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How to Grow Your Email List and Raise More Online

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You’ve probably heard that “email is dead.” People say it all the time. Often they’re hawking a new social network or other new channel they believe will soon be raising untold billions for nonprofits.

Here’s the reality: Email is not dead.  In fact, email is still the king of outbound online direct-response fundraising. Nonprofits that invest consistently in email list growth and engagement are raising a lot of funds through email. Also, email is a critical and powerful companion to direct mail … which also is not dead.

The key to raising the most through email is building a list of email addresses. If you just have a few dozen of them, you aren’t going to raise much. But a growing email list allows you to raise funds from people who have signed up but not yet given, single-gift donors, monthly donors, person-to-person campaigns, and even bequest giving.

It’s important to grow your list continuously. If your list isn’t growing, then it’s shrinking. But a growing email list means increasing opportunities for your fundraising.

I want to emphasise the words continuous growth. Unless you have a truly viral campaign or a massive budget, you won’t just wake up one day and suddenly acquire 50,000 engaged email subscribers. You need to chip away at it, month in and month out.

There are two “levels” of list growing that you should use to maximize your growth:

Level 1: Maximizing email address capture from your current traffic and community

This is the lowest-hanging fruit for list growth. It comes from getting the highest number of new email signups from your website and social media channels.

This is traffic and attention you’ve already got, and you don’t need to pay for. You just need to optimise your activities to maximise email subscriptions. Do this by making sure you’ve got compelling email subscription boxes across your website. Don’t just scatter checkboxes that say “subscribe to our e-newsletter” – that’s hardly motivating. Give people a reason to subscribe. Promise valuable and/or fascinating information that they’ll want.

Here are some possibilities for your offer:

  • Give the donor the opportunity to pledge to adhere to certain behaviour that supports the values you share with them.
  • A poll about a hot topic related to your organisation’s cause. Even a one-question poll.
  • A “vote for your favourite X” – something fun. Such as a photo, an animal, or anything that captures interest.
  • A chance to send a message to someone in authority about the cause.
  • A chance to send a message to a beneficiary or ‘hero’ figure, such as a fieldworker.
  • A game that builds engagement with your cause.
  • An opportunity for the donor to share their own story/photo/idea connected to the cause. This can even be a competition.

Level 2: Outbound lead generation campaigns

Focus on growing your file by reaching beyond visitors to your website after you’ve really maximised Level 1.

Lead generation is getting people to do something, including giving you their email address. You can then cultivate the relationship, leading toward asking for donations.

You can use any of the techniques mentioned above. If it works to get website visitors to share their email addresses, it will likely work to get people you reach out to. You can also get those addresses through value exchanges – giving people something they want (such as a useful ebook) in exchange for their email address.

You can reach out through your social media channels or through search-engine marketing.

You can also ask for email addresses as a fall-back call to action in offline media, like direct mail, telephone, face-to-face, or at events: “I can’t donate right now, but I’d like to stay in touch. Here’s my email address.”

The sky is really the limit in this area, and there really is a solution for every nonprofit. You just need to explore them with an open mind.

Upgrade your email program as your list grows

As your email list grows, it gives you more and better fundraising opportunities. That means you can justify investing more: more frequent and more sophisticated communications. You can also ask for their mailing address and their phone number – both higher-engagement ways to connect. Such as:

  • More personalisation within emails, and also carrying personalisation (of ask amounts and content) through to donation landing pages.
  • More strategic segmentation to increase your relevance to donors.
  • Experimenting with different formats of email through A/B testing.
  • Testing different content in emails.
  • Setting up more tailored welcome and conversion journeys.
  • Experimenting more with animated GIFs, HTML5 elements, and other exciting new opportunities.
  • Email donors more frequently to build stronger relationships, increase engagement, and stay in front of donors (and prospects) so you don’t drop off their radar.

If you’re just starting out building your email list, you don’t have to do everything. Do what you can – but do something.  As your list grows, you’ll find more opportunities to invest in your email program.

Want more up-to-the-moment help for digital fundraising? Take our all-new and completely FREE online workshop, 3 Email Fundraising Mistakes That Cost You Tons of Donations. Featuring digital Fundraisingologist James Herlihy, this single session will help you leap forward in your online fundraising mastery. Sessions are coming up soon! More information here. 

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