Best advice for building nonprofit e-mail lists

Catherine Algeri

Senior account director, InfoGroup Nonprofit

We’ve known for a while that donors who give through multiple channels give more frequently and make larger gifts, but now we’re finding that the presence of an e-mail address makes a positive difference in the giving behavior of offline donors.

Ask yourself what steps you’re taking to acquire more e-mail addresses.

On your Web site, make it easy for people to give you their e-mail address. Ideally, there’s a prominent box at the top of your site to enter an e-mail address. The box should be attention-grabbing and on every page of your Web site.

On your direct mail, put a place on the reply form for donors to give e-mail addresses if they wish.

Append e-mail addresses to your donor file. This is the fastest way to jump-start your online efforts. You can generally append 15% to 20% of your donor file with e-mail addresses. Ask e-mail append partners to provide you with nonprofit references. This method has a great ROI, specifically with reactivating lapsed donors and increasing donor value.

Among more advanced options, you can embrace social media. This can be a great method for collecting e-mail addresses.

Another thing to try is Google Ad Words. This is similar to acquisition efforts in direct mail. You’ve identified what your likely donors are searching for and you’re making an investment to bring them on board.

If you have an advocacy element to your organization, co-registration is a great way to build your online advocacy list. Just remember that you are buying advocates — converting them to donors may take time.

Finally, there’s list rental & exchange. Some nonprofits are doing list swaps with similar organizations, inviting people to sign up for future contact. Working with a third party for brokerage and deployment can help ensure your data is secure and you don’t accidentally e-mail an existing donor.

The Takeaway

Don’t get stuck in a single-channel rut when gathering e-mails from regular donors

Matthew Mielcarik

Principal consultant, Convio

To grow your e-mail file effectively, you need to think holistically about your list building efforts. Use both online and offline techniques to steadily build a quality housefile.

Many of the techniques that nonprofits use to build files do not differ drastically from those of corporate entities. However, one of the most important aspects to maintaining and growing a file for a nonprofit is to sustain the relationship by communicating and sharing the impact of their gift, time and talent on the mission of the organization.

Use site opt-ins. When people come directly to your site and opt in, you build a quality list. Make it easy for people to opt in on your homepage or any other page of your Web site by offering more than one place to register.

Don’t stop there. To gather the most information possible about your constituent, offer phased registration. In phase one, get names and e-mail addresses. In phase two, request additional information about the individual that helps build the relationship. Clearly state the benefits to donors and add incentives to increase registrations.

Viral campaigns can be a great way to build your list quickly, particularly when tied to a contest or prize. After a person has registered, encourage them to e-mail their friends with similar interests to sign-up. To ensure you are adding high quality names to your list, offer a giveaway that is relevant to your organization. Otherwise, you’ll end up adding names of uninterested people.

Gather addresses at every interaction. Planned interactions such as renewal appeals, membership drives and event invitations are perfect times to ask for e-mail addresses. Simply add a field for e-mail collection to all response forms. At events where you will interact with a large number of people, consider setting out a newsletter sign-up sheet, or conduct a giveaway for attendees who give you their name and e-mail address.

Regardless of the combination of online and offline techniques that you use, remember to get the individual’s permission before you send e-mails.

The Takeaway

Employ a combination of online and offline strategies to build your e-mail list

Kivi Leroux Miller

President, EcoScribe Communications & Nonprofit Marketing

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.

The Takeaway

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

Bob Stein

VP of list mgmt., Trinity Direct

E-mail marketing is a great way to stay in contact with donors. You may send them updates on cause-related events, send a newsletter, and even advise them of an upcoming mailing. The key is to be interactive and get their attention. Show them you care. Show them you understand them and how they can be of assistance to you and your cause. Whatever you are doing, be sure to ask them for a donation.

To gather e-mail addresses, simply ask your donors for them. Ask them in your direct mail piece; ask them on your Web site; ask on Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks. Append e-mail names to your postal address (there is a surprisingly high match rate if done correctly). Whichever method you use, be sure to ask permission to e-mail them.

Your own house file e-mail names will be a lot more responsive than rented e-mail names. Your house file, naturally, has a built in audience, already interested and invested in your cause. Although the selection is limited and they are not as responsive as your house file, renting e-mail lists is still a viable tool to help grow your database of e-mails. Those that do respond to your offer become part of your growing house file.

Once you have established your strategy, get those names into circulation. Blast them. Keep in touch with your donors and keep them interested and informed. Keep them vested in your cause and they will invest in your organization.

Be sure you get the address most used by your donor. If you can’t reach them, they can’t reach you. There are many service providers that can help scrub your list and keep it mail-able.

E-mail marketing will never replace traditional direct mail, nor will it be replaced by social networking. Instead, it is becoming a more integral part of cultivating your donor through several channels. It is vital to donor retention and viable for donor acquisition.

The Takeaway

Use e-mail to maintain consistent and two-way communication with donors

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