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NextAfter’s Definitive Guide to Donor Acquisition

Published by Riley Young
What to expect:

"Tangible ideas, tested tactics, and a full suite of tools that can help you acquire more donors to fund your life-changing work."

Table of Contents

Donor acquisition is the lifeline of nonprofit fundraising. And with nonprofit donor churn rates what they are, acquiring new donors is critical to growing your online fundraising program.

While there are plenty of “best practice” blogs about donor acquisition, this guide is going to use data and real-life experimentation to show you how to build a sustainable donor acquisition program that is cost effective, digital-first, and proven to work.

What is online donor acquisition?

Online donor acquisition refers to the actions you take to find and convert new donors or potential donors using digital channels.

Donor acquisition could include efforts like display advertising, social media, email, SEO, or direct mail.

What's the difference between donor acquisition and donor retention?

Donor acquisition is how you gain new donors, while donor retention is the method by which you get those new donors to donate again.

Both acquisition and retention are crucial to an effective fundraising program. And you need to acquire new donors in order to have donors to retain.

In this guide, we are going to break down online donor acquisition. But if you want to learn more about retaining the donors you acquire, you can click below to read more.

Learn How To Improve Donor Retention Rates
Once you finish this guide, click below to see our guide on donor retention.

A 4-step donor acquisition strategy to find more donors online

Step One: Create An Appealing Content Offer

This donor acquisition model only works if you have a high-quality email offer that is free.

Many fundraisers have tried running advertising that points straight to a donation page, but most of these campaigns deliver zero donations.

Using a free email acquisition offer (like an eBook) can help a potential donor get something of value from your organization, begin to trust that you can make an impact on your cause, and build momentum towards a donation ask.

Here are a few examples of valuable content offers:

  • eBooks (PDF helping potential donors learn more about a topic)
  • Quizzes (Online quiz to test a potential donor’s knowledge on a topic)
  • Petition (An opportunity to give potential donors a voice concerning an issue)
  • Online Course (A learning opportunity for a potential donor to dive deep on a topic)A content offer is a piece of valuable content that you give away freely in exchange for personal contact information, such as names and email addresses.

The objective of a content offer is to add more qualified names to your house file — those who are likely to become donors (more on that below).

And the first rule of creating content offers is that you must deliver value to your audience. Which means three things:

  1. You need to understand your audience and the problems they want to solve.
  2. You need to create original, value-driven content that helps them solve those problems and meaningfully improves their lives.
  3. You must give this content away completely free of charge.

Tip: creating a content offer doesn’t necessarily require you to create new content. Most of the clients we work with already have great educational material that they have used in other contexts — pamphlets, booklets, surveys, etc. — that can be quickly repackaged into an effective digital content offer 

3 Key Principles For Creating Content Offers For Online Donor Acquisition

1. Donor acquisition offers must appeal to your ideal donor

You don’t need to create a content offer that is appealing to everyone on planet earth. In fact, making your offer too broad may dilute its impact.

Before you invest the time and resources into creating your offer, consider what your donors find valuable and how you can empower them with new insights and knowledge unique to your nonprofit’s cause or area of expertise.

This will not only be appealing to your donors, it will also position your nonprofit as subject matter experts and increase goodwill and trust among your donors.

2. Donor acquisition offers need to be relevant to your organization

This donor acquisition model relies on making your content offer relevant to your organization.

The purpose of the free offer is to help a potential donor receive value and discover that your organization is uniquely equipped to solve a problem that your donor cares about.

Offering a free cruise, vacation getaways, move tickets, and other sweepstakes-style offers can be popular, but they do nothing to help your new subscribers trust you with a donation.

To help you start brainstorming, here are a few examples of donor-focused offers that may help potential donors begin to trust your organization:

  • Environment & Wildlife: A free eBook on 10 Daily Habits to Help Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
  • Faith-Based: A free 40-Day Devotional to Prepare Your Heart for Easter
  • Public Policy & Advocacy: A free eBook on 6 Proven Ways to Reduce Police Violence
  • Social Services: A free eBook on 5 Practical Ways You Can Help Serve the Homeless in Your Community
  • Higher Education: Offer a simplified and relevant online course to potential donors for free

*Note: The examples above are just that: examples. All offer ideas must be a/b tested to know what will truly be most effective for your ideal donors.

