4 min Read
July 21, 2011

Making the most of an [online] first impression

Big Duck

There they are. Standing on your doorstep, all spiffed up and optimistic, eager to learn more about you… It’s a would-be email list member!

But before you open that door, think fast. The first weeks and months this person is on your list will be your BEST chance to increase their loyalty and likelihood to donate.

So how will you make the most of this all-important first impression?

You’ll be happy to know that making a good first impression does NOT always mean launching a super-complex welcome series.

While this option makes sense for some organizations, you can often get the most bang for your buck by with a few simple tweaks to your opt-in, landing page, and welcome language.

How can you get started? A few ideas and examples for inspiration…

1. Put yourself out there
Yep, the most annoying dating advice in the world actually holds true for online engagement as well. No one is going to join your email list if they don’t know it exists, right?

So make sure your homepage prominently highlights the ways people can join your list: by taking action, donating, or signing up. Ideally, promote them above the fold and minimize the number of clicks required to complete the action.’s homepage is a great example of smart, prominent placement:

See?’s sign-up is front and center. I don’t have to dig through the site to see how to get information, all I have to do is enter my email, city and country and BOOM I’m on the list. Lovely.

2. Invite them in nicely
Then make sure your opt-in language is both clear about why the person would want to sign-up, and written in friendly, personable language.

Network for Good has a great example of friendly, audience-centric opt-in language:

“Subscribe to our free fundraising tips newsletter. (You can always change your mind later!)”

On the face of it, this isn’t too different from your standard “Sign up for our free newsletter” opt-in. But by making it a “fundraising tips” newsletter, it highlights what I, the reader, would find useful about it. And by saying “(You can always change your mind later!)” it made signing up feel both friendly and not a big deal.

3. Be clear about who you are and what you offer
The internet is a wild and wooly place. Online audiences have to be on the lookout for spam, scams, and who knows what else. So many sure you demonstrate your credibility and value right from the start, by briefly stating what kind of content a list member can expect, and offering links to examples or archives.

Earthjustice does a great job of this on their eBrief enewsletter signup page:

By quickly offering links to their current issue and archives, the user is shown what to expect, and the list of this month’s articles gives them a quick overview of the kinds of subjects and commentary that Earthjustice provides.

4. Make it easy-breezy, especially at the beginning!
Let’s be honest–your crush would run screaming if you showed up to a first date in a wedding dress. Well new list members might do the same if you demand too much from them too soon.

Test after test has shown that the more form fields you include, the less likely people are to complete it.

Keep the bar for joining your online list low by minimizing the number of form fields you display on sign-up pages, donation forms, and take action pages.

Mercy Corp’s online sign-up is a great example of a short, user-friendly form:

5. Mind your manners–say thank you!
Once someone has signed up with your list–you want them to feel good about the decision they’ve made, right?

So mind your manners by making sure your online forms resolve to a personable thank you page. This page should thank them for joining, explain the difference you’ll be making together, and offer several ways to stay involved.

Ocean Conservancy’s thank you page for new list members is a nice example (though yours does not have to be quite so detailed, we loved the tone of the page):

6. Show them why you’re such a catch.
And last but not least–we come to the oft-neglected auto-generated welcome message to new list members.

The moments after a person has signed up are an amazing opportunity to reiterate your value and cement the relationship with a warm, friendly email that offers the reader something of value. But sadly, one-line emails with “Subscription confirmation” subject lines are still woefully common.

Instead, try making sure your welcome message is written like a letter. Open with a “Dear firstname”-type salutation, and make sure it’s signed by a person at your organization. The message should warmly thank the new list member for joining–then share some content that demonstrates why your work is valuable and relevant. Videos, blog posts and slideshows are all good possibilities here.

Though it’s not a non-profit welcome itself, John Haydon’s welcome message offers some great inspiration for the feeling you might want to capture:

While these some of our favorite big-bang-for-your-buck ways to effectively welcome new list members–it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of possible tactics. 

Any other ideas or tactics you’ve found particularly effective? We’d love to see your thoughts in the comments section!