June 23, 2013

Group Uses Creative Tactics to Grow E-Mail List Tenfold

A NEW LOOK: To mark the second anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, the National Audubon Society redesigned its Web site to make it look like it had been taken over by an oil slick. It asked supporters to take specific conservation actions each day of the week, such as installing at least two energy-saving light bulbs or biking to work.

By expanding the number of its supporters tenfold in just two years, the National Audubon Society’s online fundraising grew faster than any of the other 153 charities in a new study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The organization collected more than $516,000 online in the fiscal year it wrapped up on June 30, 2012, an increase of 181 percent.

A year earlier, the group had just 30,000 e-mail addresses of prospective donors, many of whom had been solicited by the charity “over and over again,” says Jessica Green, its vice president for engagement.

Today, that list totals more than 305,000, the result of a push to reach out to a broader, more diverse audience through social networks, its Web site, marketing campaigns, and by buying lists from other groups.

Involving Supporters

Audubon has also taken creative online approaches to get supporters more involved in its mission. Last April it ran a weeklong campaign to mark the second anniversary of the Gulf Oil spill called “Oil and Birds Don’t Mix.”

The group redesigned its Web site to make it look like it had been overtaken by an oil spill. It also encouraged people to take action that would help decrease gas use and promote the importance of helping birds by writing letters to lawmakers, forgoing trips in their cars, and teaching children about the importance of nature. About 9,000 people told the charity they took those steps, Ms. Green says.

More Appeals

In addition to expanding the size of its e-mail list, the charity also stepped up the number of appeals it has been sending. “We’re asking for more money more frequently and more effectively,” she says.

But that by itself is not enough, Ms. Green says. “We learned that to be successful in fundraising, you can’t always be asking for money,” she says. “It’s important to keep our supporters engaged and informed, to thank them for their contributions and celebrate their success.”

To do that, the organization created a monthly e-mail newsletter in late 2011 and sends regular messages that thank donors and point them to advocacy efforts.

The charity expects these changes to help it further improve its online fundraising returns this year and beyond. Online gifts accounted for 3.7 percent of Audubon’s fundraising returns in total gifts of under $1,000 in 2012—up from 1.3 percent in 2011.

It expects that figure to grow to 6.4 percent this year and 10 to 15 percent of its total fundraising revenue in the next two years.

Send an e-mail to Raymund Flandez.