3. Not all offers have the same potential for donor acquisition

The likelihood of acquiring a new donor from a free email offer varies based on how much time a potential donor must invest.

A petition takes very little work to create, and tends to lead to low email-acquisition costs. However, petitions have a low likelihood of converting instant donors (we’ll get to what “instant donors” are later in this guide). 

An eBook takes a little bit more work to create and has a relatively low cost-per-email, and it also boasts a decently high instant donor conversion rate. 

An online course takes a lot of work and thus has the highest instant donor conversion rate, but it also has a fairly expensive cost per email.

Based on our research and experience, the sweet spot seems to be the eBook. 

It takes some time investment from your potential donor, has a decently high conversion rate, and it doesn’t take too much effort to create.

3 Quick Tips For Making Your Content Offers For Online Donor Acquisition

Make your content offer actionable.

In the experiment below, we were promoting a webinar on how to create more effective year-end donation pages

In Version A of our Facebook ad, the headline and title of the webinar said “The Elements of a Year-End Donation Page.” 

This was an accurate description of what someone would learn in the webinar. But we wondered if a more actionable title could lead to more registrations by more clearly demonstrating the value the reader would receive. 

Version B’s headline and title focused on how to “craft an effective year-end donation page.” While version A was passive in its tone, version B made the content actionable. 

While version A focused on the “features” of the webinar, version B focused on the “benefits” someone could receive if they attended.

Version B answers the question: “What’s in it for me?”

And what’s in it for your audience should be at the center of all your promotional messaging. If it isn’t clear to your prospect what they will get from your offer, then they don’t have a reason to exchange their personal information.

The more actionable, benefit-driven headline led to a 275% increase in registrations.

 
Side-by-side comparison showing a 275% increase in clicks by making the title more actionable

Make your content offer tangible.

You’ll also want to make sure that the value you are delivering is something relevant and tangible. In other words, you want to make sure that your offer is a) relevant and b) specific.

In the experiment below, we hypothesized that a more tangible headline could lead to better click through rates.

Version A described the content as “The Nonprofit Email Subject Line Formula.” Maybe catchy. Maybe not. But it certainly isn’t specific. Which makes it more difficult for a reader to understand it’s relevance and thus, it’s value (what’s in it for them).

Version B improved the clarity and value of the offer by telling the reader exactly what they’d get: 5 Ways to Improve Your Email Subject Line.

The more tangible headline led to a 201% increase in clicks. 

So when you promote your own content offer, consider using a number in your eBook or email offer title to make the content more tangible to the reader.

Could this headline be further improved? Maybe.

While this headline is more specific, is it actionable? 

What if it read as follows: 5 Ways to Improve Your Nonprofit Email Subject Lines so that you can get more clicks?

That could make the offer appear even more valuable by using what we learned above to make the offer more actionable as well as more tangible!

A side-by-side comparison showing a 201% increase in clicks by making the headline more tangible

Align your content offer with your ideal donor’s interests.

In the experiment below, we were trying to see which messaging angle would lead to more people signing up for a webinar on online donor acquisition.

Version A focused on the primary outcome: growing online donor acquisition.

But we hypothesized that focusing the title on the platform might be more relevant to fundraisers at the time. 

This ad was run around the time when Facebook was rolling out more donation and fundraising tools. And there were lots of conversations happening about how best to leverage Facebook as an acquisition channel.

In support of that hypothesis, Version B focused on “Facebook Fundraising.” And by using more relevant language in the title and description, it led to a 197% increase in conversions.

A side-by-side comparison showing a 197% increase in clicks by making the headline align to donor interests

By creating content that delivers tangible value to your audience and using the 3 key elements of effective promotion above, you can create a content offer that resonates with your ideal donors and helps you fill your file with qualified names that are likely to give.

Step Two: Craft A Compelling Landing Page

Now that you know how to create a content offer and position it to earn more clicks from your ideal donors, you’ll want to make sure that you inspire enough of those people to sign up for your offer by creating a compelling landing page. 

A “Landing Page” is where people to go to read more about your free offer and access it by filling out a form.

There are lots of tools you can use to create landing pages (I’d recommend Unbounce), but the key principles of an effective email acquisition landing page are the same regardless of the tool you use.

