How to find new e-mail subscribers for your organisation – the right way

We all know e-mail has transformed the way we communicate, but is your charity truly tapping into the potential of digital communications? In this article, Ephraim Gopin explains why e-mail is essential to fundraising in the modern era and shows you how to make the most of it.

Written by
Ephraim Gopin
Added
March 04, 2021

Is e-mail marketing part of your organisation’s diversified fundraising portfolio?

Actually, I should ask a different question for starters: Does your organisation have a multi-channel fundraising strategy or are you mainly relying on one specific channel, such as gala events? 

If until now you put most of your revenue eggs in one basket, I’m hoping ‘coronaworld’ has caused you to re-evaluate. 

Think about the myriad ways available to fundraise and increase mission impact in your community: corporate partnerships, monthly giving, gifts in wills (legacy giving), foundation partners, online giving, annual campaigns and of course events. A combination of methods allows you to generate revenue from multiple sources and not become overly reliant on just one source.

Another method that absolutely MUST be part of your arsenal is e-mail marketing and fundraising.

The data

Four billion. US$37 billion. 40 per cent.

Those three numbers tell the story of why e-mail is crucial to your efforts.

Almost four billion people worldwide have e-mail. That means your target audience is using e-mail, which means you need to be adding that channel as a communications tool.

According to Blackbaud, 8.7 per cent of all donations in the United States in 2018 were donated online. That equals approximately US$37 billion. Every organisation would be happy to have a piece of that pie! A major driver of online donations? E-mail. 

Over most of the last two decades, the overall retention rate in the sector has hovered at an abysmal 40-45 per cent. In terms of donors, if in 2020 you had ten donors, only four of them will stick with you in 2021. You’re now running around trying to acquire six new donors to cover the deficit. Since acquisition costs more than retention, it would be financially sound to raise your overall retention rate.

Want loyal donors? E-mail is a fantastic platform for helping with retention.

Grow that list!

E-mail marketing provides opportunities to communicate, inform and update, build relationships and eventually convert subscribers into donors. 

Growing your e-mail list is of paramount importance to your marketing and fundraising efforts. How do your increase the number of subscribers to your list? That starts with the onboarding process: encouraging people who visit your website to sign up.

Here are best practices for increasing the number of new subscribers via your website. 

Location, location, location

The upper banner of your website is NOT where your signup form should be located. 

The exact opposite is true: The signup form should be located at the bottom of every page, right above the sitemap.

It is not a given that someone will subscribe. People are wary of adding more e-mails to inboxes that are already overflowing. In order for someone to sign up, they have to understand the value in subscribing.

Every page of your website should offer users some value. Educate, emotionally move readers, connect them to what’s happening in their community. Once they arrive at the bottom of the page, they understand the value your organisation offers. They will be more accepting of a signup pitch and ready to take action.

Important: every single page on your website should have a signup banner! Check your Analytics: people are visiting different pages on your site. Not everyone visits just the homepage. They’re also reading ‘about us’ pages, programming information, testimonials, your blog and more. Therefore, every page becomes an opportunity to encourage signups.

Tips: 

  • The background color of your signup banner should stand out, so users notice it.
  • The color of the subscribe button should stand out.
  • Make sure people can sign up in that banner, rather than having to click ‘subscribe’ and then being driven to a new page to sign up. Think how we navigate sites: we want to find what we need and move on. People don’t have time to go from page to page to eventually sign up. Make the process easy and frictionless.
Your sign-up form should be located at the bottom of your website.

Bad form

Know what helps retention? Reducing friction.

Sign up forms that contain 20 fields and ask for my blood type won’t get me to sign up.

Most of the top NPOs only have one field in their subscription forms.

The only field that must appear in your signup form is e-mail address. That’s all you need to start building a relationship with a new subscriber.

Want to ask for first name? Then your welcome e-mail (and most subsequent e-mails) should address the subscriber by name. But in general, first and last name can be gathered later on. 

Or you can Sherlock Holmes the process: many people have their first names in their e-mail address. Done! Need a last name for your database? Plenty of people include their last name in their e-mail address as well. If they use a business e-mail account, simply go to the business’ website or LinkedIn and you’ll find the information you’re seeking.

But adding unnecessary fields in your signup form causes friction. Less friction = better conversion rate = more subscribers.

As an aside, the above also applies to your online donation forms. If you have too many fields users will get what I call ‘form fatigue.’ Only ask for the information you need to complete the donation transaction.

Tips: 

  • Use follow up e-mails, social media and other avenues to learn more about each subscriber.
  • Segment! Subscriber surveys and data from clicks will help you learn what types of content your subscribers are interested in. This allows you to segment your list and push content to them that will receive a high click through rate (CTR). The higher the CTR, the more traffic you’re driving to your website and mobilising people to take action.

The ask

So your form is in the right place and you have the correct amount of fields. Next step? A persuasive call to action (CTA) to encourage people to sign up.

Check out the American Cancer Society’s CTA:


The first sentence grabbed me. Who doesn’t want to help end cancer?! We all know someone ill or who unfortunately passed away from cancer. Of course I want to help end it - sign me up!

The third sentence is also good: marketing, like fundraising, is a two-way street. It’s not just always asking for money. We need to be providing added value for our donors and subscribers. In this case, the American Cancer Society is offering to educate new subscribers by

  • Sending research updates. We all want to know: are we close to finding a cure?
  • Providing healthy living tips. We all want to avoid getting cancer. Offering health tips which will help with prevention? Sign me up!
  • Words matter! Don’t just tell people to ‘sign up’ or ‘receive updates.’ Give them a reason. Tell them what they’ll be gaining by signing up.

Planned Parenthood’s CTA is: ‘Join our network and be the first to take action in the fight to protect reproductive rights.’If that mission is important to you, that CTA will definitely encourage you to sign up.

Tip:

  • Words matter! Don’t just tell people to ‘sign up’ or ‘receive updates.’ Give them a reason. Tell them what they’ll be gaining by signing up.

Encourage more signups

Knowing where to place your signup form, which field to include and what type of ask to use will help encourage more people to sign up.

As new subscribers become familiar with your organisation’s mission and work in the community, you will have opportunities to convert them into donors. Once they become donors, continue using e-mail to communicate with them! A donation should be the beginning of a long relationship. 

Remember the abysmal 40 per cent retention rate in the sector? Effective use of e-mail can significantly help your organisation retain donors year-over-year.

Editor’s note: To find out more about how e-mail can support your fundraising, please get in touch with Ephraim via his website

About the author: Ephraim Gopin

Ephraim Gopin

Ephraim Gopin is the founder of 1832 Communications, an agency which helps your nonprofit build relationships and raise more money to help you service more people. 1832 partners with nonprofits to craft strategies which upgrade their online presence, boost their -email marketing, improve their marketing collateral and strengthen their overall marketing and fundraising efforts. Ephraim is always happy to connect with nonprofit pros via Twitter, LinkedIn, his daily nonprofit newsletter or his weekly podcast.

Download Ephraim’s free ebook:How To Successfully Onboard New Subscribers To Your Nonprofit E-newsletterwhich is full of tips, best (and worst!) practices and expert advice. Learn about email marketing strategy, form location, form fields, pop-up ads, opt in on donation pages, welcome emails and much more.

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