If you have an email newsletter, you’ll want to keep your delivery rate as high as possible. That means that you should fix email addresses that are bouncing mail, and consequently improve your percentage of successful mail deliveries.

Reasons why an email might bounce include:

  • Invalid or Inactive – the email address you’ve got for that person no longer works. Maybe they’ve left that employer or email service provider? Try contacting them by phone to get an updated email address.
  • Away or Quota – the person has gone on leave or their email inbox has reached its limit. Either way, they might come back and want to start receiving your emails again, so try removing the on hold from their email address (on the Contact Summary screen) and see what happens.
  • Spam – their email server has detected that your lovely newsletter full of helpful advice and critically important email is spam. Not much you can do about this really, it’s up to their email service provider to make that decision. Do remove the on hold from their email addresses though, otherwise emailed contribution receipts, membership renewal reminders, and event registration confirmations won’t get through to them.

When an email bounces, it can be put on hold immediately for some bounce reasons, or after it’s happened a number of times for other bounce reasons. Here’s the number of times an email has to bounce for each reason before it is put on hold:

  1. AOL – AOL Terms of Service complaint – 1
  2. Away – Recipient is on vacation – 3
  3. DNS – Unable to resolve recipient domain – 3
  4. Host – Unable to deliver to destintation mail server – 3
  5. Inactive – User account is no longer active – 1
  6. Invalid – Email address is not valid – 1
  7. Loop – Mail routing error – 3
  8. Quota – User inbox is full – 3
  9. Relay – Unable to reach destination mail server – 3
  10. Spam – Message caught by a content filter – 1
  11. Syntax – Error in SMTP transaction – 3

You can read more about email bounce settings in CiviCRM’s documentation.

For organisations using CiviCRM to send email newsletters, the easiest way to keep an eye on addresses that are on hold because of mail bounces is to regularly check the Mail Bounce report a day or two after you send an email newsletter. In reality, there are lots of email newsletter senders who forget to do this, and that’s understandable.

To make it easier on yourself, here’s how you can set up a report to be emailed to you daily with a list of all the email addresses that are on hold and their bounce reason, so you can fix the ones that need fixing

First, set up a Smart Group of Contacts who email is On Hold and have had a Mail Bounce. Refine this to only include Contacts whose Mail Bounce is a reason you care about (eg Invalid or Inactive to ask them for a new email address, Spam or Away or Quota to just remove the On Hold from their email).

Finding users whose email is on hold because mail bounced

Finding users whose email is on hold because mail bounced

Once you have your search results, choose the Actions drop-down option to create a new Smart Group. Give it a sensible name and description, so that one day when you have to clean up the eleven billionty reports in your CiviCRM, you know what this Group is being used for.

Next, create a report that includes only those Contacts who are in your new Group. The Mailing report “Mail Bounces” is a good base if you want a report that lists the name and mail bounce reason for each contact. Save a copy of the report and give it a sensible name and description, so that one day when you have to clean up the eight gazillion reports in your CiviCRM, you know what this one was intended to do.

Customising your report is pretty easy. Just go to the Filters tab and select your new Group. You might also want to check “Phone” on the Columns tab.

Filter by whether the Contact is in the Group "Mail on Hold because Bounced"

Filter by whether the Contact is in the Group “Mail on Hold because Bounced”

Go to the Email Delivery tab and put in your email address and a subject line. Make sure you click on Update Report to save your changes.

Enter an email address to send this report to

Enter an email address to send this report to

Now sit back and relax until tomorrow, when an email turns up with your CiviCRM report of contacts who need their email address fixed.

This does assume that your CiviCRM Scheduled Jobs has a setting for Mail Reports to be sent out daily. You can change this setting (eg to weekly, or monthly) but it means that ALL reports – not just your mail bounce report – will be sent on the new schedule. So if you’ve also got Contribution reports being emailed to your finance officer for bank reconciliation, or membership reports being emailed to your CEO, this is a setting you should think about carefully before changing.

Still need help? We can help you.

About the author Emma rotate

VP of Client Happiness at Agileware. Emma is passionate about supporting the non-profit sector and ensuring that customer requirements are delivered.

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