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How Nonprofits Can Get More Email Signups By Being More Conversational

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How to Use Social Media to Improve Donor Loyalty

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nonprofit email signups

Have you ever found yourself talking back to your television? Or when an annoying ad unexpectedly starts playing on a webpage, do you start asking it questions, like “Why! Where did you come from?!” Even though you know it’s not going to answer you?

I know it’s not just me. Please tell me it’s not just me…

Well, there’s a reason for this, and it’s actually quite simple. You are wired for conversation. It’s how we communicate everything, from our wants and needs to expressing our thoughts and getting work done. You talk back to the TV and at inanimate objects because you’re having a mental conversation, however subconsciously, with whatever it is that you’re interacting with.

This concept — that we treat digital experiences as if they are with real people — is called ‘social presence.’ This concept is based on research by Dr. B.J. Fogg in his book Persuasive Technology, where he puts it this way:

“Human beings are hardwired to respond to the cues in the environment, especially to things that seem alive in some way.”

In creating a new (free) email fundraising course, we looked at over 400 experiments involving the getting and sending of emails and found that the presence of social presence, or lack thereof, was one of the main ingredients of successful landing pages and emails.

Because it’s unsettling when our conversations with technology, like emails and landing pages, happen out of order or in non-human ways. Imagine if you were approached by a stranger on the street, and he said, “I’m Brady. Please give me your business card?” You’d be weirded out and think, “Absolutely not. I don’t even know you. Of course you can’t have my contact information, leave me alone!”

And yet that’s the type of conversation we often have or are presenting to donors. So how can you create a good online conversation with someone on the other side of the screen?

2 Ways to Be More Conversational and Get More Nonprofit Email Signups

  1. Be More Conversational With Your Writing

The first key point to being more conversational with your writing or copy is to… well, actually have copy to begin with! I recently signed up for emails from 152 organizations for a research project on online fundraising in Canada and two thirds of those organizations used a sentence or less when trying to persuade me to sign up for their emails. It’s pretty hard to have a conversation if you don’t talk…

But once you start talking then you need to have something to say, that’s of interest to the person you’re talking to and in ways they can understand. Here’s what not to do:

nonprofit email signups

This not only doesn’t convey value or much of it (latest news and opportunities at their organization is the closest it gets) but it sounds cold and robotic doesn’t it? Plus it’s asking me to create an account which is the equivalent of ‘having their people contact my people.’ Quite impersonal and unnecessary extra steps.

Instead, try to do something more like this:

nonprofit email signups

The headline, ‘Subscribe,’ isn’t the best but the copy starts telling me more about what I can expect — stories, Cambodia, exploitation and human trafficking — and what I get in the form of desktop wallpapers. Will I use those? Probably not but some people might and it’s something that shows they care and are trying which is more than 94% of organizations. Literally. Only 6% of the organizations I signed with communicated something that was perceived to be appealing.

Key Insight:

To facilitate a conversation with someone, you have to have something valuable and interesting to say (value proposition) and then you need to say it (copywriting) in ways that are easily understood and not off putting (no jargon, less ‘we’, ‘us’, and ‘our’).

  1. Be More Conversational With Your Design

Not only does it matter how we ask with our writing or copy, but the order in which we ask for someone’s information is crucial. When you ask for it out of order, you create anxiety in the mind of the person on the other side of the screen. Let’s see how you can use your design and layout to create a more conversational thought sequence with an example.

This is an email acquisition page for an e-book offer for the Stanford Graduate School of Business. They have a good headline at the top of the page, and they use a three-column layout that mirrors their branding throughout the site. As you can see, they include third-party credibility indicators at the bottom of the page.

nonprofit email signups
Do you notice any problems?

Notice your eye-movement as you work through page. A visitor has to read the copy in the first column, then move back to the top of the page to view the book, and then come back up again to complete the signup form. Up, down, up, down, up, down.

The horizontal layout forces you to slow down to work through the page, and affects the thought sequence leading to the final call-to-action.

So we wondered if reorienting the thought sequence would affect the conversion rate on the page.

First, we put all these elements in a linear path from top to bottom of the page to create a more effective flow. We changed the headline to convey value, gave the copy contextual placement near the form, and moved the email acquisition form into the eye-path of the visitor. Then, we moved the book image and credibility indicators to the right column as supporting content. Below the first paragraph is the call-to-action restated as an opportunity to respond.

nonprofit email signups
The treatment produced an increase in conversion by 10.8%.

Key Insight:

Reordering page elements to create a top-to-bottom flow is a simple, easy change you can make on any page. Think of it like a real, face-to-face conversation you’re having with the person on the other side of the screen. Having a natural and logical thought sequence on your landing page is essential to reducing friction and anxiety on your landing page.


Remember that even in your landing pages you are trying to facilitate a conversation with your visitor. Be sure to communicate with your copy the value they they get for taking an action (not just what you get) and set up your pages in a way where the design fits the conversational thought sequence. This will help you have better conversations with your donors, should lead to more email signups, and, in the long run, increased revenue for you and your cause. Good luck!

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