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Mass mailings using CiviMail

Using the Mailings functionality offered by CiviMail provides many benefits over the Send Email activity, allowing you to track respondents to your mailing, process bounces, and allow people to unsubscribe from your mailings. These benefits will be discussed later; first we will deal with creating and sending a mass mailing.

Choosing recipients: Groups versus search results

There are two ways to select the recipients for your mass mailing: sending to existing Groups or sending to search results. Most steps to create a mailing are independent of how your recipients are chosen, however there is one important difference.

For mailings to search results, you are required to choose a Group from the Unsubscription Group dropdown menu. Here's why: Every mass mailing needs a way to track unsubscribe requests. A simple unsubscribe process is required by law in many countries and may help prevent your mailings from being treated as spam. Mailings sent to Groups have this capacity built-in. The next time a mass email is sent to that Group, anyone who has unsubscribed will not be included. However, mailings sent to search results do not have this built-in way to track who has unsubscribed, so you need to provide one.

Here's how it works: If a contact who matches your search results is already unsubscribed from the Unsubscription Group that you designate, that contact will not be sent the mailing. If a contact unsubscribes via the unsubscription link in this mailing, they will be unsubscribed from this Group and therefore not receive any more emails sent to this group. This is true whether they were originally a member of the Group or not.

The Unsubscription Group you designate collects unsubscribe information only; it does not supply any contacts to the mailing. In other words, contacts who are in the Unsubscription Group but do not match your search criteria will not be included in the mailing. (If you wish to include these contacts you should include the relevant Group.)

For example: Your organization is having a big event next week. Several emails have already gone out about it, but you have added many new people to your database in the last week and you want to send them an event announcement. You do a search for new contacts via Search > Custom Search > Date Added to CiviCRM. This is the search that is the basis of the mailing. Your organisation stores its event email list in a Group called Event Alerts, so for this mailing, you would probably want to choose that as your Unsubscription Group.

If you do not already have a Group that would be appropriate for the Unsubscribe Group for a mailing you're planning, you may want to create one and call it something like "Miscellaneous Mail Unsubscribes". You could then add that Group to other future mailings to ensure that the people who have unsubscribed are excluded from those future mailings.

Choosing recipients: When mailing recipients are set

When you submit a mailing, the list of recipients is set based on which contacts are members of the mailing's groups at that moment. Even if the mailing is scheduled for a month in the future, the list of recipients won't change after it has been scheduled. However, any contacts who are opted out, marked do not email, deceased, deleted or whose email is on hold at the time of sending will not received the mailing.

So if you send a mailing to a smart group, the list of recipients will be set based on the smart group criteria when the mailing is scheduled and won't be updated when the mailing is actually sent.

If you select All NNN records in search results and then send these contacts a mailing from the Actions dropdown menu, you are creating a hidden smart group. Members of the hidden smart group will be updated based on the search criteria at the time the mailing is submitted. If you don't want to create a hidden smart group, you can instead select all the records with the checkbox on the top of each page and then use NNN Selected records only, which will create a non-smart group with those contacts. That group will never update based on the search criteria.

The Mailing set-up screens

If you are sending mail to an existing Group, go to Mailings > New Mailing. You will see the following screen.

Bulk email based on existing groups

If you are basing your mailing on search results, perform your search (for example, using Search > Advanced Search) and then choose Email - Schedule/Send via CiviMail from the Actions drop down. You will see the following screen.

Bulk email based on search results

These are two screens are very similar, however, as described in Choosing recipients: Groups versus search results, for the search-based mailing you must choose an Unsubscribe Group and the "Search Results" group is included in (and cannot be removed from) the Recipients list. (Also, the HTML pane is open by default. It was closed to fit the bottom buttons into these images.)

Remember you can save your mailing at any stage by clicking on the Save Draft button.

Step 1: Define Mailing

Mailing Tab

Here you will find:

Mailing Name: Enter a name for this mailing. Select a name that will allow you and others in your organization to clearly identify the purpose of this mailing. It is recommended that you start each name with a date (e.g., "2015/04/25 - Monthly Newsletter"). This will make it easier to include or exclude recipients of this mailing in future mailings. This name is for internal use only and will not be shown to recipients. You will be asked to enter the Subject of the email later.

Campaign: You can associate this email with a particular campaign.

Template: Here you can select an existing message template to populate the HTML Format and Plain-Text Format fields with the message content from the template. You can edit the content to suit this particular mailing but you cannot update the template, or create a new template via this form. (CiviCRM ships with three sample newsletter templates which users with the Administer CiviCRM permssion can customise with your own organisation's details at Administer > CiviMail > Message Templates. That is also where new message templates can be created.)

From: This will be populated with the default sender email address. You can select an alternative for this mailing from the dropdown list. Users with Administer CiviCRM permssion can add additional email addresses by going to Administer > CiviMail > From Email addresses.

