How to Find & Cultivate Donors through Email

cultivate donors with emailThis month, I’ve been focusing on getting the best out of your small non-profit’s limited resources when it comes to fundraising and I’m delighted to introduce a guest post from Joe Garecht from The Fundraising Authority.

Joe is a fundraising expert who works with countless non-profits in the United States. Today, he tells you how to find and cultivate donors through email – a fantastic resource and an excellent way for smaller charities in particular, to be more successful in reaching out to potential donors by using their existing resources more effectively.

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Raising more money online is an oft-quoted goal for non-profit organizations.  Most charities are using the Internet, e-mail, and some social networking sites to stay in touch with donors, but many are not raising any significant revenue online, and the ones that are often feel that the amount of time they are investing is too great for the small financial return.

Today, I want to hone in on one of the best ways to raise money online: e-mail.  Let’s talk about how you can quickly and systematically grow your list and cultivate donors through e-mail.


Growing Your E-Mail Prospecting List

In order to successfully raise more money online, you’ll need to constantly add new people to your e-mail prospect list.  Here’s how…


Using Your Website to Find New E-Mail Prospects

Your organization’s website can and should be the primary source for new e-mail prospects for your non-profit.  In order to get people to give you their e-mail address and permission to send them information, you’ll need to ask them for it – and give them some great reasons to want what your non-profit has to offer.

The best way is by starting an e-newsletter for your non-profit and inviting people to sign-up for it.  Tell your website visitors you will be sending out a newsletter highlighting the issues you are working on and the people you are helping.  Make it clear that the newsletter will only come out once per quarter or once per month, and that you won’t sell, rent, or trade their e-mail address with any other person or organization. 

You can also offer a special report or whitepaper in return for the e-mail address, either with or without a newsletter.  Some organizations have also found success with offering free invitations to events in return for an e-mail address.  Whatever you do or offer, make sure to ask for an e-mail address from your visitors.

My suggestion to you is that you ask for an e-mail address on every page of your site by placing an e-mail sign-up box on the top right hand corner of every page.  Most e-mail list companies, including AWeber and Constant Contact, offer simple, copy and paste code for placing an e-mail sign-up box on your site.  When someone fills out the box and clicks “Sign Up” they will automatically be added to your list.

Many people have asked me what a good sign-up rate would be… I would say that if you are converting over 1% of your sites visitors into newsletter subscribers, you are on the right track, over 3% means you’re doing really well, and over 5% means you are knocking it out of the ballpark.


Ways to Build Your E-Mail List Offline

While the largest share of your e-mail list will be garnered through your website newsletter sign-up forms, there are several other offline ways to build your e-mail list.  They include:


(1) Donor E-Mail Addresses

Every time you send out a donor solicitation with a reply card, donor reply envelope, or a donor information sheet, be sure to include a spot that asks for an e-mail address.  You’ll want to do everything you can to make sure that as many of your donors as possible are signed up for your e-mail newsletter list.

Of course, just because someone puts their e-mail address on your donor reply card, it doesn’t mean that they are giving you permission to e-mail them every month – they may think you only need it “for your records” or for a tax receipt for their donation.  Thus, you have to make a note on your reply cards / envelopes that allows you to add the donor to your newsletter list.  There are several ways you can do this.  You can include a checkbox that says something like “Please send me your monthly e-newsletter,” or, my favorite, which is simply to include a note that all donors will receive a free subscription to the organization’s monthly e-mail newsletter as a thank you for their generous gift.



(2) Newsletter Sign-Up Sheets

You’ll also want to capture e-mail addresses (and permission to use them) at all of your organization’s events (both fundraising events and non-fundraising events).  You can do this by making sure to ask for an e-mail address (and permission to use it, as noted above) whenever you register attendees, and also by placing e-newsletter sign-up sheets around your events that ask guests to write down their name and e-mail address in order to sign-up for the newsletter.



(3) Forwarded Newsletters

A third way to gain additional newsletter subscribers, though it isn’t really an “offline” method, per se, is to make sure that there is an easy way to sign-up for your newsletter from within your newsletters and other e-mails themselves.  You may be thinking, “if I am only sending out my newsletter to people who subscribed for it, why would I need to include a “Subscribe to this Newsletter for Free” link in each newsletter?  The answer, of course, is forwards.

