Choosing Bulk Email Software to Match Your Communication Goals

Are you hoping to send a monthly eNewsletter to your constituents? Or would action alerts or donation requests align better with your goals? We’ll help you think through the features you’ll need in a bulk emailing tool to support the type of emails you plan to send.

 Are you struggling to find email software that can support your email strategy and help connect your constituents to your cause? There’s dozens if not hundreds of bulk email software vendors, and it feels like new tools come out every day. Faced with so many options, where do you start? It can be helpful to think through your needs based on the types of emails that you plan to send. If you will be sending basic text communications, some straightforward features can make it easier. Or are you sending eNewsletters or action alerts? You’ll want to look at some additional features to get the best results.

We’ll look at the desirable features for three different types of emails:

  • Basic Broadcast Emails
  • Periodic Update Emails, such as eNewsletters
  • Action Emails, such as action alerts and donation requests

Within each category, we’ll look at the features that can help you set up your lists, create effective emails and find out what’s working.

Throughout the article we’ll concentrate on tool options that encourage best practices and provide benefits for each email type. While we can’t tell you exactly what will be right for you knowing about some of the most useful features will make assessing your options a little easier.


Basics You Can’t Live Without

For some things, it doesn’t matter what your goals are: if you’re going to send mass email, you’re going to need some basic things.

Make sure you know who in your organization will:

  • Manage your lists / be the database wrangler
  • Create or gather content – the text and images for your email
  • Design your email templates and graphics
  • Enter content, set it up and test the actual email
  • Read the test messages, proofread, edit and approve
  • Collect and analyze reports and metrics.

Make sure the tools you look at offer:

  • List Management Utilities. Make sure you have ways to add, remove and change email addresses by hand and a simple means to export your list regularly for back ups and use in other systems.
  • Automatic Unsubscribe. Make sure your constituents can unsubscribe themselves (for instance, by clicking on a link in their email) without going through you. You’re required by law to remove those who request it – don’t run the risk that one of your staff members overlooks an unsubscribe request
  • Solid Deliverability. Whether or not your emails are considered as spam depends on a lot of things, but the history and actions of your emailing vendor are a major factor. For more on what impacts deliverability, see Idealware’s A Few Good eNewsletter Tools article.
  • HTML and Text Versions. If you plan to send HTML emails (to allow text formatting or images) you will also need a way to send the text version for those people whose programs can’t read the HTML. Check to make sure your tool sends Multipart MIME type emails.
  • Test Emails. It should be easy to send test emails to your own test email accounts, to check formatting, links, and whether it hits the spam filter.
  • Documentation and Support. Regardless of other features selected, you’ll need a solid understanding of how to use them. Consider carefully what level and manner of documentation, training and support are offered by each vendor.

As you look at additional features, keep in mind that you don’t have to go with a high price package to take advantage of best practices. You might be able to use a less expensive system if you shop around for a tool that has only the features you will really use.


Basic Broadcast Emails

If your primary use for mass emails is to reach your whole list with communications such as letters from the Executive Director, press releases and simple event announcements, you likely won’t need a lot of complex features. But any email campaign can benefit from a few standard features that support your workflow, professional image and provide information about reader response.

List Management Features

  • Basic List Management. Don’t underestimate the task of adding new constituents to your email list and keeping everything up-to-date. Be sure to check out how easy it is to import a list, merge it with your existing list, and eliminate duplicate email addresses. Look at tools that allow you to store and manage the lists online, so you don’t have to import a list for each mailing. Many systems also offer automatic bounce handling, so as to remove bad email addresses after a certain number of bounces, for instance.
  • Website Integration. The ability to integrate opt-in signup and unsubscribe forms from your website to your email database can be very helpful – these forms grow your list organically, save you a great deal of time and ensure that your list is made up of those that truly want to receive your communications.

Administration Features

  • Clone/Duplicate Emails. The ability to duplicate a number of emails from one you have already set up seems like a minor feature, but can be very useful for sending slightly different versions of an email to a number of different segments.
  • Campaign Based/Consecutive Send Workflow. Many effective email campaigns include follow-up emails based on the supporters previous responses (or lack of response), such as a “last chance to participate” email to those who have not yet taken action. If this is part of your strategy, look for tools that allow you to define email recipients based on their response to previous emails, or even systems that support setting up multiple conditional or sequential emails at one time.

