I’m so glad you’re here. While it’s far from the most exciting, retention is arguably the most important factor in the success of a long-term digital strategy.
Think of these strategies as investments. Relationships take time. Don’t expect immediate results. Yes, it’s hard to prioritize the important over the urgent, but if you’re battling an engagement problem (or understand the need to avoid one), that’s what it will take.
If you adopt one strategy, make it this. Use the fact that your supporters are individuals to your advantage. Segment your list to offer people more of what they want and less of what they don’t. Harness predictive logic by segmenting for behavior (not intention).
Could the quality of your content improve? Work on clear and concise language; speak to purpose; build connection; boost emotional persuasion; help your supporter feel invested by ensuring your theory of change is clear and compelling. Broaden your goals beyond obvious metrics—make it your aim to bring cheer or meaning to your supporters’ day. Even if they don’t engage, the positive experience will increase prospects for future engagement.
Combine repetitive asks with updates, insights, or ‘breaking news’. Don’t only focus on problems; share your vision for the future, too.
Remember to close the loop on action and donation forms by thanking your supporter (and meaning it). If you make direct asks (such as social media actions), use click tracking to identify action takers and delight them with the odd message of gratitude.
This is useful if you lean heavily on one group of supporters to fuel frequent actions, or if you often involve supporters in heavy content (anything relating to animal cruelty counts). Remind your core supporters how valued they are from time to time by sending an unexpected ‘virtual gift’ in the form of an uplifting video, a meaningful photo or rescue story (to connect them to those they’re fighting for), or a heartfelt personal message from a staff member, etc. Stick to topics that will remind your supporters why they care about your cause. If your supporters are used to only receiving action asks, this may confuse them initially. Consider drawing attention to the fact that you aren’t asking for anything in return. The responses you’ll receive to a simple message like this will be enough to convince you how powerful a rapport-building exercise it is.
If you ask supporters to join a rally, follow up with photos and media coverage. If you ask them to lobby a company, share a witty supporter tweet, or highlight any telling signs of corporate damage control. This creates community and validates the efforts of those who engage, while using a touch of FOMO to give those who don’t engage a reason to join in next time. The same principle applies to fundraising asks. When your supporters rise to their challenge—rise to yours and communicate impact.
Make dedicated supporters feel special by sharing ‘heads up’ or ‘insider’ intel on core campaigns. Is your target cracking? Are you under attack? Do you face an unexpected challenge? Are you about to unveil a secret weapon? Let your supporters know they’re hearing it from you first. Use ‘fighting words’ to foster camaraderie. Subject lines like “In confidence - ” will gain attention and make your supporters feel trusted.
Major campaign victories are few and far between. More often, long campaigns are either won by attrition or through more subtle means. Find the milestones on the way to the big campaign wins, and celebrate those, too. Sharing progress is especially critical when carrying supporters through campaigns that require repetitive or long-term engagement.
Don’t allow your supporters to feel like they’re doing all the heavy lifting. Stepping out a theory of change that connects them to the activities of others (e.g. your organization, other supporters, or you personally as an email sender) can build solidarity and resilience.
This seems obvious, but it happens way too often. Don’t ask a monthly donor to sign up as a monthly donor. Don’t ask people outside a specific region to take a region-specific action. Step back and consider your whole audience. Use segmentation to remove anyone who is incapable of completing your action. If you can’t segment your audience, frame your ask in a way that respects everyone. E.g. “If you live in [region], please...”.
Does the volume of emails you send match your supporters’ appetite for your content? Both over-emailing and under-emailing can cause supporters to disengage. Establish the ideal email frequency that best suits your content and your list. Set minimum and maximum thresholds and work hard to deliver within this range.
If you maintain multiple lists, give your supporters the option to unsubscribe from one or all list options. Consider offering a ‘compromise’ step between all or nothing. Some people will be happy to ‘receive fewer emails’ if given the option.
Don’t let a great email or web page template lull your supporters into a sense of complacency over time. Keep your audience awake and paying attention by finding meaningful reasons to shake things up now and then. Keep a list of engaging email formats you’ve seen other organizations send, or borrow from these 9 creative ways to mix up tired email formats.
Subject lines are the gateway to your emails. Lazy or ‘click-baity’ subject lines will hurt your engagement, even if you’ve nailed the content and frequency of your broadcasts. Don’t settle for the first idea that comes to mind; invest time in your subject line strategy and use split testing to learn what your unique audience responds to.
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