Lessons From Greenpeace: How To Set Up a Successful Regular Giving Email Programme and Overcome Starting Challenges

In our recent webinar, Richard Casson of Greenpeace UK and Forward Action’s Alex Lloyd Hunter explored how to use email to drive regular giving in 2021.

We’ve worked with Greenpeace UK since 2015. They are titans of digital campaigning and fundraising, yet their 1.5 million strong email was an untapped regular giving resource.

According to M+R benchmarks data, US nonprofits sent an average of 20 fundraising emails to each subscriber in 2019. In the same period, Greenpeace sent five. Together we set out to prove that email can bring in (and retain) regular givers at scale. And it worked.

In just six months we more than quadrupled the number of direct debits set up – from 100 a month via email, to 500. The open rate, conversion rate and average gift all shot up, too.

You might be thinking ‘That’s all very well, but we’re not Greenpeace’. But the truth is, any org of any size can achieve digital fundraising success by following the same, simple, digital mobilisation principles:

  1. Send more emails. Email is less intrusive than SMS, telemarketing and face-to-face, so if you want to grab the attention needed to drive more action, you need to send more email. There’s really no substitute.
  2. Trial different tactics to find the ones that work for you (then go big with them). Try to plan your email program in a more agile way, so you can make data-led decisions in real time. Reuse or rejig the content that works, or roll it out to a larger audience.
  3. Optimise your donation pages to improve conversion rates – so that every email you send is working harder and you’re getting more direct debits per email sent. NB: If your donation tech is clunky right now, fix that first. Otherwise, focus on upping the frequency and quality of emails, first.

We supported Greenpeace to test these digital mobilisation principles within their regular giving email program and worked collaboratively to overcome any hurdles. But if you’re embarking on this journey alone, you might have additional questions.

We’ve taken a few of the major questions raised by webinar attendees as a jumping-off point for this next section.


Q: ‘Our team is concerned about sending more emails (especially fundraising ones), how can we bring them on board?’

Branching out into new tactics and ways of thinking can be intimidating at first. Richard shared how the Greenpeace team overcame this hurdle together.

‘Testing can be your friend,’ he explained.

‘Especially if it’s a test you think could have positive results. Sometimes it’s about saying, “I understand you’re nervous about this, why don’t we send it out to a small group and see what the results are?”.

There was a feeling with Greenpeace that if we asked people for money more, we’d see really high unsubscribe rates. But we actually didn’t see that. Unsubscribe rates were similar to our petition emails.

I think it goes back to that principle – if you send people interesting content on issues that they’re engaged with, people will stay subscribed’.

If internal sign off is a snagging point, Richard recommends having no more than 2 or 3 people signing off any one email (and we couldn’t agree more). Weekly planning calls allowed us to plan in an agile way and give the relevant people a heads up that an email will be coming their way for sign off, too.

Q: We don’t do any advocacy/campaign-y style work right now – how can we start building an email list?

We use two main tactics to help our partners grow their email lists. The first is a handraiser, which is typically a values-based statement that people sign-up to, with carefully crafted opt-in language on the sign up form.

The second is an engagement tool, often in the form of a highly ‘shareable’ quiz, with a compelling sign-up ask before the answers slide.

Once you’ve brought people onto your list, we’d recommend you send them a welcome series (usually 4-6 emails over the course of a few weeks) with a variety of actions to deepen their understanding and engagement with your charity and cause. These don’t have to be campaign actions. Think strong storytelling, surveys, polls, videos, share asks and donation asks.

Q: How can we set up a good content mix so that supporters feel engaged, inspired and valued – even when you’re asking them for money more often?

You’ll want to plan content thoughtfully, but it’s also important to make decisions in real time, and not restrict the emails you send people too much based on their prior actions. We’ve written more about breaking free from the ideas of a ‘ladder of engagement’ in another blog post.

Rather than pre-setting a course for six months and sticking to it rigidly, with Greenpeace we tried things out to see which tactics worked best – then rolled them out. To do that, we had weekly calls to reflect on data and change our content calendar as we went.

So far, some of the best performing tactics for Greenpeace have been surveys, which account for around 20% of total direct debits brought in. Surveys help people to feel valued and engaged in your mission together. The results can help to strengthen your campaign work.

Richard and the team have also found a lot of success with membership drive emails, and emails that piggyback off of real world events.

‘We didn’t tend to send many emails during December’, Richard recalled.

‘I thought it would be an opportunity to test a membership drive. Without campaigns we didn’t know what the hook would be, so we had the emails come from our Head of Finance – telling people about Greenpeace and why we do things the way we do.

The other tactic we used was to ride on the back of real world events. One of the big nature documentaries last year was David Attenborough’s Extinction: The Facts.

‘We wrote this email a few days before it aired and then sent it at 9pm after the documentary aired. It was one of the top performing emails of the year – the average open rate, conversion rate and donation rate was higher than any other email. I wish we’d sent it to our whole list, nobody else is emailing at that time of night!’

Q: And what about list segmentation?

Greenpeace does use list segmentation depending on people’s past actions. However, Richard urges some caution around automatically segmenting audiences without first getting data to show this is helpful.

‘We’d sometimes send a fundraising email just to people who had signed a petition or taken action on that topic,’ he explained.
‘I think we need to do more testing around why we’re segmenting. You can get much higher response rates, but then part of the audience then becomes cold. We’re not talking to them in the same way.’

We hope that you’ve found this post useful, and found new tactics to test in your own email programmes. If you still have questions, or if you’d like support to boost regular giving via email, we’re always happy to chat.

Our webinars take place every other month and cover a different topic within digital fundraising, campaigning and mobilisation each time. Follow us on Twitter to hear about our next one.