Things to Consider When Selecting an Email Solution for your Organization

Things to Consider When Selecting an Email Solution for your Organization Image

There is a very distinct tone to the part of a conversation where we ask clients about their email solution. The conversation is typically going along at a nice clip, sprinkled with exciting visions of all the ways a CRM implementation can improve their organization, then as soon as we ask, “So, what are you using for a mass email solution? Does it work for you?” the conversation starts to skid.

Almost no one loves their Email Service Provider (ESP). They all have tradeoffs – free but ugly templates, user-friendly but poor CRM integration, etc. However, we have found that asking several smart questions before you choose or change ESP can go a long way toward future satisfaction.

Here are some of the questions we recommend:

What are my organization’s goals?

Communication is a key part of relationship management for nonprofits, so take time to brainstorm how you see email fitting into your organization’s strategic goals. Consider whether things like CRM integration or event communication are a priority for your organization.

How many contacts does my organization have?

All ESPs base their pricing on the number of contacts you email each month, so you should have this number in mind before you start reviewing options.

What is my budget?

Now that you know how many contacts your org has, you can estimate how many emails each month you will send, which will give you a budget ballpark. Note that some solutions charge by email address and some by number of emails sent, so make sure to take that into account when comparing solution cost. Then go back to your organizational goals, and consider whether you want your ESP to do anything beyond mass emailing – features like drip campaigns or social media integration will likely add to overall cost.

Who will be maintaining the application?

This one’s important. Some email platforms do not let you share templates across users, so you should think about how many people at your org will need to collaborate on email campaigns. Also, consider the technical level of your users – do you have designer resources to create HTML templates or do you need to rely on the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor? Usability matters.

What kinds of data does my organization need from an ESP?

Analytics are getting more and more robust – each solution will offer email open and click-through-rates, but beyond that you may also have more intricate options available, particularly if you integrate with your CRM. Make a list of what data you need and how you intend to use it.

Should we try it before we buy it?

Absolutely. Most solutions offer free trials, and you can even install in a sandbox CRM instance to test integration before you buy (we recommend getting a consultant’s help if you take this route). Try a couple ESPs if possible, and pay attention to your gut reactions. Also take a look at email newsletters you receive every day – most will reveal the ESP if you open in a browser window, so you can get a sense of what others are using.

Interested in learning more? Check out the recent presentation below that was created for the Portland Nonprofit Salesforce User Group, “An Introduction to Mass Email Solutions for Salesforce” by Idealist Consulting’s Jade Jurdy. The deck covers advantages, disadvantages, and current pricing for five common email solutions used by nonprofits.

Still have questions? Ask them in the comments below!

About Kirsten Kippen

Kirsten joined Idealist Consulting after 8 years of intercultural communications experience in both the nonprofit and private sectors. She enjoys helping organizations advance their missions through tech solutions and her specialties include training, content marketing, and event management. A lifelong Northwesterner based in Portland, Kirsten enjoys exploring the nearby mountains and local food scene in her spare time.


  1. Bryan Giese

    Part of selecting your goals should also be determining how to evaluate if you goal has been achieved. If you say “I want more efficient mailing processes”, how do you determine if you got there? If you decide on a goal, and can’t think of any way to indicate success, you should probably refine your goal more.

  2. Keith Heller

    I really resonate with importance – before making an impactful decision – of asking the question “What are my organization’s goals?” (or just “What are my goals?” but that’s a different post…) Many of our clients – and even us consultants – can spend more time moving quickly and less time “looking at a map and/or asking directions” that we should. In our urgency to get an email system in place or just get out the *#&# newsletter, we saddle ourselves with a burden to bear for months or years. Testing! That’s a great idea, and really a much more feasible option that in years past. I vote for that, yeah sandboxes!

  3. Great post! I used to manage the ESP and our ’email blasts’ while at my last job, and it can be daunting. Good strategy is important, and an ESP can really help to keep, and maintain your lists. Also, you’ll be looking at both the number of email addresses on your lists as well as the number of emails that get sent out per month – this affects your budget!

  4. One thing I’ve noticed people don’t always research is where the analytics data will be stored. In some cases, this gets stored with Salesforce, and it has a large negative impact on their storage. Many times people aren’t prepared for this, so it is definitely something to consider as well as all the great tips above.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *