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Innovate and Invest to Grow Your List and Community

Avi Kaplan Avi Kaplan Director of Project Management, PS Digital

Smart fundraisers and nonprofit marketers are always looking for effective strategies to grow their organization’s supporter base. Despite our best efforts to engage lapsed donors, the truth is that some amount of list churn is inevitable. Nonprofits need to prioritize list growth to grow and to account for this attrition.  According to the 2017 M+R Benchmarks report, the average email list churn for nonprofits is 14%.

This means that in order to simply maintain their current list size, nonprofits need to continually invest their time, money, and energy into acquiring new supporters. Without investing in growth, your list of subscribers and potential donors naturally gets smaller each year. If you’re not swimming,  you’re sinking.

Fortunately, there are many tried and true strategies to grow your list as well as many emerging tactics and effective technologies worth testing. Let’s dive in!

Leverage Your Website

It may be obvious, but your website is a great source of new subscribers you may be missing.

Retargeting – Many potential constituents may not subscribe the first time they visit your website. They may have come to your site to read an article that a friend shared, searched for your site after reading an op-ed from your Executive Director, or found your site while searching for information about an issue your organization focuses on. These people may just be stopping by on the first visit to your website, but don’t let that be the end of their introduction to your organization.

With retargeting campaigns from Facebook, Google, and other advertising networks, you can continue to engage these site visitors with information about your organization and opportunities to take action and subscribe. These campaigns are effective and easy to set up so don’t ignore this strategy.

Lightboxes – Test a lightbox call-to-action – we’ve shared some strategies for email acquisition in the past including Lightboxes. Don’t ignore this strategy. It’s easy to implement a sign-up form in a pop-up lightbox and worth running a test.

Optimize sign-up forms – Visitors may be ready to sign-up for your list, but if they can’t complete the process or find the form, you’ve lost them. Test your sign up forms! Try different locations on the page. If the sign-up is tucked away in the footer, try bringing it to the masthead or somewhere central on the homepage. Many nonprofits present sign-up forms directly below the main photo or hero area on their site homepage.

Optimize for mobile visitors – The lowest hanging fruit here is to ensure that your website is mobile responsive and creates a positive user experience for users on all types of devices and screen sizes. Specifically for your sign-up and donation forms, consider increasing the size of the email and address fields. Small input boxes are harder to tap and enter text into on mobile devices.

Leverage Your Current Supporter List

Look-alike advertising – Facebook offers advertising options to target your current email subscribers using custom audiences. Once you upload your current subscribers you can also create a look-alike audience which targets  other Facebook users with similar interests. The idea is that people with similar interests to your subscribers  are more likely to your mission.

Digital append – Depending on the size of your direct mail list, it’s likely that the majority of your direct mail subscribers do not also subscribe to your emails. Direct mail subscribers have shown they are committed to your work in some way and engaging them through digital channels can deepen their connection to your cause. These are warm leads so they are likely to be receptive to your digital outreach. You can follow implement a digital append in a number of ways.

  • There are email append services that will process your mailing address file and send sign-up emails to these supporters on your behalf. Depending on the size of your direct mail file, if you get even a 5% match rate from the append you could gain a significant number of new subscribers. Many organizations run these kinds of email appends on an annual basis.
  • Target your direct mail subscribers with digital advertising. Facebook and other ad networks offer options to upload mailing addresses to match and target ads people on social media. This is similar to Facebook’s custom audiences mentioned earlier.

Chat Bot Sign-Ups

The rise of messaging bots is a growing trend making its way to ecommerce and online advertising. Many organizations use mobile text engagement to alert people of new action opportunities, conduct surveys, and collect email and other contact information. Services like Mobile Commons can respond with the appropriate prompt or link depending on the specific keywords that people text to your organization’s five digit shortcode.

Facebook Messenger recently opened its platform to similar engagement with Messenger as a Destination ads that users can chat with. The new @Mssg app is a powerful tool nonprofits can use to acquire new donors and email subscribers using this conversational approach. If your organization and is invested in Facebook advertising on a regular basis, @Mssg is worth testing. @Mssg is a young product, but the initial results are impressive with @Mssg bot ad campaigns getting up to five times better conversion rates compared to control group ads that link to landing pages.

Engage New Subscribers

Of course, earning someone’s attention is just the start of your work. It’s hard enough to grow your list in the first place, but nonprofits can’t afford to take new subscribers and donors for granted. Whether someone subscribes to your email list, follows your organization on Facebook or another social network, or opts-in to receive text updates on their mobile phone, it’s your job to continually prove your value. People will quickly tune out unless you continue to update them about the impact of your work and programs and provide engaging opportunities to make a difference. The first message someone receives after initial sign-up provides the highest open and click-through rates and offers the best opportunity to engage new subscribers. So don’t miss out on that potential—welcome your subscribers into your organization with a well-crafted welcome series.

What’s working for you? How are you experimenting and investing to earn people’s attention and grow your list?

About the Author

Avi Kaplan
Avi Kaplan Director of Project Management, PS Digital

Avi is an expert digital marketing and technology strategist with over ten years of experience producing digital campaigns, engagement strategies, websites, and complex applications for nonprofits and social causes. He has led successful projects with nonprofit clients including American Red Cross, Ceres, Union of Concerned Scientists, Hillel International, Auburn Seminary, and others. Avi is interested in how organizations can invest in creative content and analytics to maximize digital, mobile, and social engagement. He has presented for the Nonprofit Technology Conference, BridgeCon, TechSoup, and the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference. He lives and explores in Washington DC with his wife Rella and son Ronen.