The 20 Do’s & Don’ts for Association Email Marketing


The biggest question that many Associations have regarding Association email marketing is, “What are the best practices I should adopt?” There are fundamental best practices such as not purchasing lists, privacy, compliance, and those that minimize risk. However, the best practices we will focus on assume that the fundamentals are in place. We will be looking at those that YOU must implement using your creativity and leveraging the experience of a vendor or a group of experienced people who have seen and done it all – the ones that incrementally will move the needle on your email marketing program.

This post is written from 21 years of email experience on the client, agency, and vendor side of email. It is also written from 9 years of experience in creating and implementing email strategies for one of the world’s largest associations.

The 20 do’s and don’ts for associations are undoubtedly not meant to be an exhaustive list. If you like what you read, give iPost, which is made for Associations, an opportunity to speak with you about how to make your email program even better than it is right now.

Franchisors Email Intro Image

The Do’s of Association Email Marketing

1 Make the beginning memorable.

Take yourself back for a moment and remember a time where you started something new. Perhaps you were the new kid in school or on a team and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How were you welcomed?
  • Did people guide you around the halls and help you to the classroom if you got lost?
  • Did the team or coach involve you from the start to get you excited?
  • Now imagine for a moment a new member of your association.
  • What do their first few hours or days look like as a new member?
  • Do you roll out the red carpet and treat them like they are special?
  • Do you educate and nurture them?
  • Is what you send them in email on-brand, and does it convey your thankfulness for becoming a member?

As a marketer, you can make the first few interactions in email memorable with a well-thought-out new member welcome email series. Memorable moments help build trust and member engagement.

2 Give them something to crave.

In the association world, content is no longer king. There is excellent content everywhere, and in some cases having brilliant content is never going to be enough. What you perceive as great content might not be, and your members will react better to content that is just above average. You are not the measuring stick for what great content is; your members and subscribers are.

Dig deep into your analytics to find out what members are engaging with and create segments with a content plan that your subscribers will ultimately crave. Technology then becomes your friend when it comes time to serve up this content.

Content is no longer king because the member should drive it via their actions to what comes next. MEMBERS are king.

3 Use automation to your advantage.

Renewals are a vital part of an Associations success. Use intuitive email automation to remind members of their renewal date. For example, you can create a renewal journey/campaign such as this:

  • Create a membership/renewal banner inside your marketing emails using dynamic content and date when the member is 90-days from their membership renewal
  • Design a series of one-off emails that speak directly to their renewal date coming up and time them appropriately. (e.g., 60-45-30-15-7 days from renewal) However, ensure that the logic is set so that if they renew during this journey that they no longer receive them

Automation coupled with the right message should afford you more time to
test what works best in messaging, cadence, frequency, and creativity.

4 Measure beyond the open/click rate.

Open and clicks are only directional metrics in a class-leading association email program. As a marketer, you need to think beyond the click around how your program performs. Here are four metrics to consider:

    • Page Views (PV’s) per:You can draw insight by the number of PVs on your website post click to hone your content strategy, leading to greater engagement. Some specific PV’s metrics are:
      • PV’s per click
      • PV’s per content type
      • PV’s per email type
      • PV’s – mobile vs. desktop
  • Email Sentiment: To gauge how effective your content strategy is in your emails, using open and clicks is one way, but asking for and receiving user sentiment on your email campaigns is vital. It can be as a simple thumbs up/down on specific pieces of content, the entire email, or using dynamic banners to grab a survey.
  • Reach: Reach can be measured as Open Reach or Click Reach but are distinctively different from traditional email metrics of open or click rate. Reach measures over a period of time (e.g., 30/60/90 days) and gives us the percentage of subscribers who opened/clicked at least one email during that set period. Reach provides greater insight into your database’s health over time rather than looking at it at the campaign level.
  • UcTOR: Unique Click To Open Rate measures how many people click on a piece of content after they “open” the email. It measures your content’s effectiveness, mainly to categorize each component and understand what “types” perform the best.

The goal of measuring metrics is to create insights that will lead to the email program’s growth. Pretty graphs and using open or clicks will no longer cut it.

5 Create your benchmarks.

As marketers, we should be insanely curious about many things. One area that marketers love to know about their email programs is how they stack up against others and industry benchmarks. While benchmark studies provide the data nerds with something to salivate over, they are not necessarily all that indicative of what matters to your association.

Instead of pouring over data in benchmark studies, you should consider creating your benchmarks using historical engagement data and determine if you are on or off track at least twice a year.

Benchmarks should be set by you, for you, and not by someone else who may or may not completely understand your organization.

6 Member engagement scores matter.

If you have not created a member engagement score, you should. Member engagement scores give you insight on what segments to focus on when creating a content strategy, a testing calendar, or even a series of campaigns.

For example, those identified as lapsed or dormant and who use to be highly engaged vs. highly engaged or new can provide clarity on direction over the next quarter or even year. Member engagement scores are similar to lead scoring, but they take on new meaning because you can use email analytics or layer in other cross-channel engagement for greater visibility.

The tracking and use of member engagement scores can be the difference between being laser-focused on what needs to be done vs. speculating on what comes next. Your ESP partner should be able to help define YOUR
member scoring system.

7 Audit something every 30 days.

One of the most common mistakes and sayings in any email program is that of “set it and forget it.” As a result, things break, sometimes for no apparent reason, including items that are considered “automated.”

As with any daily task list you create, it is wise to make a monthly task to audit something in your email program every month. Here are a few suggestions on things that you may consider auditing:

  • The sign-up process on your site.
  • The welcome email timing.
  • The first ten days of what is sent in your program.
  • Whether the social icons link in your emails are linked.
  • Your unsubscribe process.
  • One behavioral trigger.
  • Your preference/subscription center.
  • An automation.
  • The call to action
  • Your IP reputation.
  • The engagement of one of your top ISP’s.

Auditing something is a bit like cleaning the house. It may not all be fun, but it sure is great to walk into a great-smelling and looking place.

Your subscribers will also appreciate it.

8 Establish a test and learn culture.

The only way your program is going to grow and become the best in class is by testing. Email testing is hard to get started, but associations with a test and learn culture thrive for years to come.

A test and learn culture comes from within, and you have to be the one that creates the groundswell. If your email program is complacent and never looks for opportunities, you cannot expect your members to ride it out with you.

Your member’s needs and wants are constantly changing, and you have to be the one who is ahead of the game. Testing helps you understand what works and what your members want rather than speculating. Testing involves failure and can sometimes lead to frustration and abandonment. However, associations are not just competing with other associations. You are competing with all of the other emails your subscriber receives, so it is imperative to grow your program, and testing is the ONLY way to do that.

Once you create the groundswell, you will be addicted to learning and even failing.

9 Humanize your tone.

Dear Valued Member is not a way to address those that take part in your association. 2020 has taught the world that brands are now required to humanize, harmonize and empathize with what they say and do.

It is ok to be less formal and clinical in how you address your members. They want to trust your brand, and there is no better way to do that than through a humanized tone in your email program.

There are various types of humanized tones you can take, so our recommendation is to test which one works the best for you. This is especially true of how you start the email relationship when they are on the unsubscribe page.

Speaking like a marketer is so 2019.

10 Make it a point to know your member’s email experience.

Associations cherish their members, yet sometimes they get a bit overzealous in their email cadence and frequency. Finding the right balance of what you send vs. what you promised vs. what they expect is always challenging.

To make that happen, take some time to create a subscriber email journey map of the first 180 days. This journey map can serve as a blueprint for optimizing the email experience for each member. You may or may not be surprised about what and how much you send, but the visibility and insight you will gain are priceless. Email journey mapping is not easy, and it will take some time, but this is all about your members.

The Don’ts of Association Email Marketing

1 Create barriers in receiving email.

Your association thrives on member engagement, but some people love to window shop before they commit. You never want to limit people from receiving emails from your association if they are not members. Give them a chance to receive content so that they can find value and be inspired to join.

If you create a barrier to entry by only sending emails to members, you might be missing an opportunity.

2 Send the same content to non-members.

If non-members do receive emails, it is ok to experiment with member vs. non-member content. The goal of the email to non-members is to convert them, and showing them what they are missing might be a significant turning point for them to commit.

