Part 6 – Import Lists

We wanted to talk about lists last time, but we needed to take a short detour through setting up your groups first. You’ll see why as we walk through importing the names and email addresses of your current prayer supporters.

From Where Shall I Import, Dear Eliza, Dear Eliza?

Without knowing where you keep your email lists at the moment, I’m going to have to make some assumptions. One of those assumptions is that you can somehow export your existing lists.

Most email applications can export names and email addresses as a CSV file, so that’s what we’ll use for these instructions.

(The Mac Address Book is one exception. To transfer email addresses directly from your Mac contacts, follow these instructions on using Chimport for Mac, and skip the rest of this article.)

For detailed instructions on exporting your current supporters as a CSV file, click on the link for the email program that you typically use:

If you have only a few addresses, you may find it simpler to start by downloading this empty MailChimp import template. Open it in Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice Calc, Numbers for Mac, or a Google Drive Spreadsheet document. Add in your names and email addresses, then save it again as a CSV file.

Download this simple CSV file to enter a list of addresses manually
Download this simple CSV file to enter a list of addresses manually

OK, So How Do I Handle Groups?

That’s a good question. There’s nothing in this simplistic CSV file that gives MailChimp any clue what group (or groups) anyone belongs to. We can go one of two directions here:

  1. For each MailChimp group set, we can add a column to the CSV file to tell MailChimp which groups should be associated with each email address. With this approach, there will be only one import step.
  2. We can save a separate CSV file for each group, and make the association in MailChimp at the time of the import. With this approach, you’ll need to do a separate import for each group.

Option 1 is more complicated to set up, and it’s easy to get things wrong without noticing. You can find more details here if you choose to go that direction.

For this article, we’ll keep things simpler and focus on option 2. For each group you defined in MailChimp, export a separate CSV file.

If you can’t export the groups as individual files, then export all of your email addresses into one large file. Make a copy of this file for each group, then use a spreadsheet program (or text editor if you’re particularly geeky) to delete the unwanted email address lines from each file.

Prepare Your File For MailChimp

If you used your email program to create a CSV file, you’ll need to clean it up before you import it. What exactly do I mean by “clean up”? Well, two things actually.

  1. Remove rows for email addresses that don’t belong to the this file’s MailChimp group. Also remove rows for email addresses if you don’t have evidence showing they have given you permission to send them email. MailChimp may ask to see that evidence, so it’s best not to send someone email through MailChimp if you can’t demonstrate that you have permission.
  2. Remove columns for details we’re not pulling in to MailChimp.

Open your exported CSV file in your favorite spreadsheet program, answering any import questions it asks. Then look through the list of records to make sure the file contains only the information you want to include in the one group this file will represent in MailChimp.

Some versions of OpenOffice have the Merge Delimiters option turned on automatically when you try to open a CSV file. Be sure to uncheck this option before completing the import.


You might have some unexpected addresses in your file – especially if you exported your entire address list. You probably don’t want to import your internet company’s technical support address, for example. You’ll definitely want to get rid of that one.

For each CSV file that you have, make sure that every email address truly represents a person who requested to receive your letters. This will help you avoid complaints. If you set up groups in MailChimp, also make sure that each CSV file contains only those email addresses that should be part of a single group.

You’ll find the import process simplest if your CSV file has columns only for the fields you want to import into MailChimp. For our simple import, you’ll want to keep only these three columns:

  • Email Address
  • First Name
  • Last Name
As you look at a CSV file from your email program, you may see other valuable information that you want to keep in MailChimp. If that happens, feel free to keep more than just name and email address. We’ll be able to add the extra information into MailChimp when we import the file. It’ll be a little more complicated if you choose to keep more than just these three fields, but MailChimp has a good knowledgebase article that we’ll reference when we get there.


Your email program may have given different names to these columns. If that’s the case, you may find the import process easier if you change those column names in your CSV file to match the names in the list above.

After you have cleaned up your list, save a CSV file for each MailChimp group that you want to import.

If you’re using a Google Drive Spreadsheet to edit your list, look for the Download as option in the File menu, and choose Comma Separated Values.

Import Your File Into MailChimp

If you set up groups in MailChimp and you want to follow this article exactly, make sure you have a separate CSV file for each group that you want to import. It’s OK if the same email address appears in more than one file. When you follow the import steps in this article, MailChimp will import the email address only once, but with all of the appropriate groups.

To start importing, log on to MailChimp, go to the Lists page, and click on your Prayer Supporters list. From there, choose Import subscribers from the Add subscribers menu.

Import prayer supporters from CSV into MailChimp
Import prayer supporters from CSV into MailChimp

Remember how I made some assumptions about where you keep your email addresses? MailChimp can’t make those assumptions, so it has to ask you.

Import from CSV file
Import from CSV file

I’m assuming you exported to a CSV file, so click the option that says CSV or tab-delimited text file. Then click the Next button in the bottom-right.

Upload your CSV file
Upload your CSV file

Browse to find one of your CSV files.

If you have so many addresses in your CSV file that the import causes your total number of subscribers to pass the limit of MailChimp’s Forever Free Plan, then they’ll have to upgrade you to a paid plan. Check the box to let them know you understand that. Then click Next again.

The next page of the import gives you a chance to tell MailChimp which column in the CSV file matches which field in your MailChimp list. If your CSV file has only the three fields we talked about earlier, MailChimp can figure everything out automatically. In that case, you’ll see this screen with the “All columns are matched” message.

Make sure your import columns match MailChimp’s field names

If you chose to import additional fields and MailChimp couldn’t automatically match them for you, refer back to that knowledgebase article to see exactly how to tell MailChimp which columns from the CSV file match which MailChimp fields.

If you only had those three columns, but MailChimp still didn’t match everything up for you, double-check the spelling and spacing of the first line of your CSV file to be sure the column names match exactly. After making any corrections, click Back on this screen and import again.


When all of the columns are matched on the Import Subscribers screen, click Next again.

Ready to import. Choose your groups.
Ready to import. Choose your groups.

Final Steps

Now, you’re all set to import. See? MailChimp even says so.

I’m assuming these are actual prayer supporters you’re importing, so you’ll want to let MailChimp know that these should be Subscribed when they’re imported.

Also notice the Add imported subscribers to these groups checkbox. Any groups you had set up in part 5 will be listed here after you check that box.

If you’re following along exactly, then you’ll have one group, named This supporter is…. Check that box to let MailChimp know that you want to assign these addresses to one of those groups.

Next, check the box next to the specific group your import file represents. In this case, I’m importing pastors.csv, so I checked that each supporter is A Pastor.

The Auto-update my existing list checkbox is what takes care of those email addresses that might be in more than one group. (You won’t see it if you haven’t added at least one subscriber to your list.) As long as you check that box each time you import a new file, any group that you assign will be added to the list of groups for any email address that’s already on your list.

When you’re all done checking the boxes, click the Import button in the bottom-right to start the import. You’ll see how many emails were added or updated in your list. If you have more CSV files to import for different groups, go ahead and choose the Import subscribers menu again to import the next CSV.

When you’ve finished importing all of your CSV files, view the list of subscribers again to see how the different email addresses were placed into the appropriate groups.

In the next article, we’ll see how to set up MailChimp to make sure any Facebook and Twitter links in your outgoing emails will actually work.

Take Action

There are two steps to the action plan for this article:

  1. Export your email contacts into separate CSV files for each group.
  2. Import those CSV files into MailChimp groups.

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