nonprofit mailing list

Your nonprofit mailing list has the wrong people on it!

And that’s a huge problem, because 40% of your mailing’s success depends upon your list. Another 40% is the offer, while 20% is the creative. Where do you spend your time and energy?

Alas, fundraisers often leave the building of their nonprofit mailing list to the marketing folks. They let them worry about things like email deliverability and spam, clicks and opens, subject lines and A/B tests. All these things are important.

But there’s something more important. Something fundraisers need to proactively consider.

You can do everything perfectly in terms of fundraising technique, but it’s all for naught unless you have enough viable prospects.

It’s all too easy to forget about this all-important task, or to think about it as merely an ‘administrative’ function that never rises to the top of your priority list. And, let’s face it, often marketing staff don’t fully understand what makes a good donor prospect.

You can’t ask anyone for money if you don’t have a list of likely donor prospects ready and waiting.

So… how about making this month a time to think about building your prospect lists?

Keep this in mind: for someone to be a realistic prospect for your organization, they must possess the qualities of “LIA“:

  1. Linkage to you (i.e., they’ve been involved in the past, they or someone they know has benefited from your services, they know someone connected with your organization, etc.)
  2. Interest in your mission (i.e., they’ve been involved with similar causes)
  3. Ability to give

Here are some ways to find folks like these to add to your offline and online prospect lists:

1. Leverage Your House List(s)

These people have linkage! This is the easiest, most overlooked, resource for many organizations.  You’ve likely got plenty of folks affiliated with you in other ways than as donors. They may be names housed in multiple mailing lists and/or databases other than your donor database. These folks are connected to you, and it would be a shame to waste these connections. Look at clients, families of clients, students, families of students, neighbors, event attendees, volunteers, staff, former volunteers and staff… and so forth. Don’t ignore these folks when you do your fundraising and awareness building campaigns. Each of these can become a separate segment for your mailings, with copy tailored to acknowledge how they are connected.

2. Mine Your Leaders’ Networks

Friends of current leaders (aka board members, other volunteers, donors and even staff) are linked to their friends and, therefore, to you! There are a couple of strategies I like to make it easy, and fun, for your leaders to be helpful.

1. Consider a ‘Let your Friends Be Our Friends’ campaign. 

Simply ask board members, other volunteers and all those closest to you to give you the names and contact information they have for 3 – 5 of their family, friends or colleagues who may be interested in what you do. Make it fun by offering incentives, such as ‘mystery’ prizes for those who complete/return their forms. Or maybe have a drawing to win a dinner donated by a local restaurant; everyone who provides names is entered to win! While you’re at it, ask when you’re ready to mail to these folks if your volunteer leader would be willing to add their name and/or write a brief personal note to go along with the appeal.

2. Consider a Peer-to-Peer campaign.

A single donor can become a new donor recruiter, and the equivalent of a major donor, simply by asking folks to join them in a mini-campaign. They thus attract new donors to your cause from their personal networks, while simultaneously multiplying their value to you as their $100 gift becomes $1,000 due to the matching gifts from nine of their friends. There are two great ways to handle this online:

  • Purchase software to handle P2P campaigns right off your own website home page or main menu. This way, folks can run their own campaigns whenever they want. This is popular for birthdays and other celebrations, but can also be used for memorials in lieu of flowers and other gifts. You offer this as an ongoing fundraising opportunity right off of your website home page or main menu. As noted above, some organizations encourage supporters to set up their own “do-it-yourself” fundraising pages whenever the spirit moves them (e.g., birthdays, weddings, memorials).
  • Launch mini-campaigns, each with a goal and a defined time frame, to generate funding for specific projects. You can ask your supporters to share your campaign via email or social media, and provide them with templates for so doing.

3. Use Share Buttons Everywhere

Never waste a good linkage; make your donors’ networks your networks! When you encourage folks to share their interest in and support for you, what happens? You make current supporters your list-building partners! Make it easy for existing supporters to tell their friends and family about their involvement.by including share buttons on your email appeals, blog posts, e-newsletters, website, and thank you landing pages.

