Cultivating new email subscribers

Most of the money being raised digitally is still the result of sending the right email message to the right person at the right time. So, a good email fundraising program must be a priority for your development team. The critical stages of email fundraising include:

  1. Making it easy to sign up
  2. Finding ways to grow your list
  3. Cultivating new subscribers
  4. Managing campaigns


At the Nonprofit Technology Conference (#14NTC) just ended, I learned from the tiny  Cornell Lab of Ornithology how they successfully cultivate new subscribers. It can easily work for healthcare organizations. Their main website email newsletter is the boring old way to do things, but they offer a free download of many owl sounds (to play on your computer, or use as a ringtone?). Go to or search on their main page for “owl sounds” and choose the owl of your choice. When you click the download button, you’re asked for just your first and last name and email address.

  • First of all, their welcoming email is great. It’s simple, thoughtful, and helpful.
  • Then, three days later, they send more information about owl sounds.
  • Three days after that, they offer more content in another email.
  • Finally, six days later, there is an email invitation to become a member (various levels starting at $39).

That’s it. Four carefully timed and crafted messages in just under two weeks. From then on, you will receive their monthly e-newsletter. Slow and steady wins the race. The average first donation is given 78 days after the first download (though that varies greatly and is influenced by the season). Between four and five percent of those who download ultimately give online. Those who also provide a postal address with their subscription are included with their  direct mail acquisition program, and this is their most responsive prospect list.

One of our healthcare clients provides similar information. They reported to us that, while initial donations from a campaign to grow their list were small, they ultimately converted (within a year) at a rate of just over two percent, and that was with just a monthly email and their few email appeal messages.

You and your colleagues may have two concerns:

  1. It’s a lot of work to create an effective email welcome series, and to send these messages at the right time (if people are signing up every day, then within two weeks, you’re sending four messages every day, to the people who signed up today and 3, 6, and 12 days ago). A good email tool or online marketing platform will make it much easier to manage.
  2. You’re concerned about “over-emailing” (let’s not use the S-word) your list. This is not an excessive saturation of the list. You should track your unsubscribe rate and be concerned if it exceeds one percent per email, but you should receive very few complaints. You should also test variations to the timing and content to find the optimum sequence for your audience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s