Mailing Junk back to Junk Mailers by Oran Viriyincy, on FlickrBuilding an email subscription list from scratch is new to me. I confess, Google serves up a stack of advice, but finding out what works – for you, the reader, and for me – is my new challenge.

As an organization, you may have historical lists to pull from: volunteers, donors, partners. But you have to start somewhere, and then you need to figure out what to do next. Here’s a list of ideas I’ve started, largely based on things I’ve seen that didn’t work. I’d really appreciate your advice in the comments!

(And if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to my newsletter here!)

Learn to love your list

Get to know your subscribers. I don’t mean stalking everyone who signs up; if you’ve run a distinct campaign (like a contest or event), show you recognize that your new connections may be very different from your regular fans.

Consider this phased approach:

  • “Thanks for joining us”. Remember: This person may have no history with your organization. Saying thanks, and showing how they’ve helped, is a great place to start.
  • “Let me tell you a bit about us”. Introduce your cause to this new friend. This could become a beautiful relationship; don’t ruin it by being needy!
  • “We could use your help”. Good news! You’ve thanked them, you’ve introduced your organization, and they haven’t unsubscribed yet. They may be interested in helping out, so let them know all the different ways they can get involved.

Support should never be “negative option billing”

In the mid-1990’s, Canadian cable companies added a selection of new channels through something called negative option billing; to avoid paying for them, you had to specifically opt out.

It didn’t work for cable and it definitely won’t work for your nonprofit organization. In fact, I’m pretty sure that adding people to your email list without their consent qualifies you as a spammer.

So what can you do if you end up with a list of potential supporters?

  • Say hello via email. Let them know where you connected (i.e. how you got their email address), and invite them to learn more by subscribing to your email list. If they don’t bite, don’t add them!
  • Use the phone. If appropriate and relevant – i.e. perhaps you met in person – why not call and ask if they’d like to get involved?

What peaks your interest in an enewsletter?
What inspires you to unsubscribe?
I look forward to your comments!