The first step in any effective email marketing strategy is to build an email file -- the fuel for your email marketing efforts. Many nonprofit groups discover that -- despite their large and detailed constituent databases -- they have few supporter email addresses on record. Although the prospect of building a usable email file can appear to be daunting, you can easily grow your email file using several proven tactics.
1) GATHER EMAIL ADDRESSES OFFLINE
Even if you are just starting out with an online presence, you can easily begin developing your email file by integrating email address collection into your existing marketing or fundraising initiatives. Every time you communicate with supporters or prospects, take advantage of the opportunity to collect email addresses.
a) Gather addresses through every interaction
Planned interactions such as renewal appeals, membership drives and event invitations are perfect times to ask for email addresses. Simply add a field for email collection to all response forms. At events where you will interact with a large number of constituents, consider setting out a newsletter sign-up sheet, or conduct a giveaway for attendees who drop in cards with their names and email addresses.
b) Promote the benefits of email communication
When asking for email addresses offline, emphasize to constituents the benefits of providing this information. Remind constituents that communicating with them online saves your organization money and administrative manpower, allowing more funds and human resources to go directly to fulfilling the organization’s mission. Also, underscore the advantages of timely communication -- with email, the organization can respond in real-time to compelling events and update constituents quickly about important news, developments, events and programs.
2) GATHER EMAIL ADDRESSES ONLINE
Your Web site is the best source for reaching new prospects and existing constituents, and collecting their email addresses. Web site visitors are interested in your organization (or they would not be coming to your site) and are good prospects for providing their email addresses.
a) Drive traffic to your Web site with every communication
Maximize Web site traffic by including your URL wherever you list phone numbers, mailing addresses or other contact information. This includes brochures, advertisements, staff email signatures, voice messages, phone “hold” or introductory messages, and business cards. Tell prospects and supporters about the resources available to them on the Web site and keep the online content current, informative and engaging so visitors will return.
b) Promote the benefits of online registration
Make registration compelling for site visitors so they will provide the information. Create special benefits for registered members, and link to a separate page explaining the perks, such as free email newsletters, advance notification of upcoming events, members-only pricing for ticket sales or special premiums. Then, invite site visitors to register by using an action phrase such as "Register to receive updates" or "Sign up for our educational newsletter."
c) Provide an online registration mechanism
Use a Web-based form that allows site visitors to register and automatically captures their information in an online database. The registration form should be easy to read and fast to complete. Minimize the number of required fields that registrants have to complete -- the more fields, the greater the disincentive to register. Provide examples if the system requires data to be entered in a particular way (i.e., "Please enter dates in mm/dd/yyyy format") to avoid frustrating registrants.
d) Use "quick registration"
Instead of requiring site visitors to complete a lengthy registration form, consider requesting only basic information (such as name and email address) in order for a supporter to sign up to receive updates, email newsletters and other communications. Once you have captured this basic information, use follow-up communications such as online surveys to gather more information about each constituent, e.g., interests, motivation for getting involved with your organization, etc.
e) Give site registration prominent and clear placement
Dedicate a consistent area of your home page to promoting online registration. Place it in an eye-catching spot “above the fold” to reflect its importance. Consider using an image or graphic to draw attention to this message. Promote registration throughout the rest of your Web site by, for example, including a registration link on every page.
3) LIST-BUILD THROUGH VIRAL MARKETING
"Forward to a friend" email campaigns, also known as viral marketing, can help you reach new supporters and grow your email file efficiently. In a viral campaign, the organization sends an email with a call-to-action (such as a solicitation for donations, event invitation or public policy action alert) to the existing email file, or to selected groups of constituents in the file. The email also asks recipients to forward the message to friends, relatives and co-workers so they, too, can get involved. When a new supporter from this previously untapped network of friends clicks through to your Web site to register and take action, you can request permission to communicate with them in the future. Imagine the effect of one person sending 10 emails, and then each friend forwarding another 10, and so on. If this happens five times, a single email would reach 100,000 people.
Email greeting cards, or "ecards," are another way to build an email address list through viral marketing. With ecards, constituents can create their own emails -- using your email greeting card template, with your organization's branding -- to send to their friends and family.
4) USE AN EMAIL APPENDING SERVICE
If you have an extensive donor or supporter database, but only a small number of current email addresses, consider using an email appending service to quickly begin connecting with supporters via email. These services add a constituent’s email address to the constituent’s existing record in your database. The email address is obtained by matching records from your database against a third-party database to produce a corresponding email address. However, match-rates vary, and while appending solves the problem of matching email addresses to current supporters, it is not a substitute for a long-term strategy to build and maintain your email file.
Although building an organization’s email file can seem like a huge undertaking, using some basic techniques makes it simple to get started or accelerate the growth of an existing list. And in today’s increasingly wired world, developing and maintaining a good email file is one of the most important things you can do to support your organization’s direct marketing and constituent communications. With these simple and effective steps, your organization can begin building an email file of interested constituents and you’ll be on your way to a more effective email marketing program.
About the author: Gene Austin is CEO of Convio, Inc. Austin is a Fortune 500 technology veteran, with more than two decades of experience in product management, marketing and sales as well as leading aggressive growth of business units at large corporations. Gene has an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis and a BS in Engineering Management from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Read more about this topic by downloading “The Basics of Email Marketing for Nonprofits: Using Email Communications to Build and Strengthen Constituent Relationships Online” at www.convio.com/emailguidedownload.