Pitfalls of Email Personalization

Google personalized emails statistics and you’ll get a gazillion studies proving the effectiveness of personalized emails. Yes, yes, yes; personalized, tailored communications outperform generic communications. We can all agree on that.

But personalization (and the data management around it) isn’t magic. And don’t let anyone tell you it is!

Done poorly, personalization has the opposite intended effect. The sender looks like a buffoon who is trying to pull off a charade.

Take a look at this example. The merge of salutation data didn’t work, leaving me to feel like one of many “leads.” Wow. I feel so special.


I wish I could say I’ve never had a personalization error happen in my campaigns, but I can’t. So I’m sharing some tips from our team on how to avoid everything from minor snafus to major debacles.

  1. Look at the raw data — If you’re importing into an email system, you need to look thoroughly at what’s going in. Seriously, look with a fine-toothed comb. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. You might have a terrible blunder in row 1,256. Catch it now. Also avoid having anything colloquial or informal in your data. “Guy I met at 2019 conference” cannot be in a name field in your spreadsheet, however accurate it is!.

  2. Use an email rendering service such as Email on Acid or Litmus to view your email in a variety of browsers. These services can seem pricey — but worth every single penny. They will save yo ass.

  3. Don’t forget the preheader (also called the second subject line). It can live in your code and only appear front and center when it arrives in the inbox (cue scary music of doom). Find out where it is and make sure it has nothing outdated or embarrassing in it.

  4. Do a live deployment. Most people just use the “test” function when working on emails. You can actually deploy a campaign to five people to double-check that the data is pulling correctly. Better to find out now. Once you’re satisfied, duplicate that email and deploy to the masses without fear.

  5. Assume nothing. Our team works really hard to leave nothing to chance. If you utter the phrase, “Oh I’m sure it will be fine,” that right there is the kiss of death. You’ve sealed your fate! Check it — and check it again.

And if a mistake happens … and it will, just remember it’s a learning moment and something to be added to your ongoing checklist. Email marketing can be a beast. Those of us doing it are with ya.

May the email Gods be ever in your favor.

Talk to Everyone

Merritt and I saw Peter Shankman speak several years ago at the the Bridge Conference in DC. Since then, we’ve attended a ShankMinds conference in NYC and benefit from his impromptu emails and other goodies he shares on his website.

Loved this email that sailed through earlier this week. Talk to everyone. You never know who you’re talking to or what it may lead to. Posting it here for you here with Peter’s permission.

Thanks, Peter!

Peter Shankman.jpg

Happy rainy Tuesday from New York City...

I'm the commencement speaker later today at the West Bronx Academy Public High School later today. As many of you know, I'm very proud of my NYC public school roots, and I'm always happy to speak to public school kids whenever I'm asked. But how this came about is funny, because I wasn't actually asked.

In the apartment building where I live, there's a pool. And the pool has a lifeguard in the evenings. His name is Anfernie. He's 17 years old, and has been lifeguarding for two years. Considering that hardly anyone ever uses the pool, it's a pretty sweet gig for him. Whenever I bring my daughter down, he and I would get to talking. I've given him advice on college, entrepreneurship, etc. He's always been thirsty for knowledge, and I've always been happy to offer him any value I could, in-between playing the "Daddy Whale game," (which, in case you're unfamiliar, involves me swimming the entire length of the pool and back multiple times, with a six-year-old on my back, until said six-year-old gets bored and wants to do something else.)

Anyhow, I got an email last month out of the blue from the school, asking if I'd want to be their commencement speaker. Why? Because Anfernie told the principal that I would be a great speaker and she should reach out to me. The principal researched me and emailed. I, of course, was happy to do it. 

What's my point? TALK TO EVERYONE. You never know who you're talking to, who might have things to teach you, who you might be able to help. You never know where a simple conversation could go. I've gotten many corporate keynote gigs simply by talking (and listening) to the person next to me on an airplane, instead of burying my head in my laptop the entire trip. (One of the benefits of ADHD - We're naturally curious! We LIKE to learn about people, and almost everyone, when given the chance, will gladly tell you about themselves.)

Let's make a pact to look up from our phones every once in a while, and start a conversation with the person next to us. You'd be AMAZED what it can do for you!

Remember the excitement you felt the day you graduated, 



2018. "A Complicated Year."



Both Jeffrey Byrne and Dr. Patrick Rooney emphasized this in introducing the Giving USA 2019 Report. (And a sincere “Thank You!” to NonProfit Connect for once again organizing and hosting this annual presentation!)

Overall, contributions in 2018 were $427.71 billion, up a meager 0.7% from 2017. Giving from Individuals, which still dominates the landscape (68% of total), was down 1.1%; Giving by Foundations (18% of total) was up 7.3%; Giving from Bequests (9% of total) was flat and Giving from Corporations (5% of total) was up 5.4%.

Rooney cited four factors that “conflated” to create the complicated climate for 2018 charitable giving:

  • Policy Changes. The 2018 Tax Reform and Jobs Act doubled the standard deduction; the number of households itemizing deductions is expected to drop by half, which may reduce incentive for giving. However, it also raised in maximum charitable deduction which may provide high net worth individuals increased incentive to give.

  • Economic Volatility. The economy was robust the first three quarters, but the stock market plummeted in the fourth, giving investors a downhill ride they hadn’t seen since 1931.

  • Regression to Mean.” 2017 was a record-breaking year for charitable giving; 2018 may simply be a return to reality. Rooney pointed out that sectors which saw the largest growth in 2017 also saw the largest decline in 2018.

  • Changes in Giving Patterns. As the balance in income distribution shifts, donor advised funds and major giving have grown while gifts from households at median income levels or below have fallen. In addition, some traditionally strong sectors (e.g., religious and educational institutions) appear to be diminishing in appeal while smaller “upstart” sectors (international or animal/environmental causes) appear to be growing stronger.

These factors affected — and continue to affect – different organizations differently. To effectively manage these changes, Rooney suggests you work to:

  • Understand new trends in giving (from donor advised funds, as an investment tool, to social media as a cultivation tool).

  • Talk with donors about how policy changes affect them.

  • Embrace new financial trends.

  • Be responsive to the shifting landscape of philanthropy.