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Where Marketers Go to Grow

February 2, 2016 // 7:00 AM

The Nonprofit’s Guide to Email Nurturing for Membership Retention

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Many nonprofits fall victim to a common marketing trap: they pour efforts into acquisition, while ignoring the leaky bucket on the other side—the fact that existing members are churning out almost as fast as they’re entering the funnel. What gives?

There are many factors at play here. For one, digital audiences have short attention spans and have limited mental bandwidth to track the many moving parts of their interests and lives. Secondly, digital audiences have moved to a news feed style culture of passive information delivery. Just take a look at the widespread growth of Twitter, Slack, and other platforms.

Nonprofits need a way to engage and re-engage their members: data consistently shows that among companies, existing customers tend to be the most valuable. Given that they aim to reach the same audiences that companies do, why should nonprofits be any different?

If your membership retention rates are low, you’re dealing with an unnecessarily leaky engine. Here’s how you can use email marketing to fight this challenge head-on. (And if you need a refresher on email nurturing before you dive into the rest of this blog post, check out HubSpot’s Intro to Lead Nurturing Guide).

Here are are 5 tips that nonprofits should keep in mind when developing lead nurturing content:

1) Always Be Delighting 

Don’t be the friend who only calls when you need help or money. Make sure that you’re consistently sending email updates with helpful and relevant information. In addition to talking about our organization, make sure that you share news and updates about the communities that you serve--stories from ‘in the field,’ news, and updates provide great reading material here. Imagine that your organization is an entertainer and educator. Focus on delivering value with every interaction and communication touchpoint. To accomplish this goal successfully, you’ll need to understand your audience personas. That’s where Step 2 comes in.

2) Segment Emails by Interest

Your subscribers want messaging that’s tailored to the interests and needs—not one size fits all content. In your email nurturing communications, make sure that you tailor your messages to the needs of your list. Tap into the pools of data that you collected about your members when they signed up. Supplement this information with website browsing data: what content are your different segments taking interest to and why? For instance, you may notice that your audiences are spending more time on pages related to membership, donation, or volunteering. Make sure that your marketing materials reflect this browsing intent. 

Precision is key when developing email nurturing content.

3) Time Your Campaigns Right

Create campaigns that support key membership goals. Structure your automation around key events in your members’ lifecycles, paying close attention to renewal dates and events that your organization might be hosting. Your messages should ‘warm up’ your audiences a few months out, and always provide reminders about why and how your organization provides value. You’ll want to reinforce the great work that you do and why your members should want to stick around and keep being a part of it all. When it comes to lead nurturing, timing is key: make sure that you’re delivering the right messages at the right time in your audience's’ experiences as members. Even better? You can automate this entire process. 

4) Automate Emails with Workflows

Don’t just send emails for the sake of sending emails. Every message that you compile should lead to a concrete and tangible ‘next step’ that you want to take your members to take. Maybe you want to guide your audience to an event that you’re hosting, or maybe you’re fundraising for a campaign. Make sure that you always have an end goal in mind and that you specify a clear set of action for your segments to take. Pre-designed email workflows can help. Specify exactly what you want to take place after someone downloads a case study, ebook, or brochure that your organization releases. With everything planned, there will be no manual effort on your part. 

5) Always Be Testing

Email nurturing and marketing automation campaigns don’t exist in a vacuum. You need to make sure that you’re refining your messaging continuously and always making sure that your emails make an impact.

That being said, you’ll want to run continuous A/B tests on your calls to action, subject lines, and offers, as soon as you get your campaigns up and running. Make sure that you double down on your email segments and make sure that you have the right messaging tailored to each individual member. If someone isn’t clicking on your ‘hard sell’ renewal emails for instance, try something a little softer and more engaging. 

Focus on Relationships

When it comes to developing an effective lead nurturing program, there is no cookie cutter or blueprint: you need to focus on building strong audience relationships. Test out different types of content, gather feedback, and make sure that your email communications are spot-on. In today’s digital age, audience are overwhelmed with more information than they can process. Make every interaction count.

For more on using email to grow membership, check out our previous post 5 Emails Your Association Should Send to Increase Memberships.

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Topics: Nonprofit

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