How to Grow Nonprofit Email Lists Through Organic Social Media

March 1, 2024

Building an organic social media community is a crucial strategy for nonprofits looking to grow their email lists and increase donations, but lately we’ve been hearing from nonprofits that they’re ready to throw in the towel. We’ve heard it all: “Social is no longer converting.” “No one is engaging.” “It’s too overcrowded for our small brand.” “We’re giving up.”

If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place, and you’re not alone.

While email marketing plays a key role in converting supporters into donors, organic social media serves as a vital tool for building a strong foundation of engaged followers who are more likely to join your email list and support your cause. If you saw few direct donations from social media and high conversion rates from email during your last fundraising campaign, you may be tempted to nix social the next time around and pour all your efforts into email marketing.

But before you make this drastic change, read on to see how these two key players can help you increase donations in 2024 when integrating them strategically (and why giving up on one or the other would be a huge mistake).

Nurturing a Social Media Community for Email List Growth

Organic social media allows nonprofits to connect with their audience on a more personal level, fostering a sense of community and trust. By sharing authentic stories, behind-the-scenes content, and engaging with followers, nonprofits can build a loyal following that is more likely to take action, including signing up for email newsletters.

This sense of community is crucial for email list growth, as followers who feel connected to your organization are more likely to opt-in to receive further communication. Additionally, social media provides a platform for nonprofits to showcase their impact and share success stories, further inspiring followers to join their email list and support their cause. Without this established community, it can be a painful and frustrating process to try to convince someone to join your email list.

The Role of Organic Social Media in Fundraising Campaigns

In fundraising campaigns, organic social media plays a crucial role in priming and reminding supporters about the campaign. By sharing teaser content, countdowns, and updates leading up to the campaign launch, nonprofits can generate excitement and anticipation among their social media followers.

Once the campaign is live, organic social media can continue to remind followers about the campaign and encourage them to take action, such as signing up for email updates or making a donation. While social media serves as a tool for priming and reminding, email marketing is then used to make the direct ask and convert supporters into donors.

Key Strategies for Building an Organic Social Media Community

  • Consistent and Authentic Storytelling: Share compelling stories that highlight your impact and connect with your audience on an emotional level.
  • Engagement and Interaction: Respond to comments, messages, and mentions to foster a sense of community and show appreciation for your followers.
  • Value-Driven Content: Provide value to your followers through educational content, resources, and exclusive offers that encourage them to join your email list for more.

Turning FB fundraisers into Long-Time Donors (Katelyn’s example)

I first learned about the tremendous power of using social media to grow your email list when I worked with my client, The National Breast Cancer Foundation, to audit their email program. I was baffled when I saw that 19K contacts – 72% of their house file – came from GoodUnited when they launched a fitness challenge. 

While the rapid list growth was impressive, we quickly learned through low engagement rates, that this segment didn’t have the same motivation or interests as the rest of their list. They were brand new to the organization, acquired through a different channel, and needed personalized communication.

Ask yourself this question: when you give to your friend’s birthday fundraiser, do you donate because you care about the cause or about your friend? Likely the ladder. 

The biggest mistake I see when it comes to donors from social is nonprofits uploading this group into their email service provider (ESP) then sending them the monthly newsletter, with little to no cultivation strategy.

So, how do you get a group like this – acquired from Facebook – to engage with your emails?

✨ Segmentation + personalization + automation  = life-long supporters! ✨

Segment the List 

Group people together by their interest, motivation, and their interaction with your organization. 

Did they host a fitness challenge? Was it a birthday fundraiser? Did they donate to a Facebook fundraiser? Segmenting sets you up for personalization.

Personalize the Emails

Now that you’ve grouped together people by their common interests, now you can personalize your emails to them. 

For example, if it’s someone who hosted a birthday fundraiser their email would say something along the lines of “thank you for using your birthday to make the world a better place.” Let’s say they participated in a fitness challenge, that email would say “Thank you for using your passion for health & fitness to support our cause.” 

Email Automation

Setting up a series of automated emails so that the work is being done for you in the background can be your secret weapon to running successful email campaigns. 

The first email is thanking them and introducing your mission, the next few would be showing them the impact of their gift or support, and then finally a call-to-action (CTA). Maybe the CTA is to sign up for your newsletter, or text messages, or make a donation (only if they were someone who participated, but did not donate). 

Moral of the story: email is like dating. You don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date. You have to first build a trusting relationship. 

The Dangers of Only Investing in Email or Social (Not Both)

While email marketing and social media marketing are both effective strategies on their own, relying solely on one or the other can limit a nonprofit's reach and impact. For example, if a nonprofit focuses only on building an email list, they may miss out on the opportunity to engage with a larger audience on social media. On the other hand, if a nonprofit focuses solely on social media, they may struggle to convert followers into donors without a robust email marketing strategy.

By investing in both email and social media marketing, nonprofits can create a more comprehensive and effective digital marketing strategy that reaches a wider audience and drives more donations.

About Brynne

Brynne Krispin is a social media strategist for nonprofits and small businesses. Working with NGOs, thought leaders, and policymakers in DC for the last decade, she specializes in getting people to care about complex issues that might otherwise get ignored. Her team at Cause Fokus uses empathy-based marketing to turn passive audiences into loyal advocates.

About Katelyn

A digital marketing manager turned consultant, Katelyn Baughan is passionate about helping nonprofits move their mission forward through email marketing. Katelyn has helped some of the most well-known nonprofits with campaigns that have raised millions through her work as the CEO of KB Digital.