How to Leverage Your Newsletter Subscriber List to Solicit Online Donations

Christine Woods - 11.06.09

I speak to nonprofit organizations all the time about their internet and email marketing strategies. Often times when asked if they are using email as a vehicle for solicitations, I get responses like “Oh, no…we don’t want to bother our email subscribers by asking them for money.”  I always wondered why.

So my question is: are you afraid to ask your newsletter subscribers for money? If your answer is “yes”, I thought I would share my experience with one organization that just might change your mind. You may be missing out on an opportunity to turn casual subscribers into loyal supporters.


The Audience

I recently received an email appeal from Chicago Foundation for Women asking me to donate online to support women and girls in the Chicago metropolitan area. For more than a year now, I have on the subscriber list of Chicago Foundation for Women’s monthly (formerly weekly) Tuesday Blast e-newsletter. I enjoy every issue, reading about their “Tuesday Stars”, highlighting women who have helped make a difference. From time to time, I may get invited to events like their annual luncheon or asked to participate in a 5K race, but not once did they ever directly ask me for a donation…until a few months ago. Imagine my surprise when I received an appeal for support in my inbox.

The Message

The subject line was simple: “Give Change- Get Change”. It certainly got my attention, considering that every other email that I got from the foundation was a newsletter or invitation to an event. This one was different though, it stood out. I opened it right away.

Already intrigued, I opened the email to see that it was addressed specifically to me (also something I hadn’t seen from them before, even though I had provided my name during the newsletter signup process years ago) directly from Kelly White, the executive director. Her plea was short and sweet: “Can you lend me $5? I'll pay you back: If you can spare some change, I promise to make change!”

The email goes on to explain all of the different ways that I can expect to see my donation come back full circle. Ways that it might benefit me personally, like getting paid sick days off or ending gender-based violence, both of which are core missions of two of their grantees. How could I argue with this? It would be the best gift I’ve ever given for myself.  

The Ask Amount

What was most interesting to me about the approach that Chicago Foundation for Women took with this email campaign was that they were only asking for a small amount. With a simple gift of $5, I could make a difference in the lives of the women they serve. I thought this was a great way to motivate non-donors like myself to become first-time supporters, without intimidating them. After all, what’s $5? I spend more than that on lunch.

This was a tactic often used by Barack Obama during his campaign for president. In fact, most of the emails sent to me during Obama’s campaign asked for a simple donation of $5 or more. Of the 750 million dollars total raised during the 21 month period of Obama's campaign, nearly half of his money came from donors of $200 or less. Chicago Foundation for Women must have learned a thing or two from their former senator.

Needless to say, I was sold. It literally only took less than a minute of consideration and I clicked the “Donate Now” button and was instantly launched onto a donation page on their website.

Landing Page

This wasn’t just a re-direct to their standard giving form, however. Instead, I was taken to a targeted landing page designed specifically for this email. This was extremely comforting to me as a donor. I didn’t feel like I was being shipped off to some foreign website; the overall branding was consistent with the original email and the message on the donation page was just as compelling…and right there was my $5 option. Being a first-time supporter of Chicago Foundation for Women, I knew that it was unlikely that I would opt to donate at one of the higher giving levels like $100 or $250, but at the very least, I did give the $5 that they asked for.

The Acknowledgement

After completing my donation, I received an automatic acknowledgement email within minutes. It was sent directly from Kelly White again, thanking me for investing in their vision and reassuring me once again that my modest contribution had in fact made a difference. And with that, I was satisfied. I never thought that $5 could be so fulfilling.

The Follow Up

Since making my first donation of $5 to Chicago Foundation for Women, I continue to receive my regular email updates, but I have since contributed in other ways, like making a donation for their 24th Annual Luncheon since I will be unable to attend. In retrospect, it makes so much sense that I would support this organization. After all, I was already a captive audience being a newsletter subscriber, I knew a lot about the great work they did, and being a woman myself, I could definitely relate to their mission. Online giving was an obvious choice for me because it was so convenient and I’m already used to communicating with CFW online. But honestly, had they never had the guts to ask, I may not have ever made any contribution at all.

The Moral 

So as a donor, my humble advice to nonprofit organizations is simple: Don’t leave your newsletter subscribers out…give them an opportunity to contribute…and just ask!

Are you asking your newsletter subscribers to support your mission?  How is it working for your organization?  Leave us a comment and let us know!


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