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10 Ways to Grow Your Nonprofit Email List

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Published August 30, 2012 Reading Time: 6 minutes

In a world where more and more donors expect to engage with the organizations they care about online, email marketing has become an increasingly important tool in the nonprofit fundraiser’s toolkit. Direct email outreach is the best way to drive online donations and to spur supporters to engage in online advocacy. Email appeals are also easy to create, they cost a lot less than direct mail, and they provide you with close to instantaneous feedback (and funds!). Truly, all good things.

Your organization’s success with email, however, will depend on the health of your nonprofit’s email list. A nonprofit’s email list is the lifeblood of its online outreach program (whether that outreach is for advocacy, communication, or fundraising). If you’re losing more subscribers than you are adding each month, then you’re heading in the wrong direction. Your first goal should be to make your email list net positive– that is, you should be getting more signups than unsubscribes each month.

Here are ten tips to help you move towards positive list growth and expanded email reach:

1. Your Website

Ok, so it should be fairly obvious that your website should include email signup forms. But while we hope this is self-evident (to you), it does bear mentioning because (gasp!) there are organizations that haven’t placed signup forms on their websites yet. People that visit your website are already at least somewhat interested in who you are and what you do, you need give them the chance to stay in touch by signing up for your email list. Here are a couple best practices for adding email signups to your website:

  • Collect the bare minimum information- name & email. If you ask for too much upfront you will scare people off.
  • Place your forms on high traffic pages above the fold (aka don’t make them hard to find!)
  • Make the offer clear- let people know what they are signing up for. Are they getting news updates about your cause? Inspiring stories? Define the value prop clearly for your potential signups

2. Popup Windows

Popups are really just another way of adding email signups to your website, but they are a bit different so we’re calling them out separately. An email popup offers visitors a chance to join your nonprofit’s email list before allowing them to navigate to the rest of you site (click here for a good example). Using a popup helps you highlight your email signup and ensures that your web visitors are getting a chance to opt-in. If you’re interested in trying it out, you need to be careful that you don’t wind up annoying people. Limit the popup to one page (one that gets significant traffic) and make it easy to click out. If you test it out and get a dip in traffic you should relocate the popup or discontinue it. You’ll also need someone with a bit of tech savvy to help you set one up (although there are plugins available if your site is built on WordPress).

3. Social Media

You’ve cultivated a social media presence to help build relationships with your contacts, engage them in conversation, and (hopefully) draw them into deeper levels of engagement with your organization. One way to do this is by periodically posting calls to action through social media asking followers to sign up for your nonprofit’s email list. Of course you don’t want to spam your social contacts with constant asks to join your list, but you should invite them from time to time. When you do, make sure that the offer (what they are signing up to receive) is clear.

“Signup to receive email updates about the latest news in the effort to end modern day slavery”

“Receive free inspiring stories about the life-changing progress residents of My Org are making”

For the more technical minded among you, you might try embedding a button directly into your Facebook business page that will lead visitors to an email signup form. This creates a rolling option for people visiting your Facebook page to opt-into your list. If you’re interested in trying this out, the good folks over at Hubspot have step by step instructions for you.

4. Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns (where supporters create fundraising pages and share them with friends and family) are popular with nonprofits of all sizes.. A big reason why is that nonprofits can reach far more people through peer-to-peer campaigns.
There’s a limit on how many supporters any given nonprofit will have, but each of those supporters has relationships with a lot of other people (friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, etc.). When a supporter creates a fundraising page and shares that page with his or her personal network the nonprofit gets exposure to entirely new social circles. Each new donor that contributes to someone’s fundraising page means more support for the organization and another contact added to the nonprofit’s email list. Some organizations even embed email capture forms directly onto their fundraising pages so even if they miss the donation, they still get a chance to catch the email address.

5. Free Resources

If your organization develops valuable publications or educational resources, then you’ve already got some great opportunities to grow your nonprofit’s email list. Let’s say you publish a quarterly report on the state of homelessness in the New York metropolitan area. You might send out the report to your existing contacts and then have a page on your website where anyone else who is interested can download their own free copy…as long as they provide you with an email address that is! In the age of the Internet people are used to exchanging their email address for something of value. If you are already creating valuable content, make sure you get the most out of it by capturing additional emails along the way.

6. Your Events

If people are interested enough in your organization to come to an event, you shouldn’t be bashful about asking for their email addresses. So go ahead and place signup cards in strategic locations at your next event. If you’re already going to be asking for donations (by including gift packets in place settings at a gala for instance), just add in a line to make sure you are collecting email addresses too. Remember, just because events happen “offline” doesn’t mean you can’t use them to create more opportunities for supporters to connect with you online.

7. Online Advocacy

Petitions and e-letter writing campaigns provide great opportunities to kill two birds with one stone. You get to do something that helps advance your mission (targeted advocacy) and you can capture emails from people who are interested in supporting your cause. By getting existing supporters to share the call to action with their networks you can reach other like-minded individuals and acquire more email addresses.

Change.org has an entire petition platform built around this concept. You create a petition, promote it, and (if you use the paid service) your petition also gets introduced to people who (based on prior behavior) are likely to support your cause. When someone signs your petition you get another vote of support…and another e-mail address. There are a variety of petition tools available on the web (some free). Search around for one you like, but whatever you choose, make sure you are being clear that petition-signers are opting into future communications too. You want to make sure you’re building contacts that won’t mind hearing from you!

8. Cross Promotions

If you’re creating unique content, then chances are there are other organizations that will find your content valuable too. Continuing our example from before, let’s suppose that you produce a quarterly report on the state of homelessness in the New York area. You might look for civic groups, religious congregations, or other local organizations that could be interested in sharing the report with their supporters. You’d give them the right to promote your content in their email communications (adding value to their audiences) and you’d get exposure to new contacts (and the email addresses for anyone who clicked through to download the report).

9. Direct Mail

Ah yes, old school fundraising. Hey, it’s still an important part of many organizations’ overall fundraising strategy. If you’re already spending money to send direct mail, why not add in an extra line so you can capture email addresses as well?

10. Blogging

Blogging is a great way to get found through search engines and to create new content that keeps supporters coming back to your website and interacting with your organization. It also provides you with an easy way to start a feedback loop with these supporters. If you start to accumulate some regular readers, offer them the option of subscribing to your blog. That way, you can email them when new articles get posted to your blog. For example….

Give Donors the Welcome They Deserve

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Photo Credit: crdotx

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