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One of the keys to building a financially sustainable membership program is continually getting new email subscribers into your pipeline. Look at it this way: the more email addresses, the more potential donors.

A few new subscribers a day, however, isn’t going to do the trick. Small organizations should net 300-500 new emails to their lists each month, and medium size organizations should aim for at least 1,000 new email subscribers per month.

In our work with clients, we find that most organizations need to drastically increase their lists—and quickly. Hub members are free to solve this problem however they like, but one of the simplest and most useful strategies is through the use of a modal, or popup.

When we suggest this to people, they usually have one of two responses: “What’s a modal?” or “I hate modals.”

Let’s start with the easy one first: Modals are graphical elements, such as a popup, that ask visitors to do something—like subscribe to a newsletter. Unlike the traditional popup, however, they don’t open as a whole new window; they appear in the body of the page.

The less-easy one: We know people say they dislike modals. But what people dislike the most are badly designed modals—and that’s what they’re used to seeing everywhere. We believe it’s possible to create an email subscription call-to-action that can be both effective and respectful of the user experience.

Our recommended best practice is to deploy a modal that slides up from the bottom of each page on your site, rather than blocking the screen. We also recommend suppressing the modal if the user is referred to your site via MailChimp email. Additionally, we limit the number of times the popup appears, and give users the option to permanently opt-out.

The main lesson we’ve learned with modals is: don’t be a jerk, but don’t be shy, either. Hub clients that implement this simple tool have raised, on average, an additional $4,500/month compared to those who didn’t.

But remember: your work doesn’t end when you get people on your email list. You also need to send a high quality newsletter product, and start a dialogue with your email subscribers. Work to build that relationship by helping readers get to know your mission, your values, and your story. Then, you can start appealing to them to contribute to your mission and support the important work you do.

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