We asked Sean Kosofsky to share some of what he’s learned working for 25 years in the nonprofit sector, including as executive director for four organizations. (Learn more about Sean and his work.) In this post, he talks about a common need for most organizations: how to grow your list of supporters. We’re grateful for his expertise and generosity.

If your organization relies on donations or public engagement (and most do), one of the smartest investments you can make is in growing your email list. The size of your email list determines your reach, your online fundraising, and the breadth of your support among individuals. In short, your email list is a key indicator of your capacity.

It’s hard to build a list from nothing. But once you hit a tipping point, it becomes much easier to scale from there. Most organizations with big lists either built them over time, grew them with really successful campaigns, or used marketing tactics. This blog post is a blend of beginner and advanced tactics for using all of those methods.

Traditionally, nonprofits grow their lists by simply asking people to sign up at events, tables, or for their email newsletter. But, some organizations run campaigns, petitions, pledges, etc. There are many ways to grow your list and I am constantly asked by nonprofits for ways to do this that are inexpensive. I have spent my life in nonprofits trying to figure this out. But since the Spring, I have had a baptism by fire, growing my own business through a blend of marketing, business development, lead generation, and traditional nonprofit tactics.

I have created a robust list of ways for organizations to grow their email list. Marketers have learned some things about building lists through lead generation, marketing funnels, sales, and conversions. These are all terms that may seem foreign to most nonprofit staff. Nonprofits tend to think people will give us their email because they care about the issue. Marketers have known for some time that giving your email to anyone comes at a cost. So, what if nonprofits give away things of value in exchange for an email? Your newsletter may be awesome but asking someone to subscribe is not the same as giving them something of value.

When you look at the list I have created, you will see it relies very heavily on landing pages and lead magnets. A landing page is a page you create on the internet that is not necessarily attached to your website, but it serves one purpose: a call to action. So, a landing page gets you to download, sign up, buy, enroll, schedule, or take some other action so the content and design of the landing page is singularly focused. Nonprofits need to seriously start utilizing this strategy more. It also helped that it isn’t necessarily expensive. You can subscribe to a landing page service or build your own on your site, but these pages look very different from normal website pages.

Here are a few teasers from the list:

  1. Did you know you can export your contact list, with emails, from Linkedin? Well, you can. Ask every board member and staff member if they are comfortable doing this and throw them all into one .csv file. Do the same with your contact list from Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook or other contact list. Then use a program like Mailshake.com to reach out to your “cold emails” to get them to opt-in to your normal email program.
  2. Chances are your board, volunteers and staff are participating in many online groups, communities, forums, Facebook groups, etc. After you have built a landing page, casually drop the link into these communities in a way that doesn’t seem like a sales pitch. Again, your landing page should offer a free giveaway that is of high value and solves a “pain point” for people.
  3. Consider using your email signature as a place to include your landing page link. Bonus, have all staff and board members use autoresponders, some or all of the time, with a link and pitch for people to grab your lead magnet from your landing page.

If you’re interested, you can download the full list from Sean’s website.