Recipients: This is where you can choose who will receive the mailing (if mailing to Groups) or further refine or add to your mail recipients (if mailing to search results). You can choose Groups to include (shown in green) and exclude (shown in red and struck through), by selecting them from the "Recipients" dropdown. Only groups of the type "Mailing List" will be available in the dropdown. Civimail Recipients include and exclude

You can also refine your recipient list by including and excluding recipients of previous mailings. For instance, you may want to resend an email only to contacts that have been added to a Group since the last time you sent them an email, to avoid sending the same email twice to some people. Choose the original mailing in the "Exclude Past Recipients From". This will then send the message only to those members of the group who did not receive the original mailing.

The estimated final number of recipients is displayed to the right of the Recipients field and highlighted in yellow.

The "wrench": This is located to the right of the Recipients field and to the left of the estimate of recipient numbers. Click on it to access Edit Options.

Civimail Recipients Edit Options

  • Dedupe by email: CiviCRM will always dedupe your mailing based on unique contact records. For example, if a contact is in three of the groups you are including in your mailing, they will only be sent one copy of the email. However, if the same email address is used by multiple contacts, how many emails are sent is determined by this box. If it is unticked then multiple copies of the email will be sent - one for each contact using that address. If it is ticked then only one email is sent to each address. You set the default for this box at Administer > CiviMail > CiviMail Component Settings by ticking or unticking "CiviMail dedupes e-mail addresses by default" but you can override the default for any email if needed.

  • Location Type: By default emails created through CiviMail are sent to the address location(s) set as being for "Bulk Mailings" or, if no location type has that setting, to the address location set as "Is Primary". You can change the Location Type and the Selection Method on the Edit Options screen. You can filter on the Location Type and only send the mailing to email addresses with the specified location type or exclude the email addresses with the specified location type.

Unsubscribe Group (for search-based mailings only): This should be chosen carefully. It may help to read through the example of a search-based mailing in Choosing recipients: Groups versus search results.

Subject: is the subject in your sent emails. You can include tokens in the subject. The Subject (not the Mailing Name) is used when creating an activity or mailing record for each contact.

HTML (expanding section): This is where you can compose content for your mailing. Remember that CiviCRM lets you personalize each email using tokens. If you only want to send a plain text email ignore the HTML section. Click on Plain Text to open that accordion and enter your message in the box.

Preview: This panel is a footer to the Define Mailing screen. It is displayed in whichever tab is selected. Within this panel are the options to: - Preview the HTML or Plain Text version of the email. The HTML preview will show you all the formatting and converted tokens with your data. It will not include any attachments. There is no guarantee that all email clients will display the email exactly as it is shown in this preview, but it is useful to ensure things like font consistency, basic layout and color.

  • Send a test email to a single email address. If the email address does not already exist in CiviCRM a new contact record will be created.

  • Send a test email to a an existing group in CiviCRM.

    The test mailing will fill in all the Tokens and include any attachments you are planning to send.

    It is a good idea to test your email by sending it to yourself and viewing it in your email client to make sure it looks as you expect. If you are sending a mail with a complex layout, send it to your test group and verify it from various mail clients (see Testing templates in the Set-up section for more tips on this). It is preferable to have more than one person receive your test email and give you feedback.

The Mailing tab may be the only tab you need to visit when you are creating your mailing. It contains all the compulsory fields that need to be defined for each new mailing. The remaining tabs are:

Attachments tab

This is where you upload files to send as attachments with your email.

Each new mailing you create will include the default Header and default Footer as defined at Mailings > Headers, Footers, and Automated Messages. If you don't want to use these defaults, this tab is where you select the header and/or footer you do want to use for this mailing. You define additional Headers and Footers via Mailings > Headers, Footers, and Automated Messages (See Set-Up for details).

Publication tab

This contains the Mailing Visibility field which has two options, "User and User Admin Only" and "Public Pages." Choosing Public Pages makes this content viewable as a web page by everyone who has the permission of "View public CiviMail content." "User and User Admin Only" means that only users that received the mailing or administrators can view the content of this email as a web page; the recipients will have to log in to be able to view the message.

To link to the web version of your email, you need to have inserted the Mailing permalink token in your email message. This token generates a URL on which the message can be viewed; in order to display it properly in HTML messages, you'll need to add the proper link tags using the Source icon in the editor.

Responses tab

  • Track Replies checkbox. Checking this option will send replies from the mailing's recipients to a CiviMail specific address instead of the sender's address so they can be stored within CiviCRM. Checking this box will open the two options described next.

    • Forward Replies: This option is only visible if "Track Replies" is checked. You will need to check this option if you want the From address to also receive the replies sent by recipients.
    • Auto-respond to Replies: This option allows you to send a specific automatic reply to anybody who replies to your mailing. You need to set up an autoresponder ahead of time in Mailings > Headers, Footers, and Automated Messages.
  • Opt-Out Message: This message will be sent to a recipient who has opted-out from all the mailing lists

  • Resubscribe Message: This message will be sent to a recipient who has resubscribed to one of the mailing lists
  • Unsubscribe Message: This message will be sent to a recipient who has unsubscribed from one of the mailing lists.

