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What I Learned After Signing Up for 180 Nonprofit Email Lists

Published by Nathan Hill

My name is Allan Torres and I recently became the Optimization and Marketing Intern at NextAfter. My time so far has been a crazy whirlwind of learning, adapting, and having my world opened to new experiences. Recently, one of these experiences was a research study everyone here at NextAfter embarked on.

The Mission

The task was to visit over 180 non-profit organizations’ home pages and sign-up for their email subscription. We kept track of the entire process while looking at things like:

  • Different types of friction
  • What was in it for the email subscriber
  • Did the organization have a value proposition? This would be some sort of an offer such as an eBook, newsletter, online course or something else.

We’re still analyzing all the data, but I wanted to share 3 key lessons learned by signing up for 180 nonprofit email lists.

“Sign Up for Email” is not a proper incentive

Most 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. An incentive can give someone a tangible reason to give you their contact information.

A whopping 83% of the organizations that we looked only offered some sort of a newsletter. We have seen that offers that go above and beyond a newsletter are generally more effective over time. Some of these offers include:

  • Petitions
  • eBooks
  • Online Courses

You may think that these “offers” could add friction because they require time to go through or “cost” the prospective donor time. However, sometimes there needs to be a small amount of cost. We have found that the increasing amount of investment that someone spends on your offer has a significant impact on their likelihood to eventually become a donor.

I would love to know the difference in these organizations’ email acquisition rates if the 83% who only had a newsletter, began to offer something else like an eBook, online course, or even a petition.

It’s super hard to find where to sign up”

We also looked at the friction that was present when signing up for emails. When we talk about friction, we mean anything that is either a distraction or a roadblock, in this case, a roadblock stopping one from providing their email. Something I personally noticed was that many of the websites did not have a clear location of where to provide your email address. Some did not even have an opportunity to acquire your email address because there wasn’t a spot for it (see image below.) If I cannot find where to sign up for an email subscription in under 10 seconds, chances are others are having a hard time as well.

What did I just sign up for?

Another question we asked while combing through these websites was “Is it clearly communicated what you will be receiving by signing up?” We answered the question on a scale of

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Undecided
  • or Agree

The results were surprising. Only 34% of organizations received a score of Agree. Which means 66% of the organizations did not communicate clearly or effectively. Lack of clarity can also be another form of friction. How can someone make a decision to give you an email address if they do not understand what is being offered to them in exchange?

Below are three examples from three different organizations. By reading the sign up prompt, can you tell what is being offered or what the person signing up can expect to arrive in their inbox?

Some questions that your organization may want to think about when writing copy for your offer are:

  • What the donor will get?
  • How often?
  • When they’ll receive the first one?
  • What benefit it has for the person signing up?

Here is a fantastic example of how just a small amount of copy significantly improves the communication of what this particular newsletter offers.

There’s so much opportunity for growth

This blog post is not meant to be negative; it is worth noting what changes an organization can make to improve their email acquisition. If you need or would like a refresher this Complete Guide to Email Acquisition is a great place to start.

When it comes down to it, I’m not the expert on what works to grow your email file. No one here at NextAfter is the expert. And as much as this might sting…you’re not either.

The only people who are experts at what works to get someone to say “yes” and sign up are your donors and potential donors.

In order to learn what works, we’ve tested and tested different offers, value propositions, designs, and more to measure what actually increases the likelihood of someone signing up for your email list.

You can dig deeper into what we’ve seen works to increase conversion and grow the size of your email file in this Complete Guide to Email Acquisition.

Truth be told, no guide is ever really “complete.” We always need to be testing and learning what really works.

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.