The first thing your landing page needs to do is explain the value of downloading your offer.

From your headline to your body copy (and even your call-to-action button), your landing page needs to be abundantly clear about 3 things:

  • What is your potential donor going to get?
  • What positive outcome will this offer help your potential donor achieve?
  • How is your donor going to get it?

When creating a landing page, it can be tempting to ask for tons of information. As fundraisers, we often want to know things like:

  • What’s your name?
  • What’s your email?
  • What’s your phone number (so I can follow up)?
  • What’s your birthday (so I can send you a card)?
  • What’s your zip code (so I can attribute you to the right fund/designation/chapter/branch/etc).
  • What’s your mailing address (so we can send you direct mail appeals)?

But your would-be donor is not going to access your free offer if you ask for all this information. Asking for too much info creates friction. And asking for unexpected information creates anxiety.

In this experiment, the nonprofit was offering a free online course. However, their original form asked for someone’s full mailing address.

In the treatment, they only asked for the essentials: first name, last name, email, and password to create an online course account.

Asking only for the essentials led to a 9% increase in emails acquired.

A side-by-side comparison showing a 9% increase in email acquisition by reducing form fields

Step Three: Convert New Subscribers Into Donors Using An Instant Donation Page

If you’re not already using instant donation pages in your fundraising, these could be transformational for your fundraising.

On your landing page, potential donors have the choice to either subscribe to your email file (by downloading your eBook, registering for your course, etc.) or to abandon all together. 

If they say “yes” and accept your offer, they’re another decision point closer to a donation. All along the donor journey, your potential donor is gaining momentum. 

Each little decision gives them more momentum, helping them to say “yes” to an even bigger decision at the next step. 

And once your potential donor has said “yes” to your content offer, you have an increased likelihood of them saying “yes” to a donation ask.

This is where the instant donation page comes into play. 

After someone fills out a form (a content offer in particular), you can direct them to an instant donation page rather than your standard confirmation page.

An “instant donation page“, specifically, is a confirmation page (letting your new subscriber know that their submission was successful and that their resource is on the way) which also gives them the opportunity to make a donation then and there.

And while you won’t see massive conversion rates of 50-60%, instant donation pages will allow you to start converting your brand-new subscribers into new donors instantly. 

This means no more waiting around for 12 months hoping they organically donate. Instead, it seizes the momentum you built with your content offer and asks them to help get such an offer to others by making a donation now.

Here are some benchmark donation conversion rates you can expect from various types of content offers:

A chart comparing time investment to instant donation conversion rates of different content offer types

A word of warning when creating instant donation pages:

You MUST clarify, right away, at the top of your instant donation page, that nothing else is needed in order to get the free offer.

You need to clearly say something to the effect of: 

“Thank you! Your offer is on its way to your inbox.”

And you don’t need to be too wordy about it. In fact, you should be clear and concise, and then move on to your donation appeal right away.

In one experiment, this organization’s original instant donation page spent about 50% of the copy explaining what the subscriber can expect to happen next with their free course.

In the treatment, they spent just 2 sentences talking about what happens next with the course. And the rest of the copy focused on the donation appeal.

Spending less time on the “logistics” and more time on the appeal led to a 165% increase in donor acquisition.

A side-by-side comparison showing a 165% increase in donation rates when confirmation copy is briefer

You also want to be sure to make the donation request relevant to the offer your potential donor just received.

In other words, this ask is not about your general mission — it should not use the same language as a general donation page.

Instead, you want to make a direct connection between your donation request and the offer your potential donor has just downloaded.

If someone has just downloaded an eBook, or signed a petition, or activated a free course, they have given you critical information about what they value.

Your instant donation page should then make a donation ask based on the interests and values presented in the free offer.

For example, in one experiment, a nonprofit had offered a free online course. The original instant donation page focused on donating to get a companion guide for the course.

In the treatment, they wondered if focusing the donation ask on reaching more people with this valuable course could actually lead to more donations.

And sure enough, the appeal focused on impacting others with this valuable resource led to a 164% increase in donations.

16 Core Elements of A High-Performing Instant Donation Page

Let’s take a look at the 16 core elements that can help you eliminate guesswork when it comes to creating an effective instant donation page. 

