If you’re in charge of your nonprofit’s email newsletter, I’ll bet at some point you’ve given some thought to how you can grow your list of subscribers.  And it makes sense to want to do so.  All things being equal, it’s better to increase the size of the audience you connect with on a routine basis.

But before jumping into specific techniques on how you can increase the number of people signing up for your nonprofit’s email newsletter, it’s important to quickly consider spam and what success in email communication actually means for a nonprofit.  Then we’ll get right back into the fun stuff.

Your Subscribers Need to Opt-In

If you believe people won’t mind you adding them to your email list without their knowledge simply because you’re doing good things in the world, consider this your notice of dissuasion.  Plain and simple, you should never simply be adding people to your email newsletter without them knowing.

Instead, I’d recommend looking into what’s called a “confirmed opt-in” process.  This is a fancy way of saying that no matter how a subscriber is added to your list (either by online signup form or by being manually entered by you), they’ll receive an email to confirm their desire to be added to your list.  Such an approach, while a bit more work for the subscriber, has a few key benefits:

  • Better Deliverability – Lists that require confirmed opt-in are often seen as more trustworthy and have a better chance of making it past spam filters since your subscribers are confirming their desire to receive your emails.  Plus it’s far less likely anyone will mark your newsletters as spam in the future.  If you’re taking the time to send an email newsletter, you’ll want to keep it out of the spam folder whenever possible.
  • A More Interested List – Your email list will be made up of contacts that are more interested in your cause.  If someone goes through the opt-in process, there’s a better chance they truly want to be hearing from you in the future.
  • Less Wasted Money – Many nonprofits pay for email services based on either list size or number of monthly emails.  It makes sense to ensure your list is as focused on those that want to receive your emails as possible.
  • Avoid Incorrect or Fake Signups – A subscriber won’t be added to your list until they’ve confirmed via a confirmation email.  This means you’ll avoid a list filled with misspelled, spammy or fake email addresses and help ensure you’re sending emails to people that are more likely to support your organization.
  • You’re Not a Spammer – If you are manually adding people to your list without sending a confirmation email, you have to make sure they’ve knowingly requested to be added.  If not, you’re technically spamming them, which isn’t really a game you want to get in to.

The downside to confirmed opt-in is it’s a bit more involved for a user to subscribe.  And it’s true you may lose some potential subscribers as a result.  But, if in their mind receiving your messages isn’t worth opening an email and clicking a confirmation link, I’d bet they’re not all that likely to be a strong supporter of your nonprofit.

Focus on list strength before turning your attention to list size.

Your Goal Is Not Simply to Grow Your List

It’s important to remember the size of your email list has no value in and of itself.  If you have a huge email list filled with people that don’t care about your cause and delete every email you send, your email efforts are a waste of your time.

Your goal is not simply to grow your list.  It’s to grow the number of people in your community that you engage with on a regular basis.  To grow the number of supporters with whom you’re routinely maintaining relationships.  To grow the number of people that give their time or money.

The success of your email newsletter should be measured by the way it impacts your organization’s ability to do the good work you routinely do in the community, not by how big you can grow your number of subscribers.

Now let’s get into some ways you can grow your list of dedicated email subscribers.

Offer Clear Value Upon Signup

If you’ve looked into ways to garner more signups for your email list, chances are you’ve seen this suggestion numerous times.  If potential subscribers don’t see value in signing up, they’re simply not going to do so.

The way in which you offer value to subscribers will vary based on what your audience is looking for and what you have the capacity to offer.  Some sites offer a downloadable piece of content like a whitepaper or eBook while others give a trail membership or access to a portion of the website.  Regardless of the route you go in offering value, doing so has two primary benefits:

  1. A potential subscriber is more apt to provide you their email address if they see immediate value in doing so.
  2. Offering value upfront establishes a precedent that your nonprofit will be providing valuable content to your audience.

As long as you continue to deliver on providing value to your community, you should be able to maintain an active, healthy list of email subscribers.

Make Use of an Online Archive

Many potential subscribers will want a sample of past newsletters to get a feel for the kind of information you tend to send out.  An online archive of past newsletters can be an effective way to let those interested visitors see what they should expect to receive from you in the future.  If your newsletter is strong, an online archive can help you grow your subscription list.

Many email services make it easy for you to maintain an updated online archive.  If the service you’re using does not (and you don’t want to switch to one that does), you can manually create one to put on your website using screen captures or PDFs of old newsletters.  While not ideal, such a manual archive will at least give potential subscribers a flavor of what you’ll be sending their way if they decide to sign up.

Put Signup Forms in Multiple Locations

You don’t know at what point in perusing your website a visitor will decide they’re ready to sign up for your newsletter.  But, whenever they reach that decision, you need to make sure it’s easy for them to do so without hunting for the appropriate page.

Consider putting a simple signup form in a fixed location, like in the header, footer or sidebar of your website.  That way, no matter when they’re ready, your visitors will be able to easily add themselves to your mailing list.

Put a Signup Form on Your Contact Page

This is a pretty straightforward suggestion that is seldom implemented.  If a visitor navigates to your Contact page, they’re at least moderately interested in your organization.  Maybe they want to reach out.  Even if they just want to know where you’re located, that’s still an indication they have a certain level of interest in what your nonprofit is doing.

Capitalize on your visitor’s interest by giving them the opportunity to sign up for your email newsletter.  If nothing else, it gives a visitor that may not be ready to actually get in touch an option to connect with your nonprofit.  And the more options you give a visitor, the more likely it is they’ll find one that feels right to them.

Integrate Signups Into Other Forms on Your Website

There are likely multiple places on your website where visitors enter their email addresses already.  While you can’t just grab their email address and add them to your mailing list, you can give them the option to sign up.  It can be something as simple as adding a checkbox on the form they’re already filling out that allows them to opt-in to your mailing list.

You may want to consider adding such an option in the following spots on your website:

  • The contact form on your Contact page (a good suggestion from the folks at MailChimp Support)
  • The form to register for an upcoming event
  • Your donation form
  • The form to register to volunteer

People that are filling out a form on your website are clearly interested in your nonprofit.  It makes sense to give them the option to join your mailing list during a process they’re already completing.

Place Your Privacy Policy Near Your Signup

First of all, you need a privacy policy.  It doesn’t have to be full of legalese and impossible for the layperson to understand (in fact, it should be quite the opposite).  You just need to tell people what information you’re collecting and how you will and won’t use it.

By putting it alongside your email signup, it shows your potential subscribers that you don’t have anything to hide.  A visitor shouldn’t have to hunt for your privacy policy.  It can also provide a sense of comfort to those that are actually interested in reading it before signing up for your mailing list.

Plus, as long as you abide by the terms you outline in your privacy policy, it also protects you legally, which is always a good thing to keep in mind.

Instill Confidence at the Point of Signup

People like to know they’re not the only ones providing you their email address.  There’s an interesting article on Copyblogger about the role social proof can play in convincing someone to sign up for your email list.  What it boils down to is the idea that people place value in the fact that others have done something before them.

If you can show others have signed up and found it rewarding, it can increase the likelihood a new subscriber will do so as well.

Here are a few ways you can instill confidence at the point of signup:

  • Provide Subscriber Numbers – If you have a large number of subscribers, consider showing it off.  But remember, this strategy only works if your subscriber list is large enough to make a potential subscriber feel confident in their decision.
  • Provide Aggregated Numbers – Some organizations combine the number of email subscribers with their social media following to help showcase their overall following online.  Just make sure you’re transparent in explaining where your numbers are coming from.
  • Provide a Testimonial – Some organizations offer a short testimonial near their signup form to help showcase the benefits of signing up.  It’s even more effective if the testimonial is from someone that’s well known and respected.

Make Your Newsletters Easy to Forward

People respond well to recommendations from those they trust.  As such, adding a simple “Forward to a Friend” link in your email newsletter can help to improve the reach of your messages and add interested subscribers to your email list.  Such a link can turn your subscribers into brand advocates, allowing them to send your message to their friends.  Additionally, the recipients of forwarded messages will likely be fairly receptive to at least exploring your organization if someone they trust is sending it their way.

Make Sure You Offer Value in Your Emails

If your emails are terrible, none of the above will matter.  Remember, the goal is not to simply get signups.  They’re a means to an end – namely your nonprofit’s ability to serve your community.  Deliver on the promises you make to your subscribers and provide them with value in each and every message you send their way.

Access Our Nonprofit Newsletter Virtual Library

Get on the right track with your email newsletter strategy using tips, examples and resources from the Wired Impact team and other nonprofit marketing experts. You’ll find links to top advice on topics like email design, strategy best practices, measurement, and list management.

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How to Get More Subscribers for Your Email List – Copyblogger

MailChimp Support

What Is Confirmed Opt-In? – AWeber Support