4. Build Your Email List Direct from Your Website

When people come to your website, they’re indicating some interest in what you do; make sure they find current, relevant, interesting content! Don’t let this be the last time they visit you. The truth is 70% of website visitors will leave after looking at just one page; most won’t return. One of the most important things you can do is proactively build your online nonprofit mailing list by engaging your visitors while they’re on your website. Make sure it’s compelling so folks are enticed to want to become even more engaged. A great way to do this is to share one or more stories, images and/or videos on your Home Page. Or consider a menu drop-down with “Stories of Hope,” or some such header.

Also be sure you have a prominent place on your Home Page where folks can enter in their contact information if they want to hear from you. Don’t fall back on the simple, yet boring, “Join our Email List.” People get more than enough email. You’ve got to give them a ‘gift’ in return. The best way to do this is by offering donor-centered reasons why folks might want to join your list (e.g., “how to” lists, recommendations, e-books, whitepapers, “story of the month,” etc.). There are free re-engagement tools you can use:

  • Hubspot provides a free pop-up plug-in to redirect visitors or collect contact information.
  • Hello Bar helps you sign visitors up for a newsletter or direct them to your social profiles.
  • Sumo provides free pop-ups and a tool to “stick” your call to action (CTA) so it remains visible as users scroll the page. 

5. Ask Board Members to Review Lists 

To better assess both interest and ability, you need a little vetting. With un-vetted lists, you’re shooting in the dark. With a little volunteer feedback on those lists, you’ve got much more than a snowball’s chance.

  • Put together a list of potential foundation supporters. Indicate the leadership, including trustees. Who do they know that works there? How might they be able to help you reach out to these folks? Do any of these suggestions inspire them to provide additional suggestions (e.g., another prospective funder in the same industry)?
  • Put together a list of prospective business sponsors. You might begin with a “Top 50” listing in your community that may be published by a local paper or your chamber of commerce. You might also consider a productive brainstorming session at a board or committee meeting to help identify new prospective sponsors. I like to do this with event committees, and have been known to tape poster-sized sheets of paper around the room with categories of potential business supporters (e.g., Banks; Law Firms: Finance Firms; Real Estate; Architecture; Retail; Technology Companies, etc.).
  • Put together a list of prospective individual donors.  I used to ask volunteers to bring in programs from events they attended so I could note who in our community was philanthropic. I’d also take notes from donor walls when visiting hospitals, universities, museums, zoos and theaters. Pay particular attention to donors to causes related to yours.

Keep Your Nonprofit Mailing List Fresh

A good list today could be a bad list tomorrow. Too often lists are filled with bad addresses, duplicates, the deceased, people who’ve never given and/or donors who lapsed many years ago. In fact, roughly 20% of addresses in nonprofit databases are out of date. Mailing to these folks is a waste of time and resources. Plus it makes it difficult for you to evaluate your success. Because if you’re mailing to a lot of dead wood, your rates of retention and return on investment will fall. 

Here’s how to continually re-build your lists:

  1. Do an annual address correction request using a process like NCOA (National Change of Address). 17% of Americans move each year, and running an NCOA is a requirement to qualify for USPS bulk mailing rates. 
  2. Purge your list of anyone who’s never given and has been on the list three years. 
  3. Purge your list of anyone who’s given but not in the past five years.

You can use different guidelines, but make sure you have a policy and plan! For example, you might cull the list before you purge anyone, deciding to keep those such as former board and staff members on the list (they might leave a bequest). And you can always archive these names if you’re uneasy about entirely getting rid of them, but don’t waste precious resources mailing to them. Just don’t kid yourself. If you have a 7,000-name list but only 250 donors, that’s a sign something is really off.

Remember: Ultimately, your fundraising is only as good as your list. Spend some time on this!

Check out this free e-Book, How to Use the 40-40-20 Rule to Boost Your Annual Fundraising Appeal, for more tips.

annual fundraising appeal

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.