How to Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers to Your Association’s Email List

How to Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers to Your Association’s Email List

Your association’s email list is a vital mechanism of connection between you and important people, like prospective members. But if you have a lot of inactive subscribers, you could be wasting your time sending content no one reads. Here’s how to get some of your audience back, so your communications drive the results you want to see.

Step One: Clean Out Your Email List and Define Inactive

Bringing “dead” subscribers back to life starts with doing an overhaul of your email list to get rid of invalid addresses, duplicates, and the like. A big part of this process is discovering who is not opening your emails, so you can quantify your engagement rate. A good email open rate is considered about 20 percent; anything significantly less than that and you’ve got some work ahead of you.

As well as putting hard numbers to your engagement, you need to create a definition for “inactive.” For most organizations, that’s usually going about 90 days without opening an email. You might also define inactive as someone who’s been receiving emails for years but has never purchased membership or attended an event.

Step Two: Understand Where Things Went Wrong

The good news is that your email subscribers are people who had an interest in your organization at one time. They’re lower hanging fruit when it comes to membership recruitment or conference attendance than people who have never engaged with you at all. But somewhere along the way, things went south. Your job now is to figure out why.

Common reasons why subscribers stop opening email include:

  • There was a disconnect between what they thought they were getting and what you sent them (e.g., your free lead magnet didn’t really reflect your association).
  • You changed your email content, and they didn’t like the new material.
  • Conversely, your email content was too static and needed to evolve more.
  • Your email frequency and regularity is all over the map, meaning subscribers don’t know when to expect content and aren’t looking out for it.
  • Your association’s presence elsewhere has dwindled, such as on social media.
  • There is inherently a great deal of turnover in your field — some inactive subscribers may have moved on to other positions, left the country, etc.


We’ve also had our fair share of life disruptions over the last few years. Some folks simply aren’t as engaged anywhere as they were pre-pandemic or before the recent uptick in severe weather events.

Step Three: Ask Your Subscribers If They Want to Continue Receiving Emails

At this juncture, it’s worth asking your subscribers if they want to be unsubscribed or wish to still get emails from your group. Most organizations approach this with a “last chance” email to see if dead subscribers want to stay on the list. If they don’t get an opening or a response, addresses are deleted.

You can also use this opportunity to ask people what they would prefer to see from you. Give them a poll or ask them to provide feedback, so you can see what might increase engagement.

Step Four: Up Your Email Content Game to Improve Engagement

People today are bombarded by emails — often as many as several hundred per day — which means you need to make yours stand out from the crowd. Here are some tips for doing that:

  • Segment your email list to separate targets you want to re-engage from other recipients.
  • Create a new email series just for the above population.
  • Be sure to use any feedback you get to make new email content more conducive to both opening and taking action (and always include a call to action at the end of each email).
  • Personalize emails to better leverage where recipients are in your funnel (to enroll as members, to purchase books, etc.).
  • Use retargeting through ads and social media to reach formerly inactive subscribers via other channels.
  • Consider hosting a live event, either in person or online, for this special population, using a class, coaching session, or social hour.
  • Offer something at a super low price to prompt subscribers to try a product or service for the first time (aka “tripwire marketing”).


Don’t forget to re-evaluate your re-engagement campaign after a while to see if it’s actually working. If you’re managing your email list right and keeping track of the numbers, you’ll have the data you need.

Is managing your email list overwhelming? Jaffe Management can help with that as well as with tasks like event planning, volunteer recruitment, and website design. Reach out to us today to tell us how we can assist your association.