You can edit these three messages at Mailings > Headers, Footers, and Automated Messages.

Tracking tab

  • Track Click-Throughs: This option will keep track of how many users and which users clicked on all the links in your message. This is accomplished by redirecting all links through your server. This means that all links will be overwritten with custom links containing your domain name.

    Note for HTML mail

    Some phishing filters may mark links that are displayed differently in HTML code and in the text as unsafe. It is therefore best not to use something like
    <a href=""></a> but rather use
    <a href="">click here to go to Example</a> instead.

    Note for Plain Text Email

    If you use short, user-friendly URLs, they will all be overwritten with long links containing the name of your site and a long code looking like this

    Personalised Tokens

    If you include a checksum or any kind of personalised token in your URL e.g.{mailing.key}&cid={contact.contact_id}&{contact.checksum} Such URLs will not be redirected so are not able to be tracked / counted.

  • Track Opens: This option allows you to track how many people opened the email you received. However, there are limitations to the effectiveness of this method. If the recipient does not show images in their email client (often referred to as "blocking remote content"), their email will not be marked as opened even if they do open it. Blocking remote content is a very common practice.

Changes introduced in CiviCRM version 5.27

Prior to CiviCRM version 5.27 Tracking options were turned on by default when creating a new mailing. From CiviCRM 5.27 onwards there is now a new setting at Administer > CiviMail > CiviMail Component Settings which will allow you to choose whether the Click Through or the Open Tracking or both are turned on by default or not.

Once you have defined all aspects of your mailing click on Next > (lower left) to advance to:

Step 2: Review and Schedule

CiviMail Review and Schedule screen

Review Panel

This is a summary of all the details of your email. The blue words are actually buttons. Clicking on ~XX recipients will show the contact names and email addresses the email will be sent to. Clicking on HTML or Plain Text will show the email to be sent including any header and/or footer. Clicking on any of the envelopes will display the named message. Ticks and crosses with strike-throughs show what you have and have not chosen to do in terms of tracking and dealing with responses to the email. In short, Review is a brilliant little panel that lets you confirm that you have made all the correct choices despite the multitude of interruptions you experienced whilst defining your mailing.


You can either choose to send the email immediately or schedule a date and time for it to be sent. Finally click on Submit Mailing. By default, CiviMail checks every 15 minutes for any emails that are ready to be sent, so the start of the mailing could be delayed by up to 15 minutes.

Mailings sent to large numbers of recipients are sent in batches of about 400 to reduce the likelihood of the emails being caught in spam filters. Therefore, the actual sending of your mass mailing can take several hours depending on your server configuration.

Tracking Sent Mass Mailings

To review key statistics about mailings sent in the past, go to Mailings > Scheduled and Sent Mailings. Once you have found your mailing in the list, or searched for it using the filters above, click Report in the "action" column. This will display basic information on all of the tracked actions, including the number of opens, link click-throughs or the percentage of bounces (see Managing bounces below).

To expand on this information, click the name of one of the statistics to display a list of the contacts to whom it applies, and various other details such as the time the email was opened (tracked opens). Where a mass mailing has been sent to a contact, you also view the "Bulk Email" record of the mailing in the Activities tab of their profile.

Now you might want to filter this information further. For example, of all the recipients who opened the mass email, you might only be interested in those who are between the ages of 21 and 30, or registered for a given event. Click Advanced Search next to a statistic to start an advanced search with the email attributes pre-filled; e.g. if the link next to Tracked Opens is clicked, the search fields will be set to look for all contacts who opened the email, ready for you to add extra criteria. For more information on advanced searches, see Searching.

Managing Mass Mailings

Mass mailings can be found in one of three areas accessible via the Mailings menu:

Draft and Unscheduled Mailings: As soon as you name your message in Step 1 and click Next, it is placed in this area. If you click Save & Continue Later or simply abandon a message after some steps, you can continue working on it by clicking on the Continue link next to the message listed here.

You can also Delete draft messages here.

Scheduled and Sent Mailings: When you send or schedule a mailing, it will be placed in this area and remain there until it is archived or deleted.

You can track the success of delivery by clicking on the Report link next to the message.

You can also start another mailing based on a previous mailing by clicking on the Copy link.

The Archive and Delete links are available under the more link. For mailings that are scheduled but not yet sent, a Cancel link is available instead of Archive.

Pause and Resume links are also available under more link. The pause is gradual, not instantaneous. It can be used when you want another scheduled/pending mailing to send before the mailing you pause.

Archived Mailings: This area lists all messages that were archived from the Scheduled and Sent mailings area. Mailings listed here are not available to be included or excluded from the recipient list.

It provides exactly the same functionality as Scheduled and Sent Mailings, including the possibility to view Reports and Copy.