Donor Acquisition – Email

By | September 14, 2017

How do you build an e-mail fundraising program?

Donor acquisition through email is actually a two part proposition. First you have to build (or buy) a list of e-mail addresses. Then you have to turn the owners of those emails into donors.

First, build your list

There are a number of different ways to build your email list. Here are some options that you have at your disposal.

Website – The first and best way to acquire new e-mails from potential donors is to have a website that contains information that your potential donors will find relevant. Relevancy is important, because you have to compete for their attention with at least 100 million other websites. Make sure that you’re communicating your mission, providing an opportunity to subscribe to an email list, telling stories that get people excited, and providing information that they find useful.

Website pop-ups – This is closely connected with your website, but is a distinct tactic of its own. When people come to your website, you can greet them with a pop-up that asks for their email so they can get additional information. This is different from having a pop-up that asks for a donation, but you better make sure that you really are providing information that they consider important. If you’re only sending emails asking for money, that unsubscribe button is just a click away.

Social Media – Using all of the various social media platforms to cultivate an e-mail list can be time-consuming. Software like Hootsuite can help you track all of your social media posts in one place, so you don’t have to jump around from platform to platform on a daily basis. The goal of your social media should be to drive traffic to your website and encourage your followers to sign up to your email list.

Web Advertising – If you have a large enough potential audience (and marketing budget), you can create a targeted marketing campaign to drive traffic to your website and/or collect the emails of people who are interested in your mission. This is a high volume proposition, however. Thousands of people will need to see your ads before you see significant growth in your e-mail list.

List brokers – Marketing companies collect email addresses to and will rent them to you… for a price. Usually for a few cents per email address. This can be an effective way to reach new people, but you’ll only get their email address if they take some action in response to your acquisition appeal. The marketing company doesn’t typically give you the email list, they send your appeal out to the desired number of people through their own software. Make sure that your email appeal is compelling, because this is one of the most expensive ways to get emails.

Sign-up sheets – Don’t neglect offline ways to collect emails. The humble sign-up sheet, if used properly and dutifully entered into your database, can provide a continuous increase in the number of emails in your system. You can use these sign-up sheets at events, volunteer orientations, even in the back of your Church.

Direct ask – If you are in a Church or club setting, use your pulpit to ask people to give you their e-mail address. Provide an easy way to do so and be sure to follow-up. You can use a sign-up sheet or provide a way to sign up online.

WARNING – List maintenance is essential! What is list maintenance? It is the process that you put in place to make sure that good email addresses are separated from inactive ones. You also need to be sure that you aren’t sending emails to people who have unsubscribed.

Turning email addresses into money

The addresses in your database bear fruit when you convince the owners of the emails to become donors. The standard way to do this is through an acquisition campaign.

An acquisition campaign is a planned sequence of emails that seeks to encourage people to become donors to your organization. It can include a number of cultivation steps like newsletters, blog articles, surveys, advocacy opportunities (like ‘tell your congressman to do xyz!’) or offerings of branded merchandise. The goal of these cultivation steps is to help people feel more connected to your organization.

Interspersed with these cultivation steps should be a compelling donation request. This is the ‘ask,’ and this whole plan doesn’t work if you don’t include this step. The ask is simple, though extremely challenging to write. You need to share a compelling need, share what a donation would do to meet that need, and ask for the donation.

Make sure that you pay close attention to how well your email campaign is reaching your donors. Keep a close eye on the number of people who are unsubscribing from your list. This can be a critical sign that you’re overdoing it. Email marketing programs like MailChimp and Constant Contact will tell you how many people on your list are opening your e-mails, acting on your requests, or taking themselves off your list. They can also enable you to give people on your e-mail list control over how many e-mails they receive and on what topics.

You will want to keep separate email lists for people who have donated and those who have not yet donated. This way, you’ll be able to keep a running tally of how many e-mails you have from potential donors, current donors, and lapsed donors (more on them later). These lists will show you what parts of your acquisition strategy are working and which need to be adjusted.


Fundraising got your head spinning? Don’t know quite where to start? Check out Key Concepts and learn the basic ideas that will help you build and maintain a strong and growing donor base.