The Yin and Yang of Building Email Lists

Yin and Yang – the concept of two forces co-existing in harmony as opposites– isn’t often what one thinks about when considering how to grow an email list. But recent changes by email service providers like Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook now makes this ancient idea incredibly relevant today.

Why? For nearly two decades, online fundraising was simply seen as a numbers game and bigger was better. This led to acquisition tactics like iPad giveaway contests, buying lists and hiding unsubscribe buttons and practices of “email blasts.”

While these practices grew the size of lists, they created an explosion of email and over time an increasing number of complaints. Email service providers began worrying that the volume of messages would drive people away from email and started prioritizing email delivery for organizations that sent content that was read, clicked and forwarded. But, with engagement a key factor for delivery, some donors and advocates stopped receiving email from organizations they supported.

To be able to consistently reach supporters and grow strategically, social good organizations need to rebalance the Yin and Yang of their acquisition and engagement tactics.

Balancing the Yang: 3 Tactics for Healthy Acquisition

The key to a healthy and growing email list is emphasizing quality over quantity. Instead of measuring size, new metrics such as deliverability rates, open rates, click-thru rates and conversions are used to assess the quality of your growth and help determine the return on investment.

As you look to reshape acquisition tactics toward quality over quantity, there is one core principle that should be applied: clearly articulate the value of being an email subscriber and set expectations to prospective subscribers

Keep that principle in mind when using these three tactics to recruit new supporters:

  1. Email Signup Forms: Your website is often the first place a prospective donor turns to when considering a gift or a source of information for supporters aligned with your cause. Your sign-up form should be short, direct and clear about the types and frequency of communications. Consider adding popup forms on your most visited pages. While often seen as obtrusive, they are a proven tactic to bring in more names.
  2. Tell-a-Friend Campaigns: Your existing supporters are one of the best sources for recruiting new supporters. Friends trust friends. Leverage your existing supporters and create dedicated tell-a-friend campaigns asking them to share, especially when your issues are in the news.
  3. Social Media & Advertising: Your followers are already half-way there to subscribing to your email list – provide opportunities on social media to drive them to your sign-up forms. Leverage advertising on your social platforms to help identify and reach out to people who “look like” your existing supporters.

While articulating the value of being an email subscriber is the best step to getting quality supporters, there are some ways that technology can help as well. Using CAPTCHAs, double opt-ins and/or real time validation tools can make sure that the emails added to your list are valid constituents.

Balancing the Yin: 3 Tactics to Keep Your Supporters Engaged

First impressions are everything. Your first step to engaging your supporters is to acknowledge them immediately and welcome them to your organization. Typically, this is done through a multi-part Welcome Series where you introduce what you do, what you believe in and the role that they can play to help further the work and mission.

Once welcomed, you are ready to bring your supporters into your regular messaging. But you need to think of your messaging like a story – it needs connections from the beginning, middle and end. If your supporters don’t know the path you are leading them on, they’ll quickly abandon you. Think about the long-term campaigns, the story they tell and what role the supporter can play. By developing a yearly campaign and communications calendar, you can be sure to lead your supporters on a meaningful journey.

Once you have your story down, try using these three tactics to keep your supporters engaged throughout the year:

  1. Provide Relevant Content: In an era where we are given custom recommendations from Amazon, Netflix and Spotify, your supporters expect content relevant to their interests. Use surveys, monitor which of your content they consume the most and leverage social listening tools to identify interests and deliver content that will delight.
  2. Keep it Fresh: If you don’t have the ability (or time) to segment your audiences, be sure to vary the look and types of content you provide. Be sure to change up the names of those who your emails are from—you’ll find your supporters will react differently to new names and genders.
  3. Deepen the Relationship: Offer your supporters ways to get more involved through volunteering, attending events, serving as advisors, leading peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns or becoming donors.

Sometimes, no matter how well you execute your engagement strategies, you have supporters who are no longer interested in your organization. That’s ok, not every relationship works out. By keeping your focus on quality over quantity, begin by trying a specific re-engagement campaign with your supporters who haven’t opened an email in the last 3-6 months.

Your re-engagement campaign should remind supporters why they first joined your organization, offer the opportunity to get back involved and if they still aren’t interested, they should be opted out from future messaging.

Maintaining the Balance for Growth

Achieving balance between Yin and Yang is a life-long pursuit and it is no different here. Your tactics and strategies for acquisition and engagement will always be changing. Tools like A/B testing, delivery metrics, and reporting on long-term ROI will help inform you on the best ways to keep in balance.

Surely there will be changes in the practices of email service providers and in acquisition strategies in the future. Keeping the big picture of sustainable, quality growth in mind, you’ll be able to keep both of these forces in harmony.