Meet, Beat Challenges to List Growth

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E-mail is a critical tool for nonprofits to expand constituent participation in public policy, recruit volunteers and boost online fundraising. Organizations use several tactics to increase their lists, including sending personalized HTML informational newsletters, action alerts, petitions, fundraising appeals and thank-you messages.

To realize list growth and improve response rates for advocacy campaigns and fundraising appeals, nonprofits should:

Use great content that is relevant, creative and attractive; engaging constituents with a compelling story; giving timely, topical information; and providing a clear call to action.

Personalize content based on constituents' demographics, offline preferences and online behavior.

Use viral marketing by including a tell-a-friend link in outbound e-mails.

Offer a seamless user experience by ensuring that the landing pages for links within messages are well thought out.

Track and analyze open, clickthrough and response rates to advocacy and fundraising appeals, using the results to adjust message content and frequency.

Along with following those five best practices, nonprofits can improve list growth by addressing these five challenges:

Spam. E-mail deliverability is critical to any group's online outreach. Use an e-mail service provider that offers whitelisting to improve delivery rates by identifying the message as legitimate e-mail, thus avoiding rejection or routing to spam folders.

Opt outs. Don't overload constituents with e-mails. Send relevant information that your constituents opted to receive. Categorize communications by topic and establish a preferences center to allow opt outs from different types of messages.

List churn. List churn -- when e-mail addresses become undeliverable or unsubscribed -- is a perennial obstacle to list growth. Establish tracking mechanisms to monitor churn rates and ensure a healthy list.

Budget. In the recent eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, groups that invested in their online communications tended to see more list growth, suggesting that more staff, better technology, more content and better viral marketing help list growth more than direct investments in paid recruitment alone.

Organizational structure and capacity. Capitalizing on opportunities for list growth requires nonprofits to coordinate and streamline internal processes to be able to turn on a dime. Develop the technological capacity to launch an online action or fundraising campaign quickly, have a decision-making process to allow for quick turnaround and have contact lists ready to conduct outreach.

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