Message Building Features

  • Design Customization. The ability to control the design of your email varies widely from tool to tool. Consider whether the email template, web forms, and even items such as your “from” address are able to convey what you want to say about your organization.
  • WYSIWYG Content Editor. If you plan to send HTML emails, a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor lets your staff easily add and format the email text through a Word style administration area. This allows you to send out nicely formatted emails without special technical knowledge.

Testing Features

  • Basic Testing Workflow. Before sending that carefully crafted message to your list, you’ll need to test it to be sure it’s legible and functional. Emails should be sent to several accounts within your organization and test accounts at webmail services like Gmail and AOL) for proofreading, formatting and link checking. Check to see if the tools you are considering provide a failsafe, such as requiring message approval before you can send to the full list.

Reporting Features

  • Basic Reporting. You’ll never know if your email strategy is working unless you can collect and view information about each blast. Your Email tool should provide, at a minimum, reports on how many emails were delivered and how many were opened. Ideally you will be able to track items like unsubscribe requests and list growth as well.


Periodic Update Emails

Are regularly scheduled updates – for instance, eNewsletters or emails promoting events, articles, or information – a key part of your email strategy? If so, you’ll want to consider features that provide more support for an ongoing process and potentially more effective emails.

List Management Features

  • Subscriptions Management. A feature that allows readers to sign themselves up on your website – as described above - becomes even more valuable if you are providing periodic updates. A comprehensive profile and preferences management area on your website, where subscribers can update their own information, creates a real efficiency in service management.
  • Anti-Spam Measures. Periodic updates often involve a high volume of email over time, which can make it more likely that your email will be flagged as spam. Find out how each vendor handles spam complaints, and whether they have special anti-spam certification options or relationships with major ISPs. Taking extra steps, like Double-Opt in (asking subscribers to confirm their subscription via email) can also reduce deliverablity problems. Even if you don’t need these features right now, choosing a vendor that offers them may be important in the future as your list size and general spam concerns continue to grow.
  • Managing Multiple Groups/Lists. If you have several program areas or distinct audiences you might wish to offer specific updates to each group or list individually. Some email tools allow your subscribers to chose from multiple newsletters or categories when signing up and let you to manage several groups from the same administrative interface

Administration Features

  • Asset Archives and Management. A system that allows you to easily store and reuse email templates, content and images can be a major timesaver. Having to import your logo and start from scratch each issue may not be a deal breaker, but it can build up to a substantial amount of time with frequent emails.

Message Building Features

  • Template System. Templates, as described above, are critical for eNewsletters and update emails. They not only help to maintain a consistent brand and streamline the creation process, but a clear cut structure (such as sections for “In the News” or “Volunteer Highlight”) makes it easier to develop content for each issue. You might want to invest in professional assistance to create your template initially to reduce the ongoing workload of generating each issue.
  • Web Version. It is difficult to ensure that complex emails show up properly for everyone, so it is highly recommended to offer email readers a web alternative. You can manually link your emails to a version you have posted on your website, or some vendors offer tools to automatically create and link to the web-version.
  • Forward to a Friend. “Forward to a Friend” features can encourage subscribers to pass your information on. This functionality allows readers to email or refer their colleagues to a clean version of the newsletter. Simply forwarding the email through a browser typically results in some mangling of the format and links.
  • Merging Personalized Data. Features that can automatically show personalized information such as the recipient’s name or their history with your organization help your newsletter feel more personal and less like junk mail.

Testing Features

  • Spam Filter. The ability to test individual messages against the rules for standard Spam filters allows you to craft your emails so that more of them end up in your constituent’s inbox. As spam filters increase in complexity, this feature will become more and more important.

Reporting Features

  • Click-Through Tracking (CTT). Because each newsletter typically contains many links, information about which links get the most clicks provides a valuable guide for future email content and design as well as general communications.


Action Emails

The third major category of email types used by nonprofits is those that are intended to provoke action– action alerts and donation requests. Action Emails are typically made up of a simple bold design and a single message with links to your website form. They’re intended to inspire immediate action or donation. While this strategy benefits from many of the features mentioned above, some more sophisticated options can help to generate the best possible response.

List Management Features

  • Segmentation. Segmentation, or the ability to divide your contact list into subgroups based upon criteria such as activity history (such as donations) or voting district is a key to effectiveness for action oriented emails. If you have the resources to take advantage of this feature, view a demo of each system to see how easy it is to segment on your critical data fields, and how well it matches your desired workflow.
  • Integrating Data with Other Systems. How will you integrate your email system with your action center or donor database – can you export from one to another? Integrate through code with an API? Do you need a fully integrated system or can you work with multiple vendors easily? It’s highly desirable to be able to tailor your communications to a recipient based on your organization’s interactions with them. Being accurate and responsive in your communications with potential activists and donors can be a deciding factor in their level of participation with your organization.

