Forward Action Masterclass: How to Grow Your Email List

It’s 2022 and email continues to reign supreme when it comes to ROI on any digital fundraising tactic, but without a reliable list of subscribers, harnessing the power of email can feel like a real challenge.

Do you have great content but few supporters to share it with? Are you writing amazing emails but struggling to send it to more than your loyal handful of subscribers?

If that’s you, stay with us to find out some top tricks and tactics to start growing your email list now…

In our October webinar (watch the recording) our Strategy Direct Helen Hector sat down with Jack Steaman, Head of Digital and Campaigns at Freedom From Torture, to discuss how we’ve worked together to grow their email list of supporters and to share the five powerful tactics you can use to start growing your own.

Here’s what we discussed:

1. Challenge

The first tactic on the agenda is ‘Challenge’, or any engagement tool that has an appealing hook. We do lots of these at Forward Action, It’s fun, exciting, and a sure fire way to hold your audience’s attention, but there are some key takeaways to remember if you want to get it right.

Firstly, nobody wants to take a quiz on your latest policy paper, it’s always best to pick broad, appealing subjects that offer the user a chance to find out something about themselves, or prove their mental prowess. Tried and tested topics like Geography, mythbusting, nature, or health can really spark imagination in supporters.

But how do you pivot from a broad appeal challenge to your issue and sign up ask? That’s the hardest part!

An emotive ‘wow’ moment that creates a feeling of surprise or outrage, followed by a clear sense of how signing up will help change things will convince your audience to join you.

Most importantly, don’t force people to sign-up to get their results.. You hate it. We hate it. Everyone hates it. You only want supporters on your list if they are likely to engage anyway.

2. Shared Values

Building a mailing list of supporters that can be mobilised into action feels difficult, but recruiting them based on shared values will help you find the right people.  Handraisers are great at inviting like minded people to stand with you. Ask your audience broad value based questions that are hard to disagree with, that way you will be able to engage your list of supporters with a range of actions, not just on single issue campaigns.

To see the value of recruiting supporters based on shared values, look no further than our partnership with Freedom from Torture.  Asking broad questions like ‘’Do you believe in showing compassion to refugees?’’, and adjusting the underlying values to reflect public mood has granted Freedom from Torture a 145% return on ad spend after 4 years.

3. Surveys

People love to share their opinions. Using a survey at point of entry is a great way to engage your audience. We always see these perform well in a welcome series or as a mechanism for driving donations.

Remember, you want people to get through to the end so you can ask them to sign up, so keeping people engaged is key. Make it short and sweet, 3-5 easy to answer questions that encourage people to reflect on their values and motivations will help you develop a clear theory of change and inspire people to want to act.

4. Awesome opt-ins

Now, time to get technical. We know it can be tricky, but how you frame opt-ins is critical for maximising the amount of people that will sign up to email. If you’re doing anything more than a very basic ‘sign up to our emails’ on your website,  say you’re running a handraiser, petition, or engagement tool; you’ll usually be needing additional permission to receive emails, so effective opt-ins are key to maximising the success of all of our tactics outlined above.

At Forward Action we love a good opt-in and have a tried and tested approach: Be clear about what you’re asking, frame the question around ‘seeing their impact’ or ‘not missing out’, and finally, use yes/no buttons followed by an ‘are you sure’ pop-up prompt if they say no. That way, you’ll have your audience opting to receive emails in no time.

5. Maximise Shares

Our final tip for recruiting a list of committed supporters is all about maximising organic sharing.  You want to maximise the amount of people who share your handraiser, quiz or survey once they complete it as this could drive up to 20% of your new email subscribers and has no costs attached.

We know people share things that show them in a good light, reflect their values and feel topical and urgent, so it is always important to ask yourself if what you have created will do this. Would you share it?

The order you ask people to do things in makes a slight difference, so place your share ask depending on your main goal.  If this is list building, go with a share first. If it’s driving donations, you should put that first.

No matter the order you choose – always include a share ask, and for the highest returns drive traffic to Facebook and Whatsapp

We hope you’ve enjoyed our webinar run down. Want to join our next webinar? Get our emails.

We know this is a lot of information – and you probably have some burning questions. Here are some that webinar viewers wanted to know:

Q. If you have a handraiser, does that exclude the possibility of a petition action on the same campaign?

Absolutely not. We find that supporters who sign up via a handraiser are very likely to go on to take further actions around a specific campaign. The benefit of a handraiser is that you can go broader and more aspirational in your framing, and you don’t have to rely on having a very specific policy point for a petition. A handraiser is a great always-on tool, and your sign ups can then be encouraged to take follow up actions.

Q. Is there a risk in opening surveys up to dissenting opinions? Some survey questions can be leading ‘do you agree’ – if the audience don’t agree or don’t support do you capture that info? Does it attract negative feedback? Trolling online etc?

There is always a possibility of dissenting opinions on the internet – and especially so when we run value led tools in particular. Whether to capture this information or not is an organisational decision. However whilst a possibility, this is rarely a significant problem as we recommend optimising all paid social campaigns to sign ups, rather than engagement, so the algorithms are able to find people who will support your values. After all, we’re not looking to recruit anyone and everyone to your mailing list, we’re looking for people who will share your values and become long-term supporters of your work.

Q. You recommend making sure that as soon as someone takes an action, they’re invited to take another different one (what we call the ‘daisy-chain’ at Forward Action.) How do you prioritise which action people should take next?

This is a really common problem and obviously a difficult one to overcome for smaller organisations. What post-sign up asks to prioritise ultimately always depends on your overall goals. If you are aiming for list growth,  a share ask is probably the best to prioritise. If you are fundraising, a donate ask is probably the better option. What we have found consistently with testing is that whatever you ask people to do first, is the thing that they’re most likely to do, so try to test different asks in different orders and establish the value of each for your organisation.

Q. How do you build out the quiz tools? Where are they hosted?

We normally build everything out as a very rough MVP (minimal viable product), which can be done on a few widely available platforms. For quizzes we often use Riddle or Typeform, as it is very easy to build a survey tool on these third party platforms.

There may be small costs associated with using the platform if you want to do high volumes, but they’re still relatively low costs to use and don’t require a developer. Obviously, these aren’t as good at the pivot stage as a custom build would be, but are great to get an initial test off the ground and you can judge potential success based on engagement metrics like completion rate.

Once your test results are in, if you want to build the best performing prototype into a full hosted quiz, you might want to invest in custom development, especially if you want to offer your audience a more seamless daisy chain experience.

Q. How did you promote handraisers? How are you identifying target audiences and channels to reach them?

Facebook remains the most cost effective channel for driving high volumes of traffic, so whilst we do tests on other platforms we often come back to Facebook.

We are testing how to use Tiktok for donations and acquisition but we’re very much in the testing phases of those projects. Hopefully, in a few months we’ll have some exciting learnings and advice to share.

When it comes to identifying audiences we always go for broader targeting. We have found that letting the algorithm find people who agree with your values, rather than trying to be hyper specific, works best in driving the right kind of traffic to our handraisers.

One thing that many organisations overlook is making the most of your owned channels as well. We know organic social is a challenge, but what about your website? Make your handraiser go further by adding it as a lightbox to your website, and don’t forget to track the source of your sign ups, so you can see how subscribers from different platforms compare to one another.

Q. We have seen a big jump in the cost of paid social in the past year due to changes on Facebook. If we rely on Facebook to build our list, should we be focusing on optimising ads or looking at organic shares? How can we tackle the rising cost of paid social?

This is happening across the board, we’ve seen it on almost every campaign we work on. Interestingly though, we have been very pleased to see the trend has started going back down again in the last few months, after a high peak earlier in the year.

Don’t give up on paid social, it’s still the life blood in terms of reaching people. There’s so much you can do with paid social to test and optimise it. Often just testing different creative variants can have great impact. If you test 6 images, 6 copy variants, and different frames, it can really make a difference.

Organic shares are important, and there is definite value in making the most of any organic shares, but it’s very unlikely you’ll get the reach you need through that alone.