An Affiliate Marketing Lesson for Nonprofts: Make New Friends and Keep the Old


No matter how noble your cause, SPAM is not the answer

If you’ve hung out here for a while, you know how I feel about e-mailing people without getting permission. (It’s bad.) I bet you can also guess how I feel about buying, renting and even trading mailing lists from other organizations. (it’s really bad).

I do, however, get why nonprofits do it.  Buying, renting, or trading mailing lists is fast, easy, affordable and (sometimes) effective, but the short-term gains lead to unpleasant consequences in the long-term.

One of your organization’s most valuable assets  is the relationships you’ve built with your donors.  They know you, they trust you and they have enough faith in you to support you financially.  Every time you sell or trade their contact information you erode that trust.

Is the opportunity to e-mail people who don’t know you really worth upsetting, and possibility losing, the people you’ve already won to your cause?

How to have your cake and eat it too

Luckily, there is a way to use e-mail and social media to reach out to new people who might be interested in supporting your organization without spamming them, or sacrificing the contact information of your own donors.  Welcome to affiliate marketing.

Affiliate Marketing in Action

My friend Andrea is also a social media coach.  In addition to working directly with her (mostly) small business clients, she writes e-books and creates classes to help people learn to use Facebook and Twitter to grow their businesses.

I know Andrea, I’ve read her books and know they are wonderfully useful.  I also know that her books are exactly the solution some of you need to address your social media challenges.

Instead of selling her my mailing list,* I’ve introduced you to her work in the following ways:

In return, when one of you buy something from her, she pays me a portion of the proceeds.  In internet marketing  circles, this relationship is called affiliate marketing.

What’s the difference?

While the result of buying or trading mailing lists and affiliate marketing may be about the same, there are two big reasons affiliate marketing is more respectful to your people.

Privacy— When you signed up to get e-mail from me, you did not sign up to get e-mail from my friends–no matter how awesome they are.  By e-mailing you on her behalf you get the benefit of being introduced to new resources that are likely to be of interest to you, but your contact information remains with me.  The only way Andrea can e-mail you directly is if you give her permission–which is as it should be.

Responsibility–When I send you information about Andrea’s products, I am endorsing them–Which means, my reputation is on the line as well as hers.  If readers decide to unsubscribe because of messages I send about products offered by Andrea (or anyone else), I lose the right to contact them.  Because there are consequences for sending you inappropriate messages, I think twice about the people and products I endorse.  Which means when you get an e-mail from me, you know it’s been through at least one round of vetting already.

Are You Ready to Try It?

Pick an event you would normally promote by trading lists with another organization.  To avoid a confusing number of pronouns in this illustration, let’s assume you run a theatre company and you normally trade lists with the symphony.

Instead of asking the symphony for their mailing list and giving them yours, trade the copy you were planning to send.  Then, e-mail your theatre’s patrons to tell them about the symphony’s upcoming event (based on the copy the symphony sent you) and why you believe they might want to attend.  The symphony would also send a similar message about your event to their patrons.

Any symphony patrons who choose to attend your event become theatre patrons which means you will be able to e-mail them about future events, or sponsorship opportunities directly.

Why it  Works

More messages get read–Despite rulings that outlaw SPAM, we all get a lot of e-mail we didn’t sign up for.  Most of that e-mail gets deleted–which is why the open rates on e-mail you send to a list you got from the symphony is likely to be pretty sad.  One the other hand, assuming the symphony has been treating their e-mail subscribers like dogs (in the good way) a message they send about your theatre is much more likely to be read and acted upon.

Mailing lists stay clean–A small, responsive mailing list is much more valuable than a large, unresponsive one, so there is no benefit in adding people to your list who don’t want to hear from you.  By using an affiliate marketing model you capture the attention of people who want to get to know you without contaminating your mailing list with people who are not a good fit for what your organization has to offer.

Your Turn

Has your organization used affiliate marketing principles to reach new audiences?  Share your experience in the comments!

*which she wouldn’t buy anyway because she doesn’t e-mail people without their permission.

2 thoughts on “An Affiliate Marketing Lesson for Nonprofts: Make New Friends and Keep the Old

  1. I LOVE this post! I hate spam, but welcome introductions to cool stuff — you explain the reasoning and plans for affiliate marketing so simply, I hope EVERYONE does this instead of selling their lists!!

  2. […] media with an 11 year oldAmy Eisenstein- How to Meet Donors with Big WalletsMaureen Carruthers- An Affiliate Marketing Lesson for Nonprofts: Make New Friends and Keep the OldBetsy Baker- 5 Essentials for a Successful Grant Consulting Careergoogle_ad_client = […]

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s