Building an E-Mail Address File — It’s Easier Than You Think

The first step in any effective e-mail marketing strategy is to build an e-mail file — the fuel for your e-mail marketing efforts. Many nonprofit groups discover that, despite their large and detailed constituent databases, they have few supporter e-mail addresses on record.

Though the prospect of building a usable e-mail file can appear daunting, you can grow your file easily using several proven tactics:

1. Gather e-mail addresses offline. Even if you are just starting out with an online presence, you can easily begin developing your e-mail file by integrating e-mail address collection into your existing marketing or fundraising initiatives. Every time you communicate with supporters or prospects, take advantage of the opportunity to collect e-mail addresses.

· Gather addresses through 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 many constituents, consider setting out a newsletter sign-up sheet or conducting a giveaway for attendees who drop in cards with their names and e-mail addresses.

· Promote the benefits of e-mail communication. When asking for e-mail addresses offline, emphasize to constituents the benefits of providing this information. Remind constituents that communicating with them online saves your organization money and administrative manpower, allowing more funds and human resources to go directly to fulfilling the organization’s mission. Also, underscore the advantages of timely communication — with e-mail, the organization can respond in real time to compelling events and update constituents quickly about important news, developments, events and programs.

2. Gather e-mail addresses online. Your Web site is the best source for reaching prospects and existing constituents, and collecting their e-mail addresses. Web site visitors are interested in your organization (or they would not come to your site) and are good prospects for providing their e-mail addresses.

· Drive traffic to your Web site with every communication. Maximize site traffic by including your URL wherever you list phone numbers, mailing addresses or other contact information. This includes brochures, ads, staff e-mail signatures, voice messages, phone “hold” or introductory messages, and business cards. Tell prospects and supporters about the resources available to them on the Web site and keep the online content current, informative and engaging so visitors will return.

· Promote the benefits of online registration. Make registration compelling for site visitors so they will provide the information. Create special benefits for registered members, and link to a separate page explaining the perks, such as free e-mail newsletters, advance notification of upcoming events, members-only pricing for ticket sales or special premiums. Then, invite site visitors to register by using an action phrase such as “Register to receive updates” or “Sign up for our educational newsletter.”

· Provide an online registration mechanism. Use a Web-based form that lets site visitors register and automatically captures their information in an online database. The registration form should be easy to read and fast to complete. Minimize the number of required fields that registrants have to complete — the more fields, the greater the disincentive to register. Provide examples if the system requires data to be entered in a particular way (i.e., “Please enter dates in mm/dd/yyyy format”) to avoid frustrating registrants.

· Use “quick registration.” Instead of requiring site visitors to complete a lengthy registration form, consider requesting only basic information (such as name and e-mail address) in order for a supporter to sign up to receive updates, e-mail newsletters and other communications. Once you capture this basic information, use follow-up communications such as online surveys to gather more information about each constituent; e.g., interests, motivation for getting involved with your organization, etc.

· Give site registration prominent and clear placement. Dedicate a consistent area of your home page to promoting online registration. Place it in an eye-catching spot “above the fold” to reflect its importance. Consider using an image or graphic to draw attention to this message. Promote registration throughout the rest of your Web site by, for example, including a registration link on every page.

3. List-build through viral marketing. “Forward to a friend” e-mail campaigns, also known as viral marketing, can help you reach new supporters and grow your e-mail file efficiently.

In a viral campaign, the organization sends an e-mail with a call to action (such as a solicitation for donations, event invitation or public policy action alert) to the existing e-mail file or to selected groups of constituents in the file.

The e-mail also asks recipients to forward the message to friends, relatives and co-workers so they, too, can get involved. When a new supporter from this previously untapped network of friends clicks through to your Web site to register and take action, you can request permission to communicate with them in the future. Imagine the effect of one person sending 10 e-mails, and then each friend forwarding another 10, and so on. If this happens five times, a single e-mail would reach 100,000 people.

E-mail greeting cards, or “e-cards,” are another way to build an e-mail address list through viral marketing. With e-cards, constituents can create their own e-mails — using your e-mail greeting card template, with your organization’s branding — to send to friends and family.

4. Use an e-mail appending service. If you have an extensive donor or supporter database, but only a small number of current e-mail addresses, consider using an e-mail appending service to quickly begin connecting with supporters via e-mail. These services add a constituent’s e-mail address to the constituent’s existing record in your database.

The address is obtained by matching records from your database against a third-party database to produce a corresponding e-mail address. However, match rates vary, and though appending solves the problem of matching e-mail addresses to current supporters, it is not a substitute for a long-term strategy to build and maintain your e-mail file.

Though building an organization’s e-mail file can seem like a huge undertaking, using some basic techniques makes it simple to get started or accelerate the growth of a list. And in today’s increasingly wired world, developing and maintaining a good e-mail file is one of the most important things you can do to support your organization’s direct marketing and constituent communications.

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