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Building a nonprofit email list: 10 standout strategies

August 28, 2020
These nonprofit staff members are working at their desk to build nonprofit email lists.

Email marketing is one of the most reliable and cost-effective communication methods that nonprofit organizations can use to reach current and potential supporters. From monthly newsletters to event updates to donation confirmations, there are countless types of supporter emails your nonprofit can send. Plus, leveraging marketing automation capabilities helps ensure your messages reach their target audience at the right time.

However, making the most of email marketing requires your organization to have a robust contact list. To help you build this list, this guide will cover 10 top strategies to gather current and potential supporters' contact information, many of which are free to utilize. Let’s get started.

1. Review your nonprofit’s saved contacts

In recent years, four providers have dominated the email market landscape: Apple Mail, Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo! Mail. If your nonprofit uses any of these services, the email address of anyone who sends you an email and anyone who receives an email from you will automatically be saved in an area dedicated to contact management.

By navigating to this area of your email provider, you’ll find countless contacts that are organized and ready to be exported to your email marketing software. Make sure to reconcile the exported information with the contacts already in your marketing tools and CRM platform so your data remains clean and free of duplicates.

2. Reach out to lapsed supporters

Another way to keep your supporter contact data clean is to create an “inactive” list of email addresses you no longer need to send messages to due to lack of engagement. However, there are likely some supporters who have recently lapsed but want to connect with your nonprofit again in the near future.

On your “inactive” list, include all email recipients who haven’t opened your emails within a specific time frame (many organizations choose either the past 6 months or the past 12 months). Then, send a poll to everyone on that list asking if they would like to continue receiving communications from your organization. To prompt recipients to open this email, try using a personalized subject line such as, “[Supporter name], we miss you!”

If a recipient responds “No” to your poll or doesn’t open the email, keep them on the “inactive” list and stop sending them emails. But for those who respond “Yes,” move their email address back to your regular contact list.

3. Check your virtual event platform for attendee emails

Similarly to your saved contacts and “inactive” list, you probably have new supporter emails hiding in the virtual event platforms you use. Take some time after your events to move this data to your marketing tools and CRM, filtering out duplicates as needed.

Make sure to add a tag in your CRM denoting which contact information came from your event software. Participating in a virtual event is higher on the nonprofit ladder of engagement than just visiting a website or opening an email from your organization. So, these supporters are likely committed to your organization and its purpose, which can help shape your communication with them.

4. Leverage the forms on your nonprofit website

Your nonprofit website is a key tool for supporter engagement, so it’s a great place to collect supporters’ email addresses. There are several forms on your site that you can use to do this, including:

Integrated fundraising software makes it easy to move these contacts from your website to your donor database and onto your email list. Note in your CRM which form each supporter filled out so you can track their engagement history.

5. Offer downloadable resources

Another way to collect email addresses through your nonprofit website is to offer resources for supporters to download, such as:

  • A PDF version of your annual report.
  • Infographics explaining aspects of your cause.
  • Advocacy campaign information.
  • Kid-friendly worksheets to help engage young families in your community.

Set up the downloads so that supporters have to enter their email addresses to access the resource. Their contact information will then directly transfer to your CRM so you can add it to your email list.

6. Launch an online petition

If your organization participates in advocacy, you’ve likely used online petitions as part of your campaign strategy. Petitions not only give supporters a platform to demonstrate their support for your cause, but they also provide you with new email addresses to add to your contact list. Because online petitions are easy to share on social media, you’ll likely reach new supporters who may not have heard of your organization but are interested in your campaign.

7. Run a peer-to-peer campaign

Peer-to-peer fundraising also allows you to collect new supporters’ contact information through social sharing. When campaign participants share their individual fundraising pages with their friends and family, they expose new potential donors to your cause—who have to input their email addresses to donate.

Send an automatic confirmation email to every campaign donor, and add their names to your email list with a note saying they came from a peer-to-peer fundraiser. Then, you can send them additional information and resources to help them get more involved with your nonprofit.

8. Collaborate with corporate sponsors

Many nonprofits partner with businesses to offset various costs, especially when planning fundraising events. These corporate sponsors are usually very willing to help in order to grow their corporate social responsibility programs and receive the benefit of free advertising by the nonprofit in return.

Corporate sponsorships can also be useful for adding new individuals to your email list. The business’s customers and employees may become interested in your nonprofit because of the partnership, so they’ll sign up for your newsletter or register for the event being sponsored. Because sponsorships should be mutually beneficial, encourage your nonprofit’s staff and supporters to get in touch with the business as well.

9. Place digital ads on search engines and social media

Digital advertising is a cost-effective but often overlooked way for nonprofits to expand their reach in the community. Both Microsoft and Google offer ad grant programs in which eligible nonprofits receive a monthly advertising stipend on search engines. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram also offer inexpensive, easy-to-manage advertising opportunities. Use these ads to direct traffic to the website forms where supporters can input their emails.

10. Ask for supporter feedback

Allowing supporters to respond to surveys or leave reviews on your nonprofit’s website provides yet another opportunity for them to provide their email addresses. In addition, asking supporters for their feedback shows that your organization values them, which encourages them to continue engaging.

Email list-building reminders

No matter which of the above strategies you use to build your email list, keep in mind that some individuals will inevitably unsubscribe or opt out of your communications. Don’t allow that natural response to discourage you, though—if you focus on creating valuable email content, loyal supporters will continue to read your messages and take action.

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