I know, it’s an odd title. But every year, 30% of your online constituents go away not because they aren’t interested in you anymore, but because they changed their online contact information. Seventeen percent change after six months. That means that the half-life of your list is less than two years.
It doesn’t matter if it’s half full or half empty, just that it’s half of what it was.
This is going to be online acquisition week and I’ll go through a lot of tactics for bringing folks into your organization online. But because of this, the best and the easiest way to acquire new online constituents is not to lose the old ones. Conversely, it doesn’t make sense to start acquiring new online people if you aren’t ready to keep them.
So we’re going to go back to that old saw: data hygiene. If you don’t believe in the necessity of data hygiene, then there’s a PSA you need to read. We’ll look at the online specific ways to keep your data clean.
Scrubbing user-entered data. Users will misspell their own names, then blame you when you address them by that wrong name. Email addresses are no better, but those at least have a standard format that you can check. Hopefully, you have an email validator on your forms, but you probably have data that predates your validation. Some things to look for:
- Does the email address end with a top-level domain (e.g., .com, .gov, .net, .org, .edu, .mil, or a country code)? Many an email has bounced back because it went to aol.con.
- Does the email address have an @? If the email has a ! or # in it, chances are that, because these are right next to the @ symbol, @ is what was intended.
- Does it bounce? That is, when you send the email, does it come back to you? This is one reason that it’s important to send your email from a real email address – so you can change bounced emails or mark them for further work. (Also, a real email address will help with charges that you are spamming people).
Put an email validator on your forms if you haven’t already. Just to make that perfectly clear.
Run an ECOA service. ECOA, or electronic change of address, is a service that functions a bit similarly to the national change of address (NCOA) registered with the USPS. These services look at innumerable services across the Web to determine where a person might have gone. You should ideally run both bad email addresses and email addresses that have not opened an email in a certain amount of time (say, six months). If they haven’t opened an email in six months and they have a good email address…
Suppress chronic nonresponders from most emails. If people aren’t opening your emails continually, they won’t miss you not sending emails (and, when you do send a very occasional email, it will be a bit more of a surprise). And they won’t drag down your open rate or mark your emails as spam, making you more likely to survive email providers spam filters.
E-append your file. Take your offline donor file and give it to an e-append service; they will return email addresses of people who would probably like to interact with you online, but haven’t yet given you their email address. This also works like ECOA for bounced and non-opening addresses.
This isn’t going to stop your attrition from bad email addresses. But it will help you hold on a little longer to the people who want to hear from you.