Administrative Features

  • Clone/Duplicate Emails. The ability to duplicate a number of emails from one you have already set up seems like a minor feature, but can be very useful for sending slightly different versions of an email to a number of different segments.

Message Building Features

  • Merging Personalized Data. As mentioned above, more personalized emails increase the reader‘s sense of connection with your organization. This is even more important in action emails. Look at what data each tool will allow you to incorporate into your blast.
  • Personalized Conditional Content. Going a step beyond merely adding in personalized data fields, some tools allow you to show different email text or images based on data about the recipient. This allows you to more directly target a single message to the individual and is especially handy for times when you merely wish to alter a few key lines based on the information you have available.
  • Forward to a Friend. The most important feature for growing your list and increasing awareness of your issue is the Forward-to-a-Friend functionality mentioned above, which prompts your recipients to pass on your message and ensures your email stays intact. Because spreading the word can be so important for action emails you might want to investigate other options like E-cards as well.
  • Multimedia. Embedded video, flash or audio files in emails can be very cool, and might be just what you need for a specific campaign. However, they’re also expensive and often not well supported. Browser inconsistencies and security programs mean that many recipients will see errors or won’t see these multimedia elements at all.

Testing Features

  • Split Testing. Most online fundraising experts will tell you that getting the highest response from donors is a combination of art and science. You will need to test different approaches and tailor your communications based on the findings to return the best results in the long term. If you are serious about refining your approach, you will want to invest in tools that support split testing (create random segments) and other advanced testing practices.

Reporting Features

  • Custom Reporting. Reporting and analysis becomes critical to determine which recipients are taking action based on which emails. The more data you can capture, the better. Look into the ability to track conversions, tailor report formats and report across campaigns.
  • Deep Link Tracking. If you have the time and desire to fully analyze and strategize based on exact user actions, look for the ability to track your recipients’ path beyond the first click to exactly what they do on your site. This level of tracking requires deep integration between the email and your website structure.


Choosing the Right Tool for Your Goals

Apart from having a message to send, a reputable mail server to send it from, and a list of people to send it to, none of the above constitutes a “must have” for successful communications. The balance your particular organization strikes between tools and features, brainpower and the people to make use of them will depend on your mission and the part mass emails play in carrying it out.

And no set of features will make a successful email strategy. Having the staff time and training to create great content, build the right email list, and utilize reports wisely is more important than having a highly sophisticated tool set. The level of time and energy you invest in your email strategy is likely to be directly reflected in the success of your emails.

But considering what types of emails you are most likely to send can be a real help in determining priorities and the features that have real value to you. With some careful choices, you can find a tool that’s great for the things that matter: managing time and resources more wisely, improving the perception of your organization and deepening your relationship with your constituents, all without breaking your budget.


Get the Cheat Sheet!

Looking for a quick summary of what features are useful for which type of email?  Download the PDF Summary Sheet for this article.


For More Information

Basic Broadcast Email


Periodic Updates Newsletters


Action Emails



Heather Gardner-Madras (aka hgm) heads gardner-madras strategic | creative, providing progressive nonprofits and socially responsible businesses with experienced online strategy, design and execution. From her virtual office in the green hills of Oregon, she shares lessons learned the hard way and exciting new ideas with great organizations around the world. Over the years, she has helped many organizations of all sizes improve their E-mail process and quality of communication with supporters.

Greg Nelson, Laura Quinn, Madeline Stanionis, Michael Stein, and Tom Williamson also contributed to this article.


Copyright © Idealware



Typical. All these kinds of articles are loaded with instructions on how to use software to do something that Outlook can do just as easily but IGNORE the important part.

The most difficult part about bulk emailing is having a REPUTABLE email provider and REMAINING REPUTABLE.

It's easy to send bulk emails. But if you start getting blacklisted and reported as a spammer, you could lose your account - or if your email address is attached to your website domain, you could have your entire domain locked down by your host (yes, this actually happened to us).

Hence, the biggest question people have is where to find a reputable email provider that allows this AND allows the use of pre-existing email address lists. In our case, we moved from one to another and when we brought our list, the email provider locked our account and wouldn't unlock it unless we followed their rule that basically required us to build the entire list again from scratch.


And the only question that is answered by this article and the commenters is - what software to use?

The answer to that is simple - almost any email program can handle an automated bulk emailer with set intervals too.

Mail setups like AB that purport to be fast, might indeed be fast, but your domain provider might say "our policy is to detect emails being sent out faster than XX per X, so your account is SUSPENDED".











Track your results

Most important is to track results and test your campaigns.  One newsletter may not be profitiable while a differtent set up of the same content could be.

Make sure you use a program that will allow you to split test and track results.  It is a must if you want to be successful.

I reccomend


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 Increase the reach of your business through our email marketing mass mailing software. Send 1 millions of mails to your customers free. AB Bulk Mailer, developed by high end engineering innovations, can solve all your bulk mail email marketing problems. Try it free for unlimited period. The software is free up to sending mails to 5 contacts. You can send mails yourself with out paying third party email marketing companies. The software comes with a multi threaded scheduling system, which allows you schedule sending mails and mails go automatically to all your contacts. You can be out of office for months but your promotion mails go as if sent by you one by one.

You can use your company email address to send mails. If you do not have you can create multiple gmail and yahoo accounts and enter in the software. The software will automatically email your scheduled mails using pooling.

AB bulk mailer is a world's top bulk mailing and email marketing tool and can send thirty thousand mails per hour. This emails software can be used to send mailing mailists used scheduled times, manually and in many other modes. The software is been seen as top email marketing tool. Being world's most popular email scheduling software, yo can send unlimited emails to your customers free.

The software has become so popular in a short time that worlds leading downloading sites like CNET DOWNLOAD.COM and BrotherSoft have accepted our request to allow its download on their sites free.

So what are you waiting for. This tool is definitely for you. We believe if this tool is used by a right person/company it can change the destiny of the company.

We recommend this tool for companies who are to launch a new product, Imagine how successful they can be if they receive positive response from 100 out of every 10,000 mails. Established companies can use it to double their profits.

Main features of AB Bulk mailing software are:-

  • can send scheduled mails when you are out of office.
  • allows you to create contacts and scheduled mails.
  • Allows grabbing email addresses from any website.
  • Sends 30,000 emails per hour free. So it is the fastest email marketing software.
  • sends personalized emails.
  • allows import/export of contacts to Text format/Excel.
  • allows both text format as well as HTML mail types.
  • supports auto start up emailing feature.
  • Allows you to create unlimited schedules, mail attachments.
  • When your clients reply to your mail, you get informed on a single email ID.
  • Allows you to use both free pop servers like gmail, yahoo etc and also any popup server.
  • Sends mails free of cost. You do not need to hire people for email marketing.

Cost Effective Mail Server Solution

I have been sending bulk email since starting my business in 2001. I have tried many services and solutions, but I have found the most cost effective to be the one I am using now. It allows me to send an unlimited amount of email without any additional cost. The main investment is to setup a PC as a mailserver, which can be done easily using Hmailer which is opensource and free. Then to send the actual bulk emails I use Atomic Mail Sender which is a piece of desktop software which is a one-off payment for around £50. Tracking open rates and click through rates can be done for a anual subscription of £50 from the same vendor. So this setup is incredibly cheap and works exceptionally well in the real-world.

The only real one-off initial investment is setting up the mail server as a 'qualified' sender of email. Installing the software is the easy part which takes 30 mins, but for the server to be recognised as a sender of mail is a little more complicated and more involved. The process took me months to figure out, but the actual implementation can be done in a very short period of time.

If any Non-Profit organisation, and I stress 'Non-Profit' is interested in knowing the steps to qualify your server as genuine mail server, I can send that information on to them.

In the meantime here are the links to the software so you can take a look to see if it suits your needs.

Bulk Emailing Software:

Opensource Mail Server Software:

Setup non profit mail server

Hi, I'm interested in knowing how to setup a "qualified' mail server for a non-profit.



Hi can you help me set us mass e mailing? I need to get this done as I want to offer some free service to some people who need to send out their messages to a large group of people.

Hope you can help me out.

Lal Daswani

I want to start sending my own E-newsletters

I am looking into starting an email newsletter for the company I work for.  Is there a way that I can just do this through my email? I am guessing that you have to be "qualified" to send mass emails, why is that?  If that is the case, then I am interested in knowing the steps to qualify my server as genuine mail server so that I can send my own e-newsletters.  I was considering using constant contact, have you ever tried them? I really appreciate any advice you might have, thanks so much.



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