How to Build a Mailing List for Your Nonprofit: 5 Strategies for Success

Building an effective email list for your nonprofit is an important part of communicating with your donors and your community. Whether your nonprofit has a large existing list you want to grow or you’re starting one for the first time, here are the key strategies to follow to build and grow your nonprofit email list.

How to Choose Between Single Opt-In, Double-Opt-In, or Opt-Out Email Lists

Depending on how you plan to grow your nonprofit email list, it’s important to understand the various methods of email list signups. To avoid getting flagged as spam, you need to make sure that the people on your list consent to receiving your emails. There are several different consent options for your nonprofit email list, all with different pros and cons.

Single Opt-In

This is the most common and simple requires someone to sign up via a form on your website or at an event saying they consent to receive your emails. The single opt-in is that moment of providing their consent—readers are free to unsubscribe from your emails at any time.

Double Opt-In

A more structured approach, double opt-in requires your email list to confirm their interest a second time. After initially signing up to receive your emails, readers have to click through a link in the first email to opt in again. This helps ensure your readers are remembering they signed up and can help reduce unsubscribes. However, it adds extra inconvenience for your readers and can make it harder to sign people up for your emails.


With certain groups, opt-out is also an option. For long-term donors who receive other forms of contact, adding them to your email list can be helpful. Some may unsubscribe in the long run, but many will be interested in staying up to date. Be careful not to buy lists online or add unrelated or unnecessary readers, however. Too many unsubscribes that point to people never signing up for your list can lead to issues with spam filters and even get your account frozen in many mass email systems like Mail Chimp.

Add Your Existing Donors and Partners

The people already supporting your nonprofit are a good starting point for your email list.

Existing Donors

Your existing donors are a great place to start for your nonprofit email list. If you don’t already have their emails, consider adding a field for their email to your next donation appeal at an event or via mail. For donors who have already shared their email addresses, sending a welcome or update email initially is a good way to begin your interaction with them on a new medium. Consider sharing a story of impact and a message of thanks for their support—save the donation ask for a future email. 

Add Event Attendees and Partners

Event attendees and strategic partners are great sources for building out your email list. Consider holding a raffle at the next event where you have a table, with one email signup participant winning a fun prize. You can also add event attendees to your list by adding an automatically checked box signing them up during event registration. Add your key partners like corporate sponsors, volunteers, and organizational connections for an easy way to grow your list. 

Strategically Place Your Newsletter Signup on Your Website

Your newsletter signup form should be placed prominently on your website. There are many ways you can feature it effectively, but no matter what strategy you choose, make sure that it is easy to find and that it is synced regularly (or automatically) with your email software. 


While often annoying for your users, website light boxes are very effective tools. When a user comes to your website, a lightbox will pop up encouraging them to sign up for your email newsletter. Feel free to have some fun with this tool—consider featuring an image and quote with the call to action of “hear more stories like this one” or driving home your impact. You can swap out your lightbox for donation calls to action when necessary and set it up to only appear the first time someone visits a site in a certain period of time. These tweaks can help a lightbox be an even more effective way to drive email signups for your nonprofit email list.


Adding a newsletter sign-up to the bottom of your site is a common strategy—there isn’t much to be lost by trying it, and you can give people an easy way to stay in touch with you. There’s a reason email is so popular for marketing, as it allows you to reach out to donors and prompt them to respond. Some donors who feel a particular connection to your cause will be glad to get regular updates.

Key Action Area Below the Fold

Directly underneath your hero image and main website copy, there is a key area that is one of the most common places to place calls to action for your website visitors. This is a great place to invite them to sign up for your email list, especially since this will give you more chances to reach them with your other calls to action like donating or volunteering.


Writing about issues related to your nonprofit can be a great way to reach your donors and build an email list. Consider having a leader write content (or another team member ghostwrite content for them) that relates to your cause, then add a call to action at the bottom to sign up for your nonprofit email list to stay up to date with later articles.

Give People a Reason to Sign Up

Explaining to your donors and community why they should sign up for your newsletter is important. You want to keep this ask brief and direct, but it is important to let them know what value your newsletter will provide. 


Tell your donors that you’ll share stories of their impact with your email list. Newsletters that include organizational updates, stories about how their giving made a difference, and other information are a great way to keep donors informed and to build deeper relationships with them. Vary the content and the format, including some written stories, photos, and occasionally video testimonies to connect with your donors and keep them interested in the emails you send. You can even follow up newsletters with an ask for a donation—simply reference the story when you ask them to help make more stories like it possible. 

Special Event Invitations

Invite your donors to exclusive events through your email list. Give them early access to an event or the opportunity to come to a specific event for donors, like a lunch with your president or a special panel event. They’ll feel like insiders, making your email list more than just a marketing tool—it will help you build a community.

Updates on the Organization

Your donors should be among the first to know about major organizational updates like leadership changes, moving locations, and other significant changes. Send a note to your email list with a message from your president or CEO to keep them in the loop. You’ll build loyalty among your email list and give your donors a reason to share your emails—you may even see a bump in subscriptions for those wanting to stay up-to-date. Share your news over email shortly before posting on social media and around when you send any announcements to the press. 

Encourage Signups on Other Online Tools

Online tools are a great way to get people to sign up for your email list. Make sure that you take advantage of all the ways you can encourage your supporters to sign up for your email list.

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Peer-to-peer fundraising is not only a great way to reach new donors, it can be a helpful way to gather email addresses, too. Using a peer-to-peer fundraising tool like DonationXchange or CharityGiving, you can help people sign up to give, share their email address with your nonprofit, and reach out to other friends and family to persuade them to join the cause. This can be especially effective when done near a holiday or major event, and the new connections you make will be valuable supporters.

Social Media

Encouraging people to sign up for your email list on your social media accounts can help grow your nonprofit email list. Many of your supporters likely follow you on social media to show their support and to stay up-to-date about what is going on with your nonprofit. By encouraging them to also sign up for your email list, you can reach them more directly without relying on the algorithm of whatever social media platform you’re posting on. Sometimes, it’s even helpful to let them know that’s true—ask them to sign up for your email list with a quick caveat like:

 “Some of our most recent posts don’t seem to be showing up in our supporters’ feeds. If you want to make sure you stay up-to-date on what is going on and the incredible impact you’re having, sign up for our email list for regular updates!”

This can be a great way to encourage people to sign up and help them feel like signing up for your email list is doing your nonprofit a favor—a much better motivation that will keep them paying attention in the future. 

Donation Form

Tools like DonationXchange and CharityGiving allow you to opt donors in for your email list with an automatically checked box every time they fill out a form or give a donation online. This is a simple way to get donors on your email list without adding more work for your team—it’s a simple, automated process that most donors will agree to. Make sure that your donation system regularly integrates with your email marketing software so your list is always up-to-date.

The Ultimate Key to Building Your Nonprofit Email List

There is no magic solution to growing your email list. The key to building a successful nonprofit email list is consistency—follow these key strategies and give it time. You’ll see your nonprofit email list grow and your relationship with your donors deepen.


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