When working with a new non-profit, one of the questions I always ask is, “How many people do you have on your e-mail list?” The answer invariably includes the phrase, “not enough.”
Whether they have 1,000 or 10,000 people on their e-mail list, most non-profits feel as though they don’t have enough people on their list… and they feel like they should be doing more to grow the size of their list. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how any non-profit can significantly grow their e-mail list.
What Do I Mean by “E-Mail List?”
First, let’s talk about what we mean when we say, “e-mail list.” Really, what we mean is your e-mail newsletter list. Your e-mail list is the list of people who have signed up to receive updates from your non-profit via e-mail. You can also call this group your “e-mail subscribers.” This list is comprised of donors, prospects, volunteers, and anyone else who gave you permission to add them to your list.
It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t just add e-mail addresses to your e-mail list. Far too many non-profits start an e-mail newsletter and just add everyone they can, including friends and family of the staff, community leaders, local businesspeople, and people who they think might be interested in their work. Don’t do this. People hate being added to e-mail lists without their permission… if you do this, they will consider your newsletter spam… and it is highly unlikely they will become a donor or supporter of your organization.
Growing Your Non-Profit’s E-Mail List Will Take Time
There’s no magic bullet for growing your e-mail list. Nearly every e-mail list (for both businesses and non-profits) starts off growing slow. As your e-mail list grows and you continue to communicate with your list, things usually pick up and your list starts to grow more rapidly. So, don’t be discouraged.
Growing your list takes time and commitment. One year after launching your list, you may only have 200 people on the list. After the second year, you may have 2,000 people on the list, and after the third year, you may have 8,000 people on your list. It all depends on your commitment to slowly and steadily growing your list and seeking out new subscribers.
Why Your E-Mail List Matters
Every single non-profit should be building an e-mail list. One of the biggest mistakes non-profits make online is to launch a website without building an e-mail list. These non-profits usually realize after a year or two that they should have been building an e-mail list all along, and then go back and add an e-mail sign-up form on their website. This means they lost valuable time along the way… don’t make this mistake!
Your e-mail list is the single most important asset you have for online fundraising. It’s more important than your social media presence, and it’s even more important than your website. If you want to know more about why e-mail is the killer app for online fundraising, read our recent article The Most Important Thing to Understand About Online Fundraising.
Simply put, your e-mail list is the single biggest asset you have when trying to raise money, find volunteers, or spread the word about your organization online.
How Do You Grow Your Non-Profit’s E-Mail List?
Ok, so now that you know why building an e-mail list is the most important thing you can be doing online, how do you actually go about growing your list? Here’s a simple three-step plan for building your list… whether you are starting from scratch or trying to grow the list you have already built:
#1: Make Your E-Mail List the Centerpiece of Your Website
The first step to growing your list is to make your e-mail newsletter the centerpiece of your website. Everything you do on your non-profit’s website (apart from those portions that are focused on client services) should be focused on getting people to sign-up for your e-mail list.
You should have an e-mail sign-up form on every page of your site. You should also offer people an incentive to sign-up for your newsletter… something like a free e-book or special report, or access to a free webinar or video, or some other compelling reason for them to sign-up. Tell them that when they sign-up, they will not only receive the special item via e-mail, but they will also be subscribed to your monthly newsletter and will receive updates on your work.
My general rule of thumb is this: when your board members visit your website, they should be slightly concerned about just how much you are pushing the newsletter. Yes, you should be looking for donations and talking about your programs, etc. on your website. But if at least one board member does not comment that it seems like you’re pushing the e-mail newsletter too hard, then you probably aren’t pushing it hard enough.
#2: Turn Your Subscribers into Evangelists
The second step to growing your e-mail list is to turn your e-mail subscribers into evangelists for your non-profit and for your newsletter. Primarily, this means two things:
First, while not everything you send out in your newsletter needs to be knock-your-socks-off amazing content, every once in a while, you should be sending out something that makes people stand up and take notice. This means sending out something that people want to share on social media, and that they want to forward to their friends, family, and coworkers. So, be sure you are occasionally sending out articles, statistics, videos, or infographics that are share-worthy.
Second, you should be directly asking your subscribers to forward your e-mail newsletter to their friends and colleagues. For example, let’s say you are an educational non-profit and you publish a list of tips in your e-mail newsletter to help parents better prepare their middle schoolers for high school. Why not include a big, bold ask at the end of the newsletter that says, “Do you know a parent who has a child getting ready to start high school? Forward this e-mail to them!”
Also, make sure that every newsletter you sent out has an easy to find button or link that allows people to subscribe to your e-mail newsletter. That way, if someone forwards your newsletter to a friend, the friend can easily sign-up.
#3: Ask for E-Mail Addresses Everywhere You Can
The third step to growing your e-mail list is make sure that you are asking for e-mail addresses everywhere you can. Of course, this includes asking for e-mail addresses on your donor reply cards (and noting that people will be subscribed to your newsletter when they give you their e-mail address). But it also means having newsletter sign-up sheets at your fundraising and volunteer events, at the front desk of your office, and at all of your non-ask events. Don’t be shy about asking people to subscribe to your list!
Use It or Lose It!
As you focus on growing your e-mail list, it’s important to remember that if you don’t use those e-mail addresses people are giving you, you will eventually lose them. If people sign-up for your non-profit’s e-mail list and then don’t hear from you for months, they will forget that they signed up and will see your newsletters as spam.
The same rule applies if you are only sending out a newsletter every three or four months… you won’t build the connection with your supporters that you hoped, and people will simply delete your e-mails and unsubscribe from your list as they focus on organizations that are working harder to build relationships with them.
If you want to build a strong e-mail list, you should be sending out an e-mail newsletter at least monthly, and preferably more than once per month (though most non-profits should not be sending more than one newsletter per week). Your e-mail newsletters need not be long… they can be simple updates on your work or could contain numerous articles about your programs. Either way, make sure people hear from you often!