steady deterioration of email deliverability. Schenker, an email strategy expert, was studying nonprofits, but he said his findings apply equally to campaigns and issue groups.

“Things were going downhill before the November election, but they’ve gotten way, way worse,” Schenker told C&E. “The amount of spam is increasing. We’re at a level where about one-in-three messages are going to spam.”

Specifically analyzing nonprofits’ email fundraising, Schenker found that a group with a 100,000 person list sending 24 fundraising asks a year was likely losing out on $24,522.52 due to spam. “Of the nonprofits we analyzed, spam rates during the last week of the EOY [end-of-year] fundraising push were more than double the previous year’s rates, climbing to 23.61% from 8.60%. On the very last day of 2016, open rates fell to 17.75% and spam soared to 35.99%,” Schenker wrote.

While some observers have begun predicting the demise of email as an effective marketing tool, Schenker dismissed the suggestion that the growing spam rate is due to people no longer using the channel in favor of text or, say, Facebook messenger.

“It’s not that people are disengaging,” he said. “It’s that campaigns and nonprofits aren’t engaging properly. They’re turning people off.”

One practice that’s driving up spam rates is borrowing lists from party organizations or other groups, he said. Without that opt-in, recipients are confused to find themselves being hit up for asks by the new sender.

Moreover, he said that senders are ignoring the data they have on their recipients. He noted that if a supporter of a multi-issue group signed up for information about an environmental campaign that person is unlikely to respond to asks on other issues, unless data indicates otherwise. “It’s about groups looking at the data that they actually have and messaging to [their supporters] properly,” he said.

Another issue is that senders can find themselves in a negative feedback loop that effectively burns down their list. Schenker noted that as fundraising results dip, more messages are sent, further harming a sender’s deliverability. “The results are so bad at this point, they’re just sending more messages and exacerbating the issue.”

List cleaning is essential, but many strategists are locked into believing that having a larger list is more effective, Schenker said. As a result, improving email deliverability requires dispelling that belief that sending to more people will equal better fundraising. “Today, that’s still what the mentality is,” he said. “That’s bad advice being given to campaigns.”

Increasingly hyperbolic content is another issue that has email strategists concerned, but Schenker’s study didn’t analyze email deliverability based on content. The full report is available here.