May 21, 2008 | Categories Nonprofit Technology, Social Fundraising

How to Build a Nonprofit Email Database

How to Build a Nonprofit Email Database

Should My Nonprofit Collect Email Addresses?

Yes. Definitely yes. Email is far and away the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to communicate with donors, volunteers and other constituents, but most non-profits have current email addresses for only a small percentage of their mailing list.

How Can I Improve the Size and Accuracy of My Email List?

  1. Include a space for email address on every type of reply tool you use. That not only includes solicitation response forms, but also event registrations, volunteer forms, sponsorship forms, etc. It seems basic but I often see ones without it.
  2. Give them a reason to provide the email address. Indicate that you can and will email them a receipt or confirmation more promptly with their email address.
  3. Use online forms not just to collect donations but for volunteer sign-up, petitions, information requests. etc. Such forms can not only make it easier for constituents to take desired actions, but can also ensure you collect email addresses from everyone who completes the form. This is because website visitors consider it natural for you to request their email for an online interaction. Additionally you can easily make email address a required field on your form.
  4. If you don’t currently send constituents an e-newsletter or e-alerts on important issues — start. It doesn’t need to be very frequent — a couple of times a year is fine. Its a nice benefit for those who want to stay informed of your activities and is another reason for them to provide you their email address. With appropriate software (here is a great tool we offer our clients, but any nonprofit can sign up for a 60-day free trial and special discounted non-profit rate) you can also monitor if your email is being received and opened. Make sure you offer constituents the option to opt out of receiving this type of mailing if they want — so they never feel they are being spammed by you.
  5. Make sure a Join Our Mailing List option is prominently displayed on many (if not all) of the pages of your website.
  6. Verify the email address you have on file every time you receive an email from a constituent. An effective Nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) System can make this simple by allowing you to quickly link emails to donor records using the email address. If the email address isn’t found you can then search for and update the appropriate constituent record.
  7. Send constituents a simple postcard (or call them) whenever you find you have a bad email address. They’ll be impressed that you care that your communications are reaching them and will usually provide their new email address. Particularly if you make it easy for them — just give them an email address to send it to and remind them to include their name and phone #. A simple contact information update on your website can also work well.
  8. Do an online survey. Use a simple and cost-effective online survey tool like Constant Contact to collect constituent opinions on issues related to your cause. It’s not only a great way to learn about what your constituents are thinking, but can generate email addresses from them. To make this most effective you should mail constituents a card or letter requesting that they complete the survey by going to the appropriate web address (URL).
  9. Consider using an email appending service. Such services can provide you the email addresses for many of your constituents based on their name and address. The service can be fairly expensive and is certainly not going to be perfect, but can be one of the quickest ways to add email information for constituents.
  10. Most people have more than one email address so ask for and keep track of multiple email addresses for constituents. By collecting home and work emails you increase your chances of being able to reach donors by email. If you do keep more than one email address it is important to ask and record which email address they prefer you send to. The additional email might only be used if email to the other address becomes undeliverable.

Not all of these ideas are going to make sense for your organization, but pick the few that you think are appropriate and set a goal for expanding your email list this year. Its an investment for the future that will really pay off.

Editor’s Note: After you’ve built your email database, learn how to ensure your emails are read and acted upon. Read The Four Questions You Should Ask Every Time You Send an Email

Written by Amanda Foran
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