Building an engaged email list for a non-profit


Data Visualization Society


Email Marketing, Communications

"I had the pleasure of working with Jane when I was the Communications Director on the DVS board. As the Communications Manager, Jane is fantastic in driving new and existing projects, introducing cost-efficient technologies supporting a team with a diverse range of skills, and keeping DVS on track. There have been multiple times where Jane’s solutions, from building out audience-first approaches to automating a process, have really saved the day. She is an asset to any organization."

- Alex Royston, Communications Director at the Data Visualization Society

Project overview

A high-level overview of challenges identified and solutions crafted

Client overview

The professional association for data visualization

The Data Visualization Society (DVS) is a 501c3 non-profit with three key objectives: to nurture, advance, and celebrate the field of data visualizations (data viz). Since its founding in 2019, their community has grown to 30,000 members from over 160 countries.

Nightingale Publication , Outlier Conference , the Information is Beautiful Awards are among their top flagship programs that bring the data viz community together to promote collaboration and knowledge exchange.

As one of the first members to join DVS when it was founded, I've had the pleasure to join DVS as the Communications Manager. With a hand in most external communications, I serve the community by sharing all upcoming events and programs so members can progress through their data viz journey—whether it's to learn new skills, build new relationships, or discover inspiration.

Solution overview

There’s a lot that could be said about my work at DVS, but I will focus on my contributions in two key areas:

  • Developing a newsletter strategy that prioritizes the community
  • Building processes to support content creation


Building an engaged email list requires a strong understanding of the audience and prioritizing their interests.

Email strategy

Email is one of the top performing channels at DVS—it has consistently driven traffic to the DVS website and has shown strong correlation to conversions, such as product sales or event registrations.

Over the last year, we achieved an open rate of 45% (Mailchimp reports 31.8% average open rates for non-profits) and almost halved the unsubscribe rate from 0.42% to 0.16% (0.20% average for non-profits).

Here are strategic changes I implemented to improve user experience and email engagement.

  • Adding a personal voice to the monthly newsletters: People join the DVS for community and connection and the monthly newsletters at the time didn't reflect this. So, I converted it from a cold broadcast to a warm and inviting message by asking the Executive Director to write the introduction to each issue. This was a welcome change as members said the emails felt like a letter from a friend, rather than an organization. Here is the old email and here is the new email .

  • Declutter and simplify with an updated email design: "People don't have time, they have options" was a recurring message from a course I took about good copywriting. The monthly newsletter was clunky and had too much content, and ironically, it didn't feature dataviz. I initiated a design makeover that respects reader's time, reduces clutter, and features community members' work. Here is the old email design and here is the new email design .

  • Implementing a sunset policy: Audience insights data reveals that approximately 30% of subscribers have never engaged with emails sent to them since signing up. This called for a sunset policy, which means sending an email to inactive subscribers in an attempt to re-engage them. If they don't respond, they are removed from the email list. We achieved about 2% win-back rate and increased our email engagement by 25%!

  • Giving readers control over their email experience: Unsubscribe rates is a helpful indicator of email performance and a Preferences Center is an effective way to manage unsubscribes. By giving the readers full control over the type of emails they receive, they are more likely to stay as an engaged subscriber.

Broader communications

In addition to my contributions to email strategy, I spearheaded initiatives that supported content creation and community engagement. Here are some that I'm particularly proud of:

  • Communications Lead: Information is Beautiful Awards: Steering the communication efforts for a prestigious Awards program, I created, coordinated, and published all major announcements across 4 social media channels, 2 email lists, 2 websites, and 1 Slack community. One of my proudest contributions to the Awards was reviving a digital badge that winners used to mark their achievements. I worked with a volunteer to create the design and the community proudly displayed it alongside their work.

  • Content planner upgrade: From Google Sheets to Clickup: We quickly grew out of using Google Sheets to plan and manage content as the amount of it quickly increased. In dire need of a new tool that would provide an at-a-glance of content and manage deadlines, I introduced ClickUp as our main content management and collaboration tool; it has been one of the best changes made and has done wonders in planning content.

  • A public calendar by and for the community: There was a big opportunity for the organization to act as the central resource of upcoming dataviz events. With limited resources and budget, I hooked up Google Forms with Google Calendar through Zapier (automation tool) so anyone from the public could submit an event that would instantly added to a public calendar .

It has been a true joy to work at DVS and serve a community filled with passion and love for the dataviz field. DVS has built a consistent email publication rhythm, sending 8-10 emails each month and continue to see healthy engagement rates.


Work with Jane

Hey, my name is Jane, and I want to help you build genuine relationships with your audience through email marketing. I started my career working in social media and eventually discovered that email marketing consistently had the highest engagement and conversion rates. So I switched my focus to email and I'm now on a mission to show organizations and creators what they can achieve with good old email.

Reach out to me to define your email strategy and refine your brand positioning to deliver the most effective messaging to your audience.

Work with me