The Care and Feeding of Your Email List

By Jennifer L. HippleWriter, editor, internal and external communications specialist, aspiring astrophysicist



Your email distribution list is one of the most valuable tools your nonprofit possesses. But how well is it working for you? At its best, it provides a conduit for connecting to new people who have expressed interest in your mission, helps you communicate with your database (about all the great work you’re doing), and supports your fundraising efforts. Treating it as a living, breathing animal that needs ongoing care and attention will help ensure it’s working hard for you. Yes, keeping our email lists current can be a challenge as people opt out of email subscriptions, change their email addresses—or just drop off for any variety of reasons. Another challenge is ensuring those who wish to be added to your email list actually land on it.

Tips for Creating and Sustaining a Healthy Email List So, how can you ensure you’re getting the most from your email list? Here are some ideas to keep in mind:

#1: When you send an email, make sure it’s got strong content. Keep the messaging crisp, clean, and interesting so people will want to stay connected. Include a quote from a client, volunteer, or employee next to a “subscribe” or “opt in” button and encourage people to share their love of your organization by forwarding the message to others and asking them to (opt-in) subscribe as well.

#2: Do some spring cleaning. Create a separate distribution list for those who haven’t opened an email from you in over a year. Send them an attention-grabbing “opt-in” message and encourage those who wish to stay connected with you to re-opt in. And, add a note that you’ll remove those from your email lists who don’t respond. You’ll greatly reduce the number of “bounce-backs” you receive.

#3: Ask your employees to add a hyperlink in their email signatures to your organization’s website. The link should take people directly to the home page where they can sign up to be on your mailing list. Again, as in Tip #1, include a quote from a client, volunteer, or employee about the impact your organization is making in the community.

#4: Ask visitors to your website if they would like to share feedback with you and/or if they have a question about your mission. Add a short form (that takes just a minute to fill out) to a couple pages on your website. Collect only the bare minimum of information at this point (name and email only). When you respond to them (in a timely fashion!) ask if you can add them to your email list.

#5: Include calls-to-action on several (high-traffic) pages of your website to sign up for your newsletter, to volunteer, or make a donation (such as the “About Us” page and the “Contact Us” page). Make sure the person(s) who tracks these elements on your website forwards names and email addresses to the keeper of your email distribution list.

#6: Use your social media presence to draw people closer to your organization by OCCASIONALLY asking followers to sign up for your email list (include a link to your website where they can enter their name and email). Avoid constant asks (e.g. every post) to join your list. Tell them what you are offering such as “Sign up to receive periodic email updates about our mission and volunteer opportunities.”

Choose Quality Over Quantity Having a smaller list of people who have expressed interest in your organization is preferable to a huge list of names with which you have no connection or engagement. Updating and growing your email list requires ongoing effort. Identifying the tactics that work best for your organization is well worth the effort.