If your e-mail content is compelling enough, your subscribers may, from time to time, forward you newsletter on to friends, family, or colleagues who might be interested in what you have to say… when they do, if you have a “Subscribe” button or link in your newsletter, some portion of the recipients of these forwards will sign-up to receive further updates.  Make it easy for them to do so!  Every little bit helps…


Staying In Touch with Your E-Mail List

Once folks are signed up for your e-mail list, it is important that you stay in touch with them by e-mail, so that they get used to receiving e-mails from your organization.  In many cases, your readers will actually start to look forward to your newsletters, updates and e-mails.


Types of E-Mail Communications

Just as your “snail mail” communications with prospects and donors should not be all fundraising letters, so your e-mail communications with prospects and donors should not be all asks.  If they are, people will soon tune you out.

Similarly, if your e-newsletter subscribers only hear from you once or twice per year, they will either forget that they signed up for your newsletter and think you are sending spam, or they will not feel a strong enough connection with your organization to encourage them to make a gift when you do send an ask. 

The vast majority of the e-mails that you send out to your list should be non-ask e-mails, meaning that you are not including a fundraising ask in that e-letter.  This will ensure that when you do send out a fundraising e-mail, your prospects and donors are very, very responsive.

Thus, the best practice for e-mail communications for your non-profit is to send out a mix of e-mail communications to your list, including a blend of the following:


Regularly Scheduled Newsletters

Your e-newsletters form the basis of your e-mail communications strategy.  These newsletters should include a nice mix of content including information on the work you are doing, events you are holding, staff and client profiles, etc.  Each newsletter should include 1-2 pictures, and anywhere from 3-7 articles of varying lengths. 

No more than one of these articles should be about fundraising campaigns or events, or else you run the risk of having your newsletters be perceived as fundraising letters.  They’re not.  Instead, think of them as an inexpensive way to stay in touch with your friends, donors, and volunteers as well as to prime the pump for future asks.

I have found that newsletters work best when they are delivered at regular intervals, so that your prospects and donors know when to expect them.  You should send out an e-newsletter at least quarterly, and no more than monthly.

Special E-Blasts

From time to time, you may have special announcements you want to make or opportunities you want to mention to your newsletter list.  Do this through the use of one-time “E-Blasts,” which are basically short newsletters that you send out to your list on an infrequent basis.  I would recommend not sending more than 2 or 3 of these per year, or else they will start to lose some of the attention recipients give them as something “special.”

Event Invitations and Announcements

Have a seminar coming up?  Holding a walk-a-thon, fundraising event, roundtable, open house, tour, or other in-person event?  Use your newsletter list to publicize the event by sending out event invitations or announcements. 

I would generally suggest that you limit stand-alone event announcements/invitations to no more than 2 or 3 times per year, to avoid overkill.  Thus, use them only for your biggest events.  For other events, simply include a listing in your regularly scheduled e-newsletters.

Volunteer Opportunities

Many non-profits have found great success with sending out quarterly or yearly e-mails listing volunteer opportunities available with their organization.  Sending out such e-mails will also bolster fundraising by allowing prospects multiple ways to get more connected and feel like part of your team.

Fundraising E-Mails

Last, but certainly not least, are fundraising e-mails.  One of the main goals for your e-mail communication program is to raise money for your organization, so you will need to include a mix of fundraising e-mails as part of your strategy.  Remember, people don’t give unless they are asked.

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JoeGarecht The Fundraising Authority

Joe Garecht is a fundraising consultant, author and speaker and the founder of The Fundraising Authority, which offers hundreds of articles and resources for non-profits of all sizes. You can find him on Twitter at @FundraisingAuth.



[frame]I hope you enjoyed Joe’s post – and more importantly that you use his advice to find and cultivate donors using email. If you’ve any comments or questions, please leave them in the comments box below – and of course, if you’ve found a way to find and cultivate donors that has worked well for your small charity or that has completely changed the way that you work, let us know![/frame]

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