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Five Ways Nonprofits Can Use Social Media to Build Their e-Newsletter List

February 14, 2011

[tweetmeme] People are often surprised when I say that if given the choice, I would choose 10,000 e-Newsletter subscribers over 10,000 Followers on Twitter, 10,000 Fans on Facebook, or 10,000 Friends on Foursquare… combined. Any day of the week and without hesitation. And though some reports claim that email use is dropping, others claim its use is steady and even on the rise. Reports and predictions of the death of e-mail fluctuate seemingly on a quarterly basis. However, one thing that is certain is that the ROI (Return on Investment) from e-newsletters is still relatively high compared to other Web-based channels. For me, that ROI translates into webinar attendees and speaking engagements. For nonprofits, the ROI of e-newsletters translates into online dollars raised through “Donate Now” technology, event attendees, website and blog traffic, and paradoxically new Followers, Fans, and Friends on social networking sites.

That said, the roles of email and e-newsletters are constantly evolving and even though the number one activity on mobile phones is email, that could change in the future. Group text messaging could become the new email of the Mobile Web. But for now, nonprofits would be wise to continue to build their e-newsletter list at every opportunity to get in while the getting is still good. That said, here are five ways to do so using social media:

1) Blog, blog, blog!

Blogging during the era of the Social Web is more valuable than ever to nonprofits provided your blog is well-designed and the content is good. For building your e-newsletter list, blogging is phenomenal as long as you feature “Subscribe” functionality promenently. For example, Greenpeace’s Making Waves Blog was recently redesigned to feature their “Subscribe to our e-newsletter” pitch over the ability to subscribe to their blog via RSS. My personal  experience has proven that to be a wise decision. When I started blogging 18 months ago my e-newsletter list was 3,000 and to that point had been built over 3.5 years primarily using my website. Today my list has now grown to 9,500 members. Thanks to blogging, my e-newsletter list tripled in size in half the time. Consequently, so has my ROI.

2) Convert Facebook Fans into Subscribers.

Once a month post a Status Update letting your Fans know that you are sending out an “important e-newsletter tomorrow, and if they would like to receive a copy, please subscribe!” You should definitely include a message that creates a deadline and a sense of urgency, and of course “Share” a link where users can directly subscribe. Again, don’t do a direct ask on Facebook more than once a month or you risk crossing that thin line between marketing and authenticity on Facebook. Once crossed, the Law of Diminishing Returns begins to kick in.

Also, your nonprofit can create a custom Tab urging Fans to subscribe to your e-newsletter list or participate in online petitions. For example, Oceana has set a Default Landing Tab on their Facebook Page that urges people to take action – which then builds their e-mail list. Of course, online petitions also make great Status Update content.

3) Ask your Twitter Followers to Subscribe.

Twitter has taught me a valuable lesson about social media ROI. Sometimes all you need to do is ask, provided you don’t ask to often. Again, once a month send out Tweet asking your Followers to subscribe to your e-newsletter. Be sure to create a sense of urgency and express gratitude:

Sending out my Web 2.0 Best Practices e-Newsletter tomorrow. To receive a copy, please subscribe: Thank you!

Unfortunately, “please” and “thank you” are expressions used less and less often (especially in email), and because of that can make a strong impression that will motivate readers to take action i.e., subscribe to your e-newsletter. Like Facebook, the trick is not to ask too often. Once a month is best… more than that and people begin to tune you out on Twitter.

4) Add “Subscribe” Pitches to Video Overlays.

If your nonprofit is a member of YouTube’s Nonprofit Program, you can add Call-to-Action Overlays to your videos. There’s no data proving that this will build your e-newsletter list, but it can’t hurt.

5) Add “Subscribe” Pitches to Photo Sets, Slideshows, and Captions.

Flickr Sets can be customized using HTML to add “Subscribe!” pitches, and Facebook Photos allow captions that can include links. In short, never waste an opportunity to promote and integrate your e-newsletter, website, blog, social networking communities, and or mobile campaigns social networking communities.

Related Link:
Webinar: How Nonprofits can Successfully Utilize Online Fundraising and e-Newsletters

14 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2011 9:56 am

    I am quite new to WordPress for blogging. I was wondering how to build an effective and large e-newsletter reader’s list. This article has helped me a lot to clear my doubts, and take steps to build my own list.

    Thanks for sharing this highly useful insight.

  2. February 14, 2011 9:59 am

    I think this is terrific and people often forget about the power of sending something directly to a users inbox. I do not agree however with only asking people on twitter to subscribe only once per month. Twitter is so fleeting- if your followers (even if you have thousands) aren’t on at that very moment and see you in their feed (say 15 minute window), then you miss the opportunity. Facebook can stay in most recent discussions for a full day so you have a better chance. I would say if you varied your asking time and the copy you can ask once a day on twitter and not be overly pushy.

  3. February 15, 2011 1:19 pm

    I was just speaking to someone yesterday about this challenge, so very timely post. One other way that I thought of for collecting email addresses is through Facebook login permissions – you can configure the permissions to allow the organization to directly contact you through email. Using that permission, an organization can capture an email address and then ask the person who logged in with Facebook permission to add them to the organization’s mailing list.


    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      February 15, 2011 2:19 pm

      Thanks. Will research it. 🙂

  4. February 16, 2011 12:38 am

    @Rondola I think it depends on how people use twitter, at both ends. For instance, I rarely follow people that tweet more than a couple of times a day (to keep tweet volume reasonable, and because there is often an inverse ratio of quality/quantity) and if one of those tweets was continually asking me to subscribe to something that I already knew about, that could get quite annoying. Just a thought! 🙂

  5. February 21, 2011 8:12 am

    I completely agree that email subscribers are more valuable than Facebook fans and Twitter followers! I run the email and social media marketing for the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, Wi. We use MailChimp to send out weekly emails, which I have really come to like. They’ve got some great tools to increase subscriptions including a subscription tab for a Facebook page, the ability to auto-post campaigns to Facebook and Twitter and an iPad app for collecting email addresses at events. We’re not using the iPad app yet, but I think the social media integration has played a large role in our list growth.

  6. February 28, 2011 7:46 am

    Has anyone heard of text to subscribe features for nonprofits? For example if you text “update” to the number 333344 you are returned news updates about that particular nonprofit on a regular basis.

    Possibly mobile communicating will be a way to stay in touch with users just like e-mail, facebook, and tiwtter.

  7. March 3, 2012 8:47 am

    @Rondola I think I completely agree that email subscribers are more valuable than Facebook fans


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