Want More Donors? Start Onboarding New Email Subscribers!

By Ephraim Gopin

Email marketing should be a part of your organization’s overall multi-channel fundraising strategy. Growing your email list provides your organization with opportunities to build relationships, strengthen trust and eventually, use your e-newsletter as a fundraising vehicle.

How do your grow your email list? That starts with the onboarding process: Encouraging people who visit your website to sign up. However, it’s not as simple as placing a signup form on your site. People’s inboxes are overflowing. You need to give them a reason to want to invite you into their inbox.

Here’s a look at some best practices and tips related to the onboarding process:

Location, Location, Location

Some of you may think that the upper banner of your website is the best location for your signup form. After all, people come to your site, they immediately see the signup form and you want them to take action.

But keep in kind what else should be prominently displayed in that banner: A “donate” button. THAT should be the only CTA (call to action) in that area. Competing CTA’s only confuses visitors to your site.

So where should the e-newsletter signup form be placed? Towards the bottom of every page of your site, right above the footer/sitemap. The background color of the banner should stand out and so should the color of the “subscribe” button.

Why at the bottom? Visitors have had a chance to scroll through your homepage, read a blog post, learn about a specific program via your site and now that you have provided them with value, they are ready to sign up.

Tip: Make sure people can sign up right there. Don’t have a “sign up” button that leads to a new page. People don’t have time for that. Let them reach the bottom of the page, fill in your form, click “submit” and move on.

Bad Form

I’ve seen signup forms which had more than 10 required fields. The organization wants all your personal details, including Zoom ID and blood type.

There’s only one piece of information that you REALLY need: Email address. That’s it. The only other field you should consider adding is “first name.” That allows you to personalize all email communications with the subscriber.

Last name? Get that down the road. Or look at the email address: Sometimes people include their last name. If they use a work email, go to the website where they work and see if the person is listed there. But adding an extra field that’s not necessary at the outset just causes friction. Less friction = better conversion rate = more subscribers.

Tip: Use social media, follow up emails and other avenues to learn more about each subscriber. You’ll have ample opportunity to engage them. Now, while they’re on your site, you have one mission: Get them to sign up.

The Ask

So your form is in the right place and you have the correct amount of fields. Next step? A persuasive CTA.

Check out this example from the American Cancer Society:

The first sentence is great – they’re asking you to team up with them to end cancer. Who wouldn’t want to join that team?! The third sentence is also good: We all know someone who had/has cancer. Many of us have an interest in learning more about the latest research and treatments. Additionally, “healthy living tips” makes a person stop for a second and think: I don’t want to get cancer. If those health tips can help with prevention, sign me up!

It’s not enough to tell people to “sign up” or “receive updates.” Tell them what your e-newsletter includes and give them a good reason to want to subscribe.

Here’s another example, from Planned Parenthood:

The “join our network” tells you exactly why you should sign up.

Important to note: Planned Parenthood requires you to input your zip code. Why? Their advocacy work takes place at both a national and local level. Knowing your zip code allows them to segment their email list. When a local issue arises, they can contact only those people who live in the affected zip code.

Gratitude Attitude

So I’ve signed up to receive your e-newsletter. What’s the first thing your nonprofit should do? Email and ask me for a donation!


You need to say thank you! You should have a thank you message pop-up on your site after someone subscribes and a welcome email should automatically be delivered to their inbox.

This email is important because it’s your first touch point with a new subscriber. Your email should come from a person (not info@orgx.org), be warm, welcoming and full of gratitude. It should contain some information about your mission, a link to learn more via your website and provide social media icons at the bottom. That’s it.

Here’s the opening from the Save The Children welcome email:

They express gratitude, welcome me, make me feel like part of the family. (It says “Dear E” because I only submitted my first initial on their sign up form.)

Take a look at the second half of a welcome email from The JDC:

A link to a video, some brief information about their work in Israel, Romania and Ukraine (gives you a sense of their global reach) and the offer to “stay connected” via social media.

Simple, easy, eye catching, welcoming, informative.

Tip: NEVER ask for a donation in your welcome email. As fundraising copywriting expert Julie Cooper says: “Asking a new subscriber to donate- or do anything significant right away- is like asking you to marry them on the first date.”

Now that you know where the form should be placed, what fields to include, the importance of a CTA and the need to immediately welcome new subscribers, you’re ready to grow your list!

Ephraim Gopin is the founder of 1832 Communications, an agency which helps your nonprofit raise more money through strategic and smart marketing and communications.

Download Ephraims free ebook: “How To Successfully Onboard New Subscribers To Your Nonprofit E-newsletter” which is full of tips, best (and worst!) practices and expert advice. Learn about email marketing strategy, form location, form fields, pop-up ads, opt in on donation pages, welcome emails and much more.