When I was young, my grandmother gave me an orange tree. At first, I was excited to have my own oranges straight from the backyard. The tree was planted in the perfect spot, and I watered it every day. The tree began to grow. But then I lost interest, and watered it less frequently. The tree produced one sad little orange. Without proper care, it didn't stand a chance.
Sadly, many nonprofit organizations treat their email files the same way. Initially, the plan is executed with excitement. But as time goes on, competing priorities take precedence. The email file becomes just like my unattended fruit tree: useless.
You can no longer ignore the importance of email in your overall fundraising strategy. Donor preferences are changing, direct mail acquisition is getting more expensive, and growing a strong file takes time. Here are some ideas:
#1: Use Your Website
Give your email signup prime placement above the fold, and make it visually distinctive from the donate button. Depending on your site layout, also try testing the position of your email signup by placing it under the main hero image.
Another homepage tactic (if your CMS allows it) is to have a lightbox with an email signup for new visitors. While this can be effective, I would strongly advise against this or any other tactic that could be a distraction during year-end giving!
#2: Offer an Incentive
The standard offer, "sign up to receive our newsletter," may no longer be enough. We all feel like we receive too much email. According to a recent study, the volume of email received is the #1 cause of losing subscribers. It's worth it to think about offering an incentive to new subscribers.
Possible incentives could include:
- Special promotional sweepstakes offers
- Limited access to a special fundraising or advocacy initiative
- Useful information in the form of a digital booklet
#3: Use Technology
Ipads and Android tablets have become a fixture in our lives, and they can become mobile capture devices for your event.
I've had great success with iCapture. It is an app that allows you to build custom forms to collect just about any piece of data you could imagine. It also provides automatic syncing to many popular email programs and allows for offline data capture. No Wi-Fi needed! If you use MailChimp, the Chimpadeedoo app has you covered.
If you are having a large event, don't forget mobile SMS acquisition. Using a platform such as MobileCause will allow you to capture emails and set up campaigns with just a few clicks.
Don't ask, don't get. We know how to ask for money, but many are still shy to ask for an email address! A few simple tactics can truly jump-start your file:
- Have volunteers provide their emails when signing up.
- Put a buckslip in your direct mail receipts with a special signup URL.
- Ask your fans on social media sites, and tell them to ask their friends.
- Have your event/development staff take an iPad or iPhone with them to speaking events.
- Have your front desk staff ask every person who comes in the door.
#5: Give Choices
If your system allows it, develop a "preference center" through which people can choose the types of communications they receive. Possible categories could include:
- Project-specific information
- Emergency response information
You know your donors best. So feel free to develop your own categories.