You can use data and dynamic content capabilities to determine “nonmember” status and present different content, respectively.

3 Underestimate people reading your emails.

Despite what some thought leaders in the email industry believe, people still read emails. Designing your emails for the scroll and those that read will involve testing to have the right combination of content to create enough curiosity for the click.

As an association, you want your members to be engaged, so don’t always feel that your emails’ engagement needs to be driven by imagery.

4 Assume that your ESP is responsible for deliverability.

Technology is a beautiful thing, but be wary of any email technology that guarantees your emails’ inbox placement. Associations, along with all other companies, are driven by a reputation made up of your actions.

If you use old/dirty lists with lousy content and hit spam traps while getting on blacklists, no technology will help. Your association carries a reputation, and the big ISP’s use sophisticated AI to determine that reputation, and there are no deliverability “hacks” as there once was.

Great deliverability takes time and regular maintenance, just like nurturing your members.

5 Use stock photography in your emails.

Members want to feel a connection to your organization, and one way to help in this area is to avoid as often as you can the use of stock photography in your emails.

Stock photography has its place in email marketing, but if you are trying to advocate for membership using events or social justice, try to use photos that potential and even current members can relate to.

To set yourself apart from other association email programs, you sometimes need to go the extra mile and humanize your imagery.

6 Ask a Yes/No question in your subject line.

Questions in subject lines create curiosity, but the one area you want to avoid is asking a question with a Yes or No answer. If you have a question in a subject line, ensure that the answer is an open one. Here is an example:

Did you know that Members get 1/2 off at Dunkin Donuts?
(Yes/No) – *DELETE*

Are you sure you know all of your member benefits?
Not sold on this, don’t? The best way to find out is to do a 10/10/80 A/B test and see what wins.

7 Assume every one of your members knows your value proposition.

As marketers who work at our associations, we know what value we bring to our members. We know what we stand for, who and how we help, the communities we serve, and most of all, the industry we represent. However, the average person might not know all of this goodness.

One of the most critical jobs that email has in associations is educating, and one welcome email won’t do it. Almost every email you send should reinforce one aspect of the value proposition you bring to your members. This might be a no-brainer to some but take a look back at the last 6-12 months of all the emails you have sent and ask if you have done a great job educating both members and non-members.

Ensure that your value proposition is a part of your content plan because it can’t hurt, only help with your membership’s acquisition and retention.

8 Assume your members know where to click.

As with Don’t #7, assuming things because we know them doesn’t make for a good strategy. The average member may not know what is and isn’t clickable and what may be intuitive to us is certainly not that obvious to them.

The best chance you can give your email program to perform is to make as many things clickable in the email to aid in their experience. This is especially true if you have a large mobile audience or if your audience might have dark mode enabled on their device.

9 Play hide and seek with signing up.

If email marketing is an integral part of acquiring and retaining members, then the last thing you want to do is make someone hunt on where to sign up. If the sign-up box is at the bottom of the site in 4pt font, next to big social icons, it might be time to re-think the commitment to the channel.

Web designers don’t care for pop-ups/pop-overs or any interstitials, but the truth is they work when done right. Do yourself a favor, right after reading this whitepaper, and find 2-3 friends or colleagues to go and sign up for email on your association’s site. If they cannot find it in less than 5 seconds or seem to struggle on where it is, it might be time for a new email acquisition strategy.

10 Devalue your unsubscribe experience.

You never want to see someone leave your email program, but if they happen to do so, ensure that the experience is just as good, if not better, than signing up.

Many organizations often overlook the unsubscribe experience because people have chosen to opt-out, and spending time on how they leave is a waste of time. However, if the impression you give when they want out is clinical or cold, or merely not acceptable, that will be the last impression your subscriber will have.

If you have any hope of getting them back, spend time on making that experience wonderful and lasting. It will be worth it.


A great email marketing program’s impact on your member’s experience is not difficult to measure. Investing in your success takes patience, time, and, more importantly, a partner.

Take one or all 20 of these do’s and don’ts of Association Email Marketing and make it happen.

Newsletter Signup

franchisor email marketing conclusion