How To Give Back As An Email Community

charity-leading-150x150Getting subscribers, getting responses, getting a return on investment – these are the concerns of email marketers.

And they’re important, but all that “getting” can be unbalancing. When it’s time to regain equilibrium, consider how all you’ve gotten could help you give back.

As an email marketer, you have the means – and the permission – to contact every person on your list and catalyze change far beyond one person’s power.

Everyone benefits, from the cause you choose to your subscribers, who get a ready-made chance to be a better person. There’s even an underlying benefit for you: giving as a group strengthens the email community you’re trying to build, leading to stronger response to your messages in the future.

But First You Need Trust

Charity through email has a powerful potential for good, but it has to be carried out carefully.

This summer, I received an email from Bubbles, a hair salon, calling me to come get my hair cut so it could be donated to soak up the oil that was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

I was impressed. Justin, our director of education marketing, was not. He saw the email as a self-glorifying ploy to drum up business from bleeding hearts.

Our different reactions stemmed from different levels of trust. He’d never heard of the salon, while I’ve been their customer for years. To someone without that relationship, the email did a poor job of establishing trust.

Asking your subscribers to join you in a charity effort will go over a lot better if you keep everything aboveboard with these steps.

How to Build That Relationship

  • First, consider your motives. Are you organizing a group to make a positive difference? Or are you drumming up sales by appearing philanthropic? If your motive is the latter, it’s better to quit while you’re ahead. False pretenses damage credibility, since true colors have a way of peeking through.
  • Then, use a site like CharityNavigator to make sure the effort you’re supporting is legit. Then include a link to make it as easy as possible for subscribers to verify your story. Bubbles missed this step, which caused a little uncertainty until I looked up the charity on my own.
  • Clearly explain how the charity will benefit. Are you making donations on behalf of new subscribers, like Chili’s? Or are you asking subscribers to donate? How will the money reach the people in need? If a percentage will go elsewhere, explain where and why this is necessary.
  • If you can get a signature from the charity you’re working with, include it along with your own. The signature of the charity backs up your story. It also transforms the email into a person-to-person request.
  • Keep your design recognizable. Bubbles’ header showed up in its usual place, which kept me oriented even though the rest of the design was uncharacteristic. Keeping something familiar brings the trust you’ve established with them into play.
  • If you’ve worked with the same organization before, provide that context for your subscribers. Show photos of your company helping out or testimonials from the organization.
  • Only invite the subscribers whom you already have a solid relationship with. To determine who these are, segment your list by how long they’ve been getting your emails or how often they open or click.

Are You Ready to Give Back?

Consider asking subscribers to invest in our global community with you. You can help where it’s desperately needed and enrich your email community at the same time.

But before you get started, ask yourself: does your summons inspire confidence that the time, money or effort they donate will let them impact the world for the better?

What other ways can you foster this confidence?


  1. Haroun Kola

    9/16/2010 4:27 pm

    Nice article. We all need to learn to give, that’s our purpose for being!

  2. Mary Mac

    9/16/2010 9:17 pm

    Thank you for this very wise article. Trust with those on your email list is absolutely key and we have been successful raising funds using AWeber.

    My only suggestion is to confirm non-profit status by searching Accordingly to Charity Navigator’s website:

    "We evaluate only those charities that depend on support from individual givers. Specifically, we require public support to be more than $500,000 and total revenue more than $1,000,000 in the most recent fiscal year. And we do not review charities that receive most of their funding from government grants, or from the fees they charge for their programs and services."

    In this economy there are wonderful organizations which don’t meet Charity Navigator’s strict criteria and shouldn’t be penalized.

  3. Marc Mays

    9/19/2010 2:25 am

    Great article. The only thing I would add is that you should consider who the people are on your list before promoting a charity, particularly if some of the charity’s activities could offend some of the people on your list.

    This should be an obvious consideration– or if you are going to include an organization which might be questionable, offer people the choice of opting out of having proceeds of sales going to them.

    In addition, if you are going to share your list members information with a charity, be certain that you are clear about this, and offer people the choice of opting out.

    There are quite a few worthwhile charities that I no longer support, since they seem to have no qualms about sharing my information with other charities that I’m not interested in.

  4. NF

    10/6/2010 8:32 pm

    I agree with Haroun here, to give is to give a gift to yourself. To give others the opportunity to give back is even better!

    I have found so many times that whenever I make a conscious effort to be charitable, be it with my time, money or knowledge, I have always been rewarded in accordance with universal karma.

    I know that this is not a post on spirituality or anything, but I do truly appreciate this reminder to give back. Sometimes we get so caught up in making our IM efforts successful that we forget to give attention to what is really important.