Tips for Growing Your E-mail List
In a free webinar last month titled "It's All About the List! How to Grow and Cultivate Your Most Valuable Online Asset" sponsored by Network for Good, Justin Perkins, director of nonprofit marketing strategy at Care2, an online community that allows people to sign and send petitions and take a variety of actions on behalf of nonprofit organizations, offered advice to charities interested in building their e-mail lists.
Perkins said nonprofits should put effort into recruiting donors online for a number of reasons. For one thing, more charitable donors are choosing to donate online. Another reason is that donors reached via a variety of different channels — not just direct mail — are the most valuable. Direct mail also isn't as effective with younger donors and is a turn-off for eco-conscious donors. And the Web allows organizations to seize opportunities quickly in reaction to breaking news. For example, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Care2 was able to raise about $200,000 on behalf of American Humane as a result of an e-mail blast it sent out.
According to Perkins, the cycle for converting people into supporters for nonprofits usually goes something like this: A person learns about your organization or issue; this awareness leads her then to recognize your brand in connection with that issue; she grows to trust your organization; because of that developed trust, she responds to an invitation, solicitation, story or action alert you send; she then becomes a member/activist/donor; she has an experience with your organization as a member/activist/donor; she feels a sense of connection with or ownership of the organization; and this leads her to become an ambassador for your organization.
In between each of these stages is an opportunity to lose supporters if you don't continue to cultivate the relationship, i.e., if you don't stay in communication with them. But communication means "not just asking people for money all the time," Perkins said, "but it's giving them a really good reason and compelling reason to be engaged and to donate."
Successful nonprofits convert individuals to supporters by choosing the right tool for the right purpose, e.g., action alerts, search engines, videos, contests, newsletters.
Perkins shared the following tips to help organizations grow and cultivate their lists:
- Collect opt-ins front and center. Have an e-mail signup box on your Web site and include it in a prominent place on every page. For example, Oxfam America collects e-mails on every page of its Web site and at Coldplay concerts.
- Send regular e-mails. The nonprofits with the highest online donations in the country send about four e-mails a month to each subscriber, including a monthly newsletter, a monthly action alert (not a fundraising appeal), a monthly or quarterly fundraising appeal, and an e-mail when something interesting happens (with urgency and a context for raising money). And be as personal and specific in the e-mails as possible.
- Send e-mails from a specific individual at your organization, and include their pictures and a straightforward request for recipients to do something. Perkins recommended testing and also paying attention to what other, larger organizations like Oxfam, Defenders of Wildlife or CARE are doing.
Perkins said organizations are better able to raise more money from people in person at live events than from social-networking tools. If you're going to use social networks and you're a small, local organization, focus on a strategy to build a social network and e-mail list with several thousand people to promote local events, and ask people to sign up for e-mail alerts at the events. Add those people to your e-mail list, upload them to your social-network profile and repeat.
He recommended nonprofits think like rock bands: Always build your list, be scrappy, leverage the work of volunteers who care about your issue (the value of a volunteer hour is about $18), and put your fans first and empower them to spread the word for you.
But he warned that while social networks are effective at branding and attracting new — especially younger — people to be engaged and involved with the organization, the results in terms of fundraising are limited.
"Right now we are seeing a huge gold rush for social networks and not a lot of gold, unfortunately. And it is actually a bit of a distraction when groups have not maximized the tools that can return the highest return when your goal is fundraising," he said.
For example, in 2007, Save Darfur raised $415,000 in 10 days via a three-part e-mail series sent to about 1 million supporters. Yet, in more than a year on Facebook Causes, Save Darfur has raised just $28,000 from its nearly 1 million friends (equal to three cents per friend). According to Perkins, nonprofits raised $3 million on Facebook Causes in 2008, but the cost of Facebook fundraising efforts to the sector in terms of resources in 2008 is estimated to be around $300 million.
"You can spend a lot of time on Facebook and not see a return for it, and that is a real opportunity cost," Perkins said.
To access the slides, audio and/or transcript of the webinar, visit www.fundraising123.org