Expanding Your Mailing List

Dear Kim,

How can a nonprofit expand their current mailing list?
—More, more, more

Dear More, more,

There are several ways to do this, from the very expensive to the cheap. Very expensive would include large scale direct mail and telemarketing. If you have the money, this can be very effective. However, if you had so much money you probably wouldn’t be writing to me, so I am going to describe the cheaper methods.

The best way to expand your mailing list is to enlist the help of those already on it. Once a year, ask each person on the list to send in the names of three people who they think would be interested in your group. By naming a small number (three), the task seems very do-able. Provide them a form to fill in the names and addresses, and include a box beside each name that says, “You may use my name in contacting this person.” Put a box at the bottom of the form that says, “I would rather contact my friends myself. Please send me three information packets which I promise to give out.” Some people who love your group are not comfortable giving the names of their friends. You will find that about 5% of your list will send in names—some one or two names, and some their whole rolodex. If you have the time, you may want to add yet another option which is “Call me and I’ll give you the names.” Of course, you have to follow up in a timely fashion.

Membership groups often run an “each one reach one” membership drive every few years. Each member is asked to bring in another member. That person is to let the group know who invited them, and then the member gets a bookmark or t-shirt or just a thank you note. You can give a small prize for the member who brings in the most new members, or the most members in the shortest time. Of course, most members don’t do anything, but some really get into it and bring in a large number of new members.

I think it is also worth the time to try to get people who have lapsed in their giving to renew. The best way to do this is by phone — call and tell the lapsed donor that you miss them. Would they consider rejoining? This allows you to clear up any misunderstandings (“I sent my money and my check was never cashed,” or “I called your office and someone was rude to me.”), or to extend sympathy (“I have lost my job,” or “My wife has cancer,”). People who have stopped giving because they don’t have the money can be put back on the list and told to give when they can. Most of the time, people have lost track of how much time has past since their last gift and will renew easily. If you can bring back 10% of the people who have lapsed, your list will grow quickly.

Finally, take advantage of spontaneous opportunties. If someone expresses interest in your organization, ask for their address and tell them you will send them information. Make sure all your board members and volunteers are trained to do this as well. Successful groups have little armies of people out spreading the word about them. Nothing will ever replace or be as effective as the person to person outreach.