Offer incentives and information to donors and make sure to ask for permission

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Offer incentives and information to donors and make sure to ask for permission
Offer incentives and information to donors and make sure to ask for permission
Many nonprofits are transitioning from print newsletters to e-mail newsletters to take advantage of cost savings, speed and clickable actions. Building an e-mail list from scratch and growing it to compensate for the inevitable list churn is challenging for many nonprofits.

Effective ways to build an e-mail list include putting the e-newsletter sign-up box in your Web site template so it appears on every page and requesting e-mail addresses on every form you ask people to complete. You can grow your list much more quickly using other approaches as well.

Entice readers with promised benefits and deliver. E-mail addresses are valuable. What are you giving your supporter in exchange for that valuable e-mail address? Don't just say "We want to send you a newsletter." Explain what kind of interesting, exclusive and timely information your supporters will receive from you in that newsletter.

Collect e-mail addresses offline. Don't get stuck in the single-channel mindset. When you see supporters in person, ask for their e-mail addresses. Bring a paper sign-up sheet to your events and leave one on your reception desk. Fill in the gaps by calling supporters and asking for permission to e-mail them.

Make changing an e-mail address easy. Ideally, subscribers to your newsletter can update their own e-mail addresses with just a few clicks. The harder you make it (e.g., forcing them to unsubscribe and re-subscribe), the more likely they are to drop off your list for good.

Offer a special download. If many people approach your organization with the same kinds of questions, create a guide or whitepaper with the answers. Explain that when they register for the free download, they'll also be added to your e-newsletter list.

Put their privacy concerns to rest. Many people assume that when they give their e-mail address to a nonprofit, the organization will sell or rent it to other causes, creating an unwanted flood of spam. Put your supporters at ease by assuring them that you will not rent, sell or otherwise share their e-mail addresses with others, and then follow through on that promise.


This article originally ran as part of the November 9, 2009 Technique, "Best advice for building nonprofit e-mail lists." To read the entire feature, click here.

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