List Building: Non-profits Should Resist Buying Fundraising Lists

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

list building

List Building Matters

Whether it is for advocacy or fundraising, nonprofits spend a lot of time list building. With the right plan, an organization can grow and engage through their list. But done the wrong way, list building can be a waste of money and resources.  Here is some advice on list build for organizations:

Think Beyond List Size
Many folks think list size matters. It does not. If there is one bit of advice I wish every group would take, it is to remove the deadwood from their lists. Don’t keep people who have been on your list for a year and never opened an email or responded to a direct mail appeal. Get rid of them now. List hygiene is undervalued for groups. Make sure you are updating and cleaning your list—whether that is a mailing list or an email list. It will give you a real understanding of the resources you have. 

Have a Plan Once You Acquire a Name
The most common mistake groups make, is not having a real plan to follow up with folks once they acquire an email address. Many organizations spend a lot of money to acquire names, but then don’t go about the process of keeping those folks engaged. With a little know-how, you can keep engagement up long-term by using a variety of list building strategies. For example creating content of all types and driving folks to video content, SMS signup, organizational branded apps or other types of content. These are strategies folks should look into, depending on their goals. 

Engage Your List
Build your list from the ground up. Do everything to organically collect email addresses, like petition campaigns, Facebook ads with calls to action, and content marketing. Place gated content on your website for download, and collect email addresses to access it. Evaluate every resource you have and turn it into an opportunity to fine tune and build your list.

Try a Re-engagement Campaign
Back to that deadwood. If someone has not engaged in a while, try a re-engagement campaign. 

Segment Your List From The Beginning
Having specific messages for specific audiences can help you. Not having them, can hurt you. Segmenting existing lists, and adding data to lists that you already have both works very well. 

One More Time, Never Buy Lists! 
Buying cold lists is a real problem for nonprofits and advocacy campaigns, especially when it comes to email lists. We have not seen this method work. We have seen our clients build great email lists from the ground up by getting folks to take action.  

Direct Mail May Be Worth a Shot… 
Direct mail has been seen as the only real targeted medium for a long time, but today that is not the case. Depending on what your goals and your audience are, direct mail may still do very well for you. You should also be testing other mediums to see if there are ways to engage your direct mail audience by doing list matches to your email list and serving them digital ads.

Try Modeling 
Use modeled lists to build broader coalitions over the long term. Segment your existing list and match that data to other lists to get more information on who your members, donors, and activists are.

Use Your Content as a Way to Engage in Advocacy and Fundraising
I believe we are moving to a place in communications where we will continue to have more channels not less, and we need to think about advocacy across platforms and creating content that engages. A single platform won’t do that. Thinking about how we connect, engage, and track advocates across multiple platforms are needed for the digital world.

About seven years ago content marketing became a hobby of mine. Real content marketing has been embraced by companies, but not by nonprofits the way it should. Organic search is massively undervalued and very cheap for groups to do – it also works very well with a social media strategy. In-app communication is also something we are looking into for large nonprofits to increase engagement over the long term. 

Have questions about list building? Ask them here.