How a Nonprofit Uses Email Marketing to Get Phone Calls, Volunteers, and Sales

 

When Jaclyn Jablkowski began working as the Communications Manager for Build It Green!NYC, she knew that she had her work cut out for her … literally.

BIG!NYC specializes in salvaging materials from construction sites, residences, offices, and other sites that would otherwise be tossed into landfills. The organization accepts and collects materials like doors, windows, furniture, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, and reclaimed lumber and resells them for 40-80% off retail prices.

“We’re kind of like Goodwill meets Home Depot,” Jaclyn says.

It’s an impressive mission with a hard road ahead: about 16,000 tons of construction and demolition waste is shipped to landfills from New York City every day.

The real question for Jaclyn was how to best get the word out about BIG!NYC’s mission in a way that got people to donate, volunteer, and visit the reuse centers.

Getting the community involved

When BIG!-NYC was founded in 2004, Jaclyn says that the location of the first reuse center, which was in Astoria, Queens, was a bit of a problem.

“Astoria isn’t really near any kind of public transit, so it wasn’t like we were just around the corner. People from outside the area had to really be dedicated to show up,” she recalls.

Jaclyn knew the organization needed a better way to stay in touch with people and let them know what they had in the store. Having had experience with Constant Contact from a previous position, she decided to start sending regular emails through Email Marketing from Constant Contact in June 2011.

Building a sustainable list

To start building BIG!NYC’s email list, Jaclyn and the team offered sign-up sheets at events and asked for email addresses from every customer at the store. There’s also a sign-up form on the organization’s website.

She estimates that, every week, 10-20 people sign up for the list, most of them from different workshops, craft fairs, and other initiatives in the community.

Since June 2011, BIG!NYC has built up a list of 7,500 contacts.

“Email marketing is such a great way to remind people about the items we have, especially since Astoria is so out of the way,” she explains. “Compelling pictures and graphics can make a big difference.”

Here, BIG-NYC! is using one of Constant Contact’s new templates, Nonprofit Volunteer.

The biweekly newsletters have proven to be a powerful tool in getting people to look at the items available. A little too powerful, sometimes. In the beginning, the links in the emails would send so much traffic to the website that the whole site would crash.

Overall, there has been such a big demand for the reusable goods that, at the end of last year, BIG!NYC was able to expand to a second location in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Self-supported, sustainable sales

At its heart, BIG!NYC is dedicated to becoming a frontrunner to creating green jobs for tomorrow. The organization provides vocational programs, job training, internships, