The ABCs of Crowdfunding: E is for Email List

Perhaps one of the most under-used and least-understood of all tools in the crowdfunding toolkit, the email list may be your most powerful one. Think of it as the shiny high-speed drill in a box full of hammers, screwdrivers, and bent nails. It’s the tool you grab first to get the job done faster and better, right?

Why build an email list?

Most people who’ve run successful campaigns (and platform experts who’ve run data for thousands of campaigns), will tell you that an email list of people who know, like and trust you will be one of, if not your best, crowdfunding success tool.

Though it’s hard to find specific data, anecdotal examples of why this is true abound…here’s one to give you an example.

Here’s my short list of reasons why this should be the first thing you address in your advance campaign planning:

  1. Direct access to your core, and beyond. The value of posting your campaign update on Facebook versus sending that update directly to inboxes is like David vs. Goliath. Facebook’s algorithms now prevent all but a tiny portion of your followers to see any one post you make, whereas every person you send an email to will receive it.
    If you also already have a professional opted-in list that reaches out beyond your core group of family and friends, you’re ahead of the game. But if you don’t, consider broadening that scope and sending out an initial invitation to them to subscribe. Make sure you follow permission recommendations below in “Get Permission.”
  2. Ability to invite them to your launch event. A campaign launch event is a great way to both (1) gather in core contributions before you launch, getting that crucial 30% in as early as possible and (2) create a team of campaign ambassadors to help you spread the good word. Your ability to do this depends on having that contact list handy. Typically, you’ll get about 40% turnout from your list, so if you invite 150 people, expect 60 to show. Therefore, if your list starts at 50, well, it will be a very small event. If you have 20 people who give an average of $35 each, you can make $700, but if that same night brings in 60, you’re looking at $2,100. For the average $10,000 campaign, that puts you at least at 2/3 of your 33% goal in the first week.
    And, in terms of ambassadorship, well…accessing 60 networks is 3 times better than 20.
    Don’t underestimate how valuable getting those folks out is, and the list is your link to them.
  3. Ability to upload them to your campaign contacts database. Most portals allow for an import feature to upload your existing contacts from a mail program via Excel .csv files and other options. This means that they will receive all campaign-focused updates and content.

How to build/maximize your list

List building is not like Ramen noodles; it isn’t ready in three minutes. Or three months. If you haven’t yet started any list-building, you’re going to need at least 6 months to build up enough of a list to positively impact your crowdfunding efforts. But if you have at least a small list, and use the ideas below, you can grow that list quickly.

  1. Get permission. Permission-based email marketing is the bomb, whether you’re promoting a crowdfunding campaign or an upcoming event, or anything else. But, it’s important to do it  Permission-based email lists have a 40x higher ROI than purchased or scraped email lists, but that’s just the first reason. This article from Campaign Monitor gives all the reasons, some good examples, and ways to do it right. You’ll get better click-through rates, protect your deliverability, and create more word of mouth support with squeaky-clean permission protocols.
  2. Ask blog-readers to subscribe. Ask our blog readers and followers to subscribe to have your newest posts delivered to their inbox, as well as a newsletter, which now will include promotion/marketing of your campaign, and hopefully lead to contributions and social media sharing.
  3. You don’t blog? Why not? If you don’t have a blog already established, you probably should develop one. Blogging is a significant promotion tool and adds to your reputational capital as a subject matter expert…all of which builds the case for your reliability as the developer of your product/service. You’ll need to do this a minimum of 6 months (a year or more is better) to develop a decent-sized following.
  4. Use a contact management program. Why? Because your email program (Gmail, Outlook, etc.) will only allow you to send to a certain number of contacts at once. Most are limited to 300 or so. You want to grow your list far beyond this, and the best way to do that is to use a service set up to do this. Mailchimp is a gold standard, and you can have up to 2000 names in your list before you have to pay any subscription fees. Mailchimp also offers an easy-to-use newsletter management tool that allows you to make and beautiful newsletters with pictures, videos, and links to your list. Other programs include MailPoet (integrates directly with WordPress), Constant Contact, and others.

Categorizing your network

While you’re assembling your list, consider how you can identify them by interest or their relationship with you. This is valuable when you know that different messages or products will appeal to groups for different reasons.

You certainly want to make a very personal appeal for campaign support to your family and friends, but it’s unlikely that same approach will be successful to potential customers, who are interested in your product/service, but who don’t have that personal relationship with you.

One way to do this is to make smart lists or sub-groups out of your main list. Most contact programs allow you to do this by creating group names that you then assign to each contact. In that way, you can then target the sending of a specific newsletter to a group or groups, and one with different content to others.

Some typical group tags might look like this:

Mary Angeles (Mom)      Family
Mark Smith                        Friend/Neighbor
Joe Haddock                    Co-Worker
Ken Anders                        Personal association (like a hockey team member, father of a friend of your child’s, member of your church group, etc.)
Karen Michaels                 Professional (other company employees you’re not close with, members of an association, other industry colleagues, suppliers, other stakeholders)

Of course, you need to make the list based on who’s in it and that will vary for each person and their unique contacts.

Communicate, early & often

Don’t make the mistake of under-communicating because you’re worried about barraging people with email in their inbox. First, if they’ve contributed, it means they now have a stake in the campaign’s success.  When you send them campaign updates, it shows that you’re being responsible and keeping them informed. Make sure you’re doing sensible and valuable updates: campaign news, new perks/rewards offerings, upcoming media to watch for, etc. Aim for one a day if you can, or every other day at the very least. The more of these you make as brief video updates from you, the more engaging they will be. They also encourage contributors to help again when it’s appropriate (stretch goals, new perks, etc.) Here’s a great template for a thank-you email as one example of a critical part of your communication process. Every contributor should receive this after every contribution.

Taking the leap

Depending on where you are now, this may seem like a daunting task. However, your responsible and vigorous list-building activity will bear the best fruit: a much higher rate of support, financial and marketing-wise, for your campaign.

There’s a lot to risk by doing a campaign and not making your goal, not the least of which is that it’s tough to go back out to the same folks again later if you’re not successful.  Why would you go to the effort, time and money it takes to develop a campaign without having looked after the single most important link to success?

So if you don’t have a list, the best advice is to not do a campaign until you do. Seriously.


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