When you're collecting email addresses, you need to focus on both donors and non-donors. Don't neglect one group in favor of the other. It's critical to get the email addresses of your donors so that you can keep them informed of news and information that relates to their membership status with your organization. Also make an effort to collect the email addresses of donors that joined in past years, which you can do at membership renewal time. Non-donors are a large group of individuals that have an interest in your programs or activities, but for various reasons haven't had the time or financial freedom to become contributing members. We like to call these future donors! Non-donors should be asked to "stay in touch" by providing their email addresses. Always remember the golden rule:
Get permission to use an email address.
Anywhere you solicit an email address, include a brief explanation of what you will do with it, such as "We'll use your email address to send you occasional email updates. We won't share your email address with anyone, and you can ‘unsubscribe' at any time." Purchased lists simply do not work and should not be used. You will be regarded as spam and be almost universally deleted before anybody sees your messages, all the while building a bad reputation. A smaller list of people who are known to be interested in your organization and cause is much more effective than a huge list of unknown and uninterested recipients.
So you may be wondering, well how do I go about building a large email database? Don't worry - there are plenty of opportunities to ask for email addresses:
On your site. Get email addresses from your site visitors by making it really easy to get on your e-news list. Place the subscription form prominently on the home page and other high-trafficked pages - and give visitors a good reason to leave their name by telling them they'll get something they want in your e-newsletter such as tips, important information or reminders of scheduled events. In the ideal setup, the user inputs their email address on your home page, clicks submit, and is then taken to another page where they can optionally provide additional information, such as first name/last name, zip code, and interests so you can personalize and target messages.
With printed materials: All of your print materials should ask for email addresses and provide easy ways to sign up for the e-newsletter. You can invite people to send a blank email to an email address that you set up through your email messaging system; just by sending the email they will be subscribed. You can tell them to go to your home page and sign up there. Or you can tell them to mail or fax back the ad or form with their email address scribbled on it and you will enter it into the database.
At events: If you're running a kiosk or a booth at an event, ask people face-to-face for their email address, and explain why you're doing it. Or you can set up a laptop and let people enter their email addresses and other information. You can announce a raffle or a contest, asking people to write their email addresses on the raffle stub to enter. If you're at a business event, you can ask people to leave their business cards.
On the phone: At the end of a call, when a donor has either pledged or declined, the caller can ask: "Please give me your email addresses so we can stay in contact. Email saves us money, and let's us contact you when there's breaking news." It's an opportunity for the person on the phone to be in the loop, not an intrusion.
In person: This won't grow your list fast, but it shouldn't be overlooked. In a busy day, you might meet a dozen new people. Ask them for their cards or email addresses, and then make sure their email addresses are entered onto the e-newsletter list. When you or others representing your organization give a speech or make a presentation, invite listeners at the end to give you their cards if they'd like to get your e-news.
Mailings: Mailings are good opportunities to ask for email addresses, because there's often a response mechanism built into the mailing. Make sure there's a line for email addresses - and possibly a premium or some other incentive. Double postcards are also good for collecting email, since people can tear off the reply postcard and mail it back to RSVP or sign up for something.
Premiums, contests and raffles: Any kind of donor contact that has a reward is a good opportunity to ask for email addresses. In the case of a membership premium, the donor is already excited about receiving a gift in exchange for a donation, so obtaining their email is usually easy. Contests and raffles are other good times, since the expectation of winning requires someone to do something, and giving their email address is easy and free.