1. Use a simple, no-nonsense page header without navigation or extra donate buttons.

2. If you use a background image, make sure it focuses on your cause

3. Write a headline that clearly acknowledges the previous action.

4. Write brief intro sentence or two that outlines the immediate next steps.

5. Write a brief transition paragraph that gives reasons to donate closely related to the original offer.

6. Use brief, direct paragraphs and bolding on key words or phrases.

7. Avoid in-line supporting content such as: videos, links that lead away from the page, countdown clocks, in-line reviews.

8. Use a premium offer only if you want to increase average gift. Beware…it may decrease your conversion rates.

9. Write a call-to-action header that reiterates the donation ask and how it advances your cause.

10. Use a gift array with big buttons. Make sure your first option is below your average gift size.

11. Keep these three things in mind when laying out your donation form:

  • Use headers with numbers to clarify decision points.Arrange form fields to reduce page length.
  • Avoid adaptive place holders or other fancy form field technology.
  • Pre-populate form fields with first name and last name if possible.

12. Visually separate credit card fields and add a lock icon to indicate that your page is secure.

13. Test adding supporting content (i.e. testimonials or endorsements) in a right column.

14. Add third-party credibility indicators (GuideStar, Charity Navigator, etc.) near the call-to-action button.

15. Eliminate any gift verification pages.

Step Four: Find Your Ideal Donors By Using Relevant Promotional Channels

Now that you have an offer, a landing page, and an instant donation page, you’ll need to get people to see it. And there are several ways you can start driving visitors to your email acquisition landing page.

Here are a few options to consider in order to drive visitors to your page:

  • Facebook Advertising
  • Google Search Advertising
  • Banners on your website
  • In-line offers on your blogs or articles
  • Emailing your existing subscribers

While we could spend a whole day talking about advertising and web traffic generation, let’s look at 2 key areas to help you get high quality traffic to your email acquisition page.

Facebook is one of the most (if not the most) powerful tools you have to find new donors. 

There are a million and one way you can use Facebook’s data, audience, and advertising tools to reach ideal prospects.

For example, if your ideal donor is female, in her 60s, love cats, and lives in the US or Canada, Facebook has 11 million users who meet that criteria that you can show advertising to.

Facebook interest targeting example

Facebook also lets you do many other types of targeting that can be just as (if not more) effective including:

  • Tracking and retargeting your website visitors when they are on Facebook
  • Uploading a list of event attendees and showing them ads
  • Creating a “Lookalike” audience of Facebook users who are similar to your existing donors to increase your exposure

If you’re new to Facebook advertising, I would recommend starting with these audiences to see how they perform for you:

  • Website visitors
  • Lookalike audience based on existing donors
  • Lookalike audience based on existing web traffic
  • Facebook users interested in similar organizations/causes to yours

You don’t have to pay for all the traffic you send to your content offers. 

You can also drive traffic to your landing page that doesn’t involve any advertising budget is simply sharing your new email acquisition offer with your existing email subscribers.

It doesn’t cost you anything. It’s valuable content that helps cultivate subscribers. And it leads them towards a donation ask after receiving something of value.

In fact, one organization tested a new version of their email welcome series using only free content offers.

The original welcome series for new subscribers used a combination of surveys, background info about the organization, stories with soft donation asks, and direct appeals to try and acquire new donors.

The treatment version used only free content offers (like eBooks) followed by an instant donation page to cultivate new subscribers over the course of 8 emails. It did not include any direct donation appeals.

A side-by-side comparison showing a 920% increase in donation rates by promoting content offers in a welcome series

The free offer series led to a whopping 920% increase in donor acquisition.

This bears repeating: The email series that used only free content offers and never asked for a direct donation led to 920% more donations!

The new name welcome series: how to convert names into donors in the first 45 days

People give to people. 

If you don’t take anything else away from this guide, just know: people give to people, not organizations.

And a new name welcome series is your best opportunity to form a genuine, one-to-one connection with your new subscribers and remind them why they’ve just connected with you (as a person, not just as an organization).

The primary goals of a welcome series are to:

  • Foster a human-to-human relationship
  • Introduce broader mission/align beliefs
  • Provide tangible value
  • Deepen engagement with the nonprofit/Encourage interaction
  • Make a donation ask

Ultimately, the new name welcome series is a way to cultivate your new subscriber so that the first communications they receive from you isn’t a solicitation email.

This way, when you do ask, they will know exactly why you are asking and what impact their gift will make.

And it can give you a distinct leg up on other organizations who are all competing for the same donors and dollars as you. Why?

Because in our original research on the state of nonprofit email cultivation, we uncovered some eye-opening results: 

  • Only 52% of organizations sent a clear confirmation of email signup or cultivation email within the first 2 days
  • 72% of respondents did not have (or did not know if they had) a new subscriber welcome series

And this presents a huge opportunity for organizations who are willing to take the time to communicate and build a meaningful, human relationship with your donors. Why? 

Not only is it the right thing to do, but our research has shown that the first emails you send to a new subscriber are among the most opened and read that you will ever send.

c shart showing that the first 3 emails you send to new subscribers have the highest conversion rates

Beyond engagement, there are some significant dollar-and-cents benefits to investing in a new name welcome series to cultivate your subscribers.

Let’s take a look at the real-world results of building a cultivation-focused welcome series that leans into the goals of: fostering a relationship, aligning belief, providing value and fostering deeper engagement BEFORE you make a donation ask.

In the treatment series below, we see a series of emails heavily focused on product offers and digital resources. 

a new name welcome series with a more promotional approach

Now, to be clear: this is not a terrible approach to a new name welcome series. For one thing, it exists (which is further than most organizations get) and for another, it provides value. 

But we wanted to know what would happen if we tested this against our new name welcome series template (which will be shared below) that made the emails less org-focused, less designed, more human, and more relational. 

a new name welcome series with a more humanized approach

At first, the changes may not be obvious but lets take a closer look…

First, and perhaps most obvious, we removed any design elements from the emails to humanize them and make them feel like a one-to-one email sent from a colleague or acquaintance – we also used a human’s sender name (rather than the nonprofit name). 

Second, we focused on relational language and switched out some promotional emails for emails that were pure cultivation, asking for a reply back (this not only helps with cultivation but also deliverability!)

Third, we ended the welcome series with a clear and specific donation ask, trusting that our previous cultivation would encourage more people to give. The results?

A 33% increase in opens, a 42% increase in clicks … and a 875% lift in donations with a 99% lift in revenue!

resulting email and donation increases from a more humanistic welcome series

What does a new name welcome series look like?

Hopefully you can now see the clear value of taking a humanistic, relational approach to your welcome series (and having one in the first place), but you may be asking exactly how you build one – what emails you should send. 

We’ve got you covered! Below we’ll look at our working new name welcome series template – but keep in mind that this may need to be adjusted to your specific context. Always be sure to monitor results and adjust accordingly!

 

Email 1 – Introduction

  • Include an introduction to a real person
  • Remind them of the *value* your organization provides and how glad you are that they’ve come alongside you.
  • Introduce broader mission and align beliefs
  • CTA to reply back to hear your thoughts, what you’re passionate about, how you’ve been impacted, etc.

Email 2 – What you offer

  • What can the subscriber do to deepen their engagement with the organization (that’s not associated with an appeal)? What’s the ideal next step?
  • Is there a group they can be a part of? Are there impact stories they can subscribe to? Is there a way they can equip themselves?
  • CTA – their next step

Email 3 – Survey

  • Ask your subscriber to share their thoughts about something related to your cause
  • Survey should be about the overall mission and value proposition of your organization to affirm that there is alignment in values and mission
  • Survey is followed by soft ask/instant donation page (covered above)
  • CTA take the survey

Email 4 – Survey resend

  • Survey resend to those who have not filled out the survey
  • Make it personable “I noticed you haven’t filled out this survey yet”
  • CTA to take the survey

Email 5 – Provide value/ Story of impact

  • You’ve asked your subscriber to take action, now focus on providing value
  • Select one of your most impactful stories and share it with the subscriber
  • No CTA needed

Email 6 – Provide value/ Ebook launch

  • Continue to provide value – now is the time to provide a resource
  • Select an ebook offer that will resonate
  • Ebook offer should be followed by soft ask/instant donation page
  • CTA to download the ebook

Email 7 – Ebook email 2

  • Reminder to download it if they haven’t already
  • Ask for feedback on the ebook if they’ve download it – what did they think of it
  • CTA asking for reply back

Email 8 – Get a donation

  • This email is a direct appeal
  • Make it clear, state the problem, the solution, and how the organization (and the donor) is part of the solution. Your subscriber is helping you solve this problem
  • CTA is asking for a donation

And that’s all there is to it. If you don’t already have a welcome series in place, you should strongly consider it. 

If you do have a welcome series in place, consider optimizing it by using the framework outlines above!

In the next section we’ll take a look at optimizing your emails acquisition tactics (because the first step to acquiring a new donor is acquiring a new email) but first …

Be sure to grab your free copy of the same New Name Welcome Series Framework we use with our clients!

In this simple google doc, you will find clear, straightforward prompts to help you build your content and plan your sends so that you can see similar results to those we shared above!

Get your free framework to create a new name welcome series that encourages engagement and increases donations

Optimizing your emails for donor acquisition

Why email acquisition?

In our research and our work with clients, something we often hear is this:

“How is email acquisition applicable in the non-profit space?” 

The primary benefit of growing the size of your email file is that in recent years, email has been the single largest source of online fundraising revenue for the vast majority of nonprofits.

And there is no reason to believe this trend will change.

Which means that investing resources into growing your file and writing high-quality, engaging emails is one of the smartest investments nonprofit organizations can make.

So the secret is out: email is top dog when it comes to raising money online. 

The graph shown above is from one of our clients. The blue line represents traffic across all of their different traffic mediums, and the orange bar represents revenue. 

As you may have deduced, this organization has a very large email file. This is why email is the largest source of traffic. 

But take a look at the relationship between email traffic and revenue. Compared to other high-traffic sources like organic search and direct visitors (none), revenue in relation to email traffic far outpaces other channels. 

Even compared to other direct response sources like mail, radio, DRTV, and paid Facebook (newsfeed), you can’t get a better ‘bang for your buck’ as you can with email.

This is not just a snapshot of a campaign month with particularly high email volume– this is a whole year.

For comparison, we grabbed the 1-year data for three other clients.  Here’s what we found:

Client #1 – This organization receives very high levels of organic and website traffic. Despite having crazy amounts of organic traffic, email is still the highest revenue producer.

A bar chart showing that while email is not the largest traffic source it is by far the largest driver of revenue.

Client #2 – In this case, email is actually one of the lower sources of traffic, yet it is the highest source of revenue — bringing in more dollars than organic, which accounts for about 79% more traffic. 

Client #4 – For this client, email is the highest source of traffic and the highest source of revenue — far outperforming all other digital channels.

So you can see just how important email fundraising is to these organizations. 

But just in case you’re not totally convinced, here are 4 quick stats that illustrate the impact that email file growth can have at a nonprofit:

  • Offline donors can be up to 90% more valuable when you have their email address.
  • Retention increases by 29% for offline donors when you have their email address.
  • Multi-channel donors can be 212% more valuable for your organization than offline-only donors.
  • Multi-channel donors have a 56% higher retention rate than offline-only donors.

So now the question is, how can you go about growing your email list?

How to acquire more emails

1. Write effective, value-driven copy

The most important factor that influences conversion is your value proposition. 

And the most important tool you have to communicate your value proposition is your copy. When writing email acquisition copy, clarity equals persuasion.

The goal is to communicate the value of the offer as clearly as possible.

To write an effective value proposition you need to create appeal and exclusivity.

Why should the user download your offer rather than another organizations offer, or at all?

Why should a potential donor donate your nonprofit rather than another nonprofit, or at all?

2. Design an effective email acquisition landing page

Your email acquisition page design should have just one goal: to facilitate the mental conversation between you and your visitor. 

If the design is too beautiful (or too ugly), it’s a distraction.

The goal is to strike a balance. The whole page design should focus intently on the offer that’s being communicated and be congruent with the ad or email that sent them there.

If using visual elements, be sure they reinforce the value proposition.

3. Think about thought-sequencing 

Every time you ask for something – whether it’s a donation or just an email signup – you are entering a mental conversation with your visitor. 

To increase the potential for success, it is important that the thought sequence of that conversation take place in the proper order.

Briefly imagine if you were approached by a stranger on the street, and they said, “Hey, my name’s Tim. Can I have your business card? I’m going to call you later!”

You probably would give this person a weird look, and think, “No way, I don’t know you! Of course, you can’t have my contact information! Leave me alone.”

We would never give away something valuable to us, like our contact information, just because someone asks for it. The same is true online.

Not only does it matter how we ask, but the order in which we ask for someone’s information is crucial. When we ask for it out of order, we create anxiety in the mind of the person on the other side of the screen.

Be sure you’re only asking the user for essential information and that you don’t ask for it too soon. 

These 3 tactics are just the beginning of getting email acquisition right. To see all 7 of our cornerstone email acquisition concepts, check out our full guide by clicking below!

Get 4 more ways to help grow your email file with our Complete Guide to Email Acquisition.

Choosing the right offer

As we alluded to earlier in this guide, when choosing your email acquisition offer, you must present something that the visitor perceives to be of greater value than their personal contact information.

What do we mean by an email acquisition offer?

An offer is an appealing piece of information that adds value to your prospect’s life. You could use e-books, white papers, downloads, access to a special resource center, signing a name to a petition, additional resources, articles, etc.

What matters most is choosing an offer that adequately inspires your audience to enter a value exchange.

In the example below, we tested three unique offers against each other using an email acquisition form for the Texas State Historical Association.

A side-by-side comparison of three content offers examined in an A/B test

Visitors completed a ten-question education quiz over Texas history called “Are you Smarter than a Texas Seventh-Grader?” 

Each question was based on real material taught in seventh-grade classrooms throughout the state. It was designed as a unique way for people to experience their value proposition as an organization.

The goal of the final page was to present the visitor with an opportunity to learn more about the Texas State Historical Association.

The initial incentive was a free chapter of the Texas Almanac. We tested this against an e-book about the Battle of the Alamo. 

We also tested this against a compilation of several scholarly essays produced through their Southwestern Historical Quarterly.

After conducting an A/B/C test, we discovered that Treatment 1 produced a 50% increase in conversion and Treatment 2 produced a 12% increase.

A side-by-side comparison showing an increase in email acquisition for treatment one.

By running this split test with different offers, we were able to identify what specific offer would be most appealing to our target audience – very valuable data! 

As a result, the TSHA achieved increased their acquisition of qualified email addresses which could then be cultivated into donors.

This is an easy way to evolve your incentive into the best possible offer for your audience!

You might be thinking you don’t have the right content to run tests like these. But the truth is, you probably do.

E-books are an excellent tool to use as a content offer!

And you probably have plenty of content already in your organization: blog posts, articles, webinars, books, recorded speakers from past events, etc., which can easily be turned into an e-book and offered as a way to help grow and bolster your email file.

The key takeaway is that people don’t hand out their personal information just because you ask for it. 

And most people aren’t motivated to give you their email address just because you have a newsletter. 

A content offer can give someone a tangible reason to give you their contact information because they are receiving value in return

And testing your way to the right incentive will not only help you get a higher conversion rate in your acquisition efforts. It will also help you grow a deeper understanding of the motivation of your target audience.

Optimizing your web pages for donor acquisition

Before you can convert new donors via email, you need to know how to acquire more names in the first place.

In this section, we will take a closer look at email acquisition so that you can add more high-quality names to your file that you can cultivate into donors!

5 Elements of a high converting email acquisition page (Landing page layout & design)

Every time you ask for something – whether it’s a donation or just an email signup – you are entering a mental conversation with your visitor. 

To increase the potential for success, it is important that the thought sequence of that conversation take place in the proper order.

Not only does it matter how we ask, but the order in which we ask for someone’s information is crucial. When we ask for it out of order, we create anxiety, or mental friction, in the mind of the person on the other side of the screen.

Below find 5 ways to optimize your email acquisition pages to reduce friction and increase conversions.

1. Use a linear layout

The content on your page should flow from top to bottom, not left to right. 

Experiment #2472 , shown below,  is a great example of this principle. 

Adjusting the flow of the page increased conversion by 7.7%.

side-by-side comparison showing a 7% increase in email acquisition by aligning a page vertically
2. Add a call-to-action

This one is easy to forget. But after you’ve explained why someone should accept your offer, you need to directly ask them to take action and clearly tell them how

Do this with a short crosshead and a brief sentence or two. 

The experiment below experiment from National Breast Cancer Foundation is a perfect example of the importance of a call-to-action.

3. Use as few form fields as possible

More form fields generally mean more friction and fewer conversions. So don’t ask for more information than you really need

Experiment #5847 is a great example where reducing the fields needed to register for an online course increased conversion by 8.9%.

A side-by-side comparison showing a 9% increase in acquisition by reducing form fields

4. For supporting content, use testimonials or endorsements

There are tons of different kinds of supporting content, but the two that consistently lift conversion rates are testimonials and endorsements. In experiment #6331, we replaced the online course schedule with testimonials from students and saw a 20% increase in registrations.

5. Add a privacy statement below the submit button

Finally, ensuring that someone’s information will remain private and secure is a great way to relieve anxiety in the mind of the user. And it’s one of the simplest elements to implement.

Experiment #4354, shown below helped us discover this principle. 

The original page had a privacy statement, and we wondered if it was actually introducing anxiety, rather than helping. 

But, when we removed the statement, it decreased conversion by 33%. 

We quickly learned that these privacy statements reassure skeptical users that their information will indeed be kept secure!

A side-by-side comparison showing a 33% decrease in email acquisition when security statement is removed
Get 8 more elements to increase conversions on your email acquisition page.

Exit intent pop-ups

As long as you use them to provide helpful and relevant content, exit intent pop-up offers can be one of the most powerful tools on your site to acquire new email addresses.

In this experiment, the organization wanted to see if they could use a tool like an exit-intent offer on their News and Press Release pages to capture emails of people who were about to leave a web page. 

On the original pages, you had to scroll to the footer to find an opportunity to sign up for an email list if you were so inclined.

In the treatment, we tested adding an exit-intent pop-up that asked the visitor if they wanted to “Stay informed of changes.” 

Since this site provided news related to that topic, it was a relevant offer placed at a time when the reader could very well be interested in knowing when there is more, relevant news.

By using a relevant offer, they saw a 297% increase in emails acquired.

A side-by-side comparison showing a 298% lift in email acquisitions by using an exit-intent popup

But what if you already have an offer on the page?

This organization had an email capture offer placed in a fairly prominent position on their homepage. The original hope was that readers would naturally find the offer, fill out the form, and be on their way.

But we wondered if an exit-intent offer could actually lift their conversion rates by placing an opportunity to get more content from the organization right as they were about to exit.

When we ran the experiment, we saw a 94% increase in emails acquired by using the exit-intent offer over just the in-line offer.

A side-by-side comparison showing a 94% lift in email acquisitions by using an exit-intent popup

In this experiment, the organization used an exit-intent offer in a slightly different way. 

The experiments above show exit-intents showing a generic offer on homepages and article pages. But in this test, we thought they could increase conversion rates on a high-traffic email acquisition page by using an exit-intent to show a secondary offer.

The original acquisition page was offering a free eBook. Someone who visited the page either got the eBook, or they bounced. 

But the treatment used an exit-intent offer, hypothesizing that someone who would abandon the eBook page might still be interested in getting a Texas history update each week.

After running the experiment, they saw a 37% increase in emails acquired

Interestingly, the exit-intent drove a significant increase in conversion from the original offer – meaning that the exit-intent captured their attention and actually drove them back to reconsider getting the eBook.

A side-by-side comparison showing a 37% lift in email acquisitions by using an exit-intent popup

In this guide, we’ve taken a deep dive into elements of effective donor acquisition.

Key learnings:

  1. Content offers serve as an exceptional vehicle for acquiring new names to your file
  2. Using our proven 4-step acquisition model, you can also quickly turn those subscribers into new donors
  3. Content offers need to be actionable, they need to provide tangible value, and they need to align with your donor’s interests to be effective
  4. Using an “instant donation” page can help you increase donor acquisition dramatically, but there are 16 core elements to getting it right
  5. You need to use relevant channels (where your donors spend time online) to advertise your content offers
  6. A new subscriber welcome series can dramatically reduce the time it takes to convert a new subscriber to a new donor
  7. Donor acquisition begins with email acquisition and there are key tactics to be aware of when it comes to optimizing your emails and landing pages to acquire more qualified names 
Published by Riley Young

Riley Landenberger is Audience Engagement Manager at NextAfter.