For those that haven’t noticed, the age of electronic communication is upon us in full force. Almost everyone has an email address and the younger generation tend to live on Facebook and messaging. Nonprofits have been slow to take advantage of this new medium and are now trying to play catch up. Many organizations with long established databases of contacts had not collected email addresses in the past and now need to play “Catch Up” to update their lists.

Organizations should take every opportunity to get this information whenever interacting with their constituents. The key is knowing who you have email addresses for and who you don’t. Depending on whether you use a Donor Management system or an Excel spreadsheet, you need to code it so you can easily identify people with missing information. Once you know what is missing, you can be on the lookout to add this information whenever possible.

One trick my nonprofit recently used (quite successfully) was to pre-code name tags for our annual event. As people either mailed or phoned in their registered for the event we maintained an Excel spreadsheet that was to be used to print out the name tags for the event. This Excel spreadsheet was cross checked against our Donor Database to see if we were missing critical pieces of information. We added a column on the spreadsheet that was either blank or contained “e”, “m” or “em”. The column was left blank if we had both their electronic and ground mailing addresses. If we were missing either or both we added an “e” to signify a missing email, an “m” for missing mailing address or “em” if both pieces of information were missing. (In the case of guests and people new to our organization registering for the event we almost always were missing both pieces of information.)

The day of the event, we printed out the name tags for all the registered attendees. The First and Last name were printed from the Excel spreadsheet using a large font. Then in a very small font in the bottom corner of the name tag we printed the “em” code in small print. The name tags were then laid out on the registration table in name order.

As guests arrived, we asked volunteer greeters at the registration desk to hand them their name tags. The volunteer would quickly look to see if there was a code on the lower corner of the tag or if it was blank. If there was nothing on the name tag the guest was simply greeted and given the event information. However, if there was a code on the bottom, the guest was asked if they would like to provide their email and/or address for our newsletter or future communications. If they said yes (and most did) we had clipboards with a brief information sheet for them to fill out. The greeter instructed what information we needed to be filled out and then collected the form from the guest before sending them on their way.

Our organization is also set up to collect this information directly into our database and could have done so the night of the event (rather than the intermediate step of having them write it on paper). We could have provided an iPad to the guest and asked them to enter the missing information. However, we opted not to take this approach in hopes of helping speed the guest along and not imposing on their evening any more than we had to.