3 min Read
February 1, 2018

Capturing email addresses online—better, faster, smarter

Whether a nonprofit’s communications goals are to raise money, galvanize support, or drive advocacy, one of the most inexpensive and effective ways to get results is by sending clear, engaging emails to a healthy list. That makes email addresses precious assets.

Most organizations rely on a “Sign up for enews” call to action as the sole option for visitors to proactively share their emails when on their website. This common organization-centric enews (or should I say “me-news?”) practice overlooks the audience’s experience for two reasons.

First, enews sign ups appear inconsistently on nonprofit websites and they’re often difficult to find buried under myriad content. To passive users, this call to action isn’t clearly visible—and so it’s unlikely they will hunt for it, find it, and then sign up.

(By “call to action,” we mean a short directive telling someone exactly what to do next after reading (or realistically, skimming) the content on a web page, email, flier, or other piece of communications collateral. That could be, “Donate,” “Learn more,” or “Follow us on Twitter!” And as a best practice, a call to action should appear on every page of a website, not just occasionally or just on the homepage.)

Second, every nonprofit must keep in mind that with perpetually overflowing inboxes, never-ending alerts, and general information overload, most people are much more reserved about giving out their email these days. Think about it. How likely are you to sign up for new things? You know that doing so may unleash a flood of emails, so you probably think twice about sharing your precious asset—or need to feel properly motivated to do so.

And let’s face it: For someone unfamiliar with an organization, who doesn’t know or understand what it does yet, an offer to receive updates about its latest programs and initiatives isn’t always all that compelling. Unless a person is already invested in or excited by a nonprofit’s work, she has little incentive to learn more about it, and even less to lower the drawbridge and let in a surge of regular emails.

It’s high time for nonprofits to stop relying on enews as the primary tactic to capture email addresses.

But if not enews, then what? Here’s what nonprofit communicators can do to break out of the “me-news” box and create smarter email cultivation tools: Get creative.

  1. Think of list-building as a meaningful transaction for both parties—and offer something audiences actually want.
  2. Brainstorm what kinds of mission-aligned content your target audiences will find valuable. Detailed user personas will help guide your thinking, and your organization’s capacity will determine what you have the resources to realistically produce.
  3. Consider gated content such as a simple PDF toolkit, checklist, or ebook. One small farmer’s market organization in California gates recipes donated by famous local chefs on their website, for example. (By “gated content,” we mean information that can only be accessed after you fill out a brief form.)

Once you’ve honed in on a few different types of gated content that your audiences may enjoy or find useful, make them! Then test out what gets the best results. Gated content can be anything you ask someone to give up their information for in exchange for access to it—and it doesn’t have to be fancy.

Here are a couple examples of nonprofits that have gotten creative with gated, audience-centric content:

  1. In addition to enews signs ups on just about every page of their website, the National Audubon Society features resources related to conservation and birding on a local level. To access their Native Plant Database, users enter their email address and zip code, and discover the best types of plants to attract birds in their own backyard.
  2. As part of a cultivation campaign, we helped Friends of UNFPA develop an online quiz about the risks mothers face in vulnerable communities around the world. Users submit their answers and receive real-time results on reproductive health—and what UNFPA does to make safe motherhood a reality. Then, they enter their name and email address to complete the quiz.

Not only is enticing new people with original and useful content a great tool to build your list, it also lays the foundation for stronger relationships with future supporters, donors, and ambassadors. Nonprofits who offer creative and relevant information build credibility and trust in a mutually-beneficial way.

Sarah Durham, Big Duck’s CEO, offers a day-long workshop on content planning and management where she explores this topic in greater depth. Be the first to know when the next workshop is by signing up for updates here.