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Unlock Deeper Engagement—Get Your Donor’s Email Address

(June 30, 2009) Nowadays, having lasting contact with donors and supporters means having their email address. Getting an email address, however, requires doing more than just asking for it. Consider what’s in it for the donor.
Alia McKee, principal at nonprofit consulting firm Sea Change Strategies, spoke with eWire this week about the importance of brining offline, “snail mail-only” donors into online contact with your organization via email.
“Email is an extremely important medium for donor cultivation and engagement,” say McKee. “It shortens response times, allows you to share breaking news and allows you to tap into donors’ social circles. Plus, having a donor’s email address is especially important for retention.” With the high cost of new donor acquisition—retention, especially now, is a priority, McKee says.

Getting an email address is important even if donors do not give online.
According to Target Analytics’ study of 2008 Internet giving, offline donors who have an email address on file, and who have no record of giving online, give far more per year and retain and reactivate at higher rates than those who do not have an email address on file. The full study from Target Analytics, a Blackbaud company, can be found here.

As the study shows, average revenue from those who have an email address on file was $65 per donor in 2008 compared with $47 per donor for those who do not have their email on file with the organization. Furthermore, the retention rate among those with email on file was 61 percent from 2007 to 2008, compared with donors who had no email on file (50 percent retention), for organizations surveyed.

So how do you get that all-important email address? It’s a matter of incentive. “You have to sweeten the pot,” says McKee. She lists a few approaches that have proved successful for her clients in moving offline donors online.
Tactic 1: Online tax receipt or other online service

One strategy used by a client of McKee was to drive donors online to view their tax receipt. A postcard was mailed promoting the new online service. To access the service, donors had to provide their email address. Donors were given an option to opt-out of future emails if they wished.
The postcard, mailed to a list of what the organization considered “high value” donors, returned impressive email list growth. The mailing got a 10 percent response rate, produced 1,000 new email addresses, and later resulted in an average donation of $5 per donor. The best part? Donors were thrilled by the availability of an online tax receipt.
Tactic 2: Invite offline donors to view webcast

Another strategy McKee used with this particular client was to extend an invitation via mail to offline donors to participate in an upcoming webcast. Again, a list of “high value” donors was invited, with registration involving giving your email address with the option to opt-out of future emails. The invitation was sent out with an already scheduled mailing. The result was a 5 percent response rate (300 people) from people who had not previously offered an email address. Plus, the organization saved money by including the notice in an existing mailing.
Tactic 3: Chaperone emails
A chaperone email is a message sent by a partnering organization on your behalf, reaching a previously untouched audience that may have shared interests and values. Your organization, in turn, sends an email to your constituents on that organization’s behalf. This is a great way—and one that is often underutilized, McKee says—of reaching potential new donors. The message can help you collect email addresses in a variety of ways similar to the offline methods.
Tactic 4: Online event hubs

Finally, McKee describes an online offering provided to donors who have registered for events, called “event hubs.” However they register for the particular event, online or off, participants are invited to learn more—from driving directions and menu options to further details about the event and its sponsors—by going online. Prominently placed on that webpage is an invitation to opt-into the organization’s online community. To join, participants must (of course) provide their email address. They can then invite their friends to join the community via an email program. These people can then opt-in, attend the event and donate, and the email list—with a little luck—starts to grow exponentially.

Tactic 5: Email appends

Email appends allow you to acquire email addresses en masse. It is important to do this strategically so as not to alienate your donors, however. You should test an opt-in append only and decide whether or not to roll out to a larger segment of the file, McKee advises.

Try one of these ideas to build your own email list. You’re likely to get a better response from your existing donors once you engage them via email. After all, McKee says, engaging an existing donor is far easier, and cheaper, than acquiring a brand new one.

Alia McKee is a principal with Sea Change Strategies, where she helps nonprofit clients innovate engaging, inspiring, and successful online fundraising, advocacy and marketing campaigns. Currently she works with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Environmental Defense Fund, the International Rescue Committee, and Conservation International among others. Visit to learn more or contact her at

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