Last month, in preparation for sending out her end-of-year appeal to obtain donations before the tax year closes, a client asked for advice on where she could go to purchase a list of email addresses of suitable donor prospects. While there are indeed vendors that sell email lists, I told her that I don’t recommend doing so. Purchasing email lists is totally different from buying postal addresses, a common practice among nonprofit leaders who want to reach segments of the community to either inform individuals about their services or request financial support. However, buying an email list is no way to reach your constituents.
Think about when you receive an unsolicited email from someone you don’t know. If you’re like I am, you simply delete it without looking at it and, if you bother to take the time, you then unsubscribe yourself and may even report it as SPAM. According to a study conducted by MailChimp, a permission-based email service provider, that doesn’t allow users to send to purchased, rented, scraped, or stolen lists of email addresses, purchased email lists result in an open rate of less than five percent, with a click through rate of less than point-two percent. If you are going to send email, you’re wasting your time if you can’t get an open rate of at least 20 percent. Besides, many email service providers will shut you down if they discover you’ve purchased an email list.
Building your donor list isn’t about sending massive amounts of emails to unknown people in hopes that you’ll find people willing to send you a few dollars because your programs tug at their heartstrings. It’s about building relationships with individuals who are passionate about your mission, want to support your good work, and trust that your organization will be a good steward of their precious resources.
Developing a good email list should be part of an organization’s total year-round outreach strategy, not some flash-in-the-pan.
The best way to get qualified email addresses is to create an opt-in email list. Be sure to include an opportunity for people to provide their email address every time someone attends any of your events or responds to anything you send them through the US mail. A great way to get email addresses is to provide something of value, such as a newsletter, that people can receive if they can subscribe to it on your website through a subscribe button that’s easy to find. Some organizations are offering free webinars, requiring those who attend to provide their email addresses, as a way to obtain email subscribers.
One of the most effective methods of obtaining email addresses is by creating a blog that appeals to the type of donor you want to cultivate. Then, offer to provide something that’s free and of value to the blog readers if they take action by providing their email address. Examples of free, useful products that nonprofit blog readers may value include checklists, white papers, tip sheets, and guidebooks related to the nonprofit’s mission. An organization that provides grief services for children might provide tips on actions adults can take to help a grieving child. A senior services provider could provide a guidebook on ways to prevent elder abuse. An organization that supports early literacy may offer a white paper on the benefits of using technology to help children read at grade level by the end of third grade.
Another way to build an email list is to partner with a business or another nonprofit organization that already has a robust email address list with the types of donors you may wish to attract. For example, a for-profit business that supports foster youth through its corporate giving program may be willing to send a holiday email to its customers, asking them to support a particular charity that also supports foster youth.
While sending an email requesting year-end donations from individuals who have already willingly provided their email address is a great way to reach donors, it’s no way to start a relationship. Instead, make it your New Year’s resolution to build an email mailing list of individuals who really care about your mission so you have a good, solid list in time for your 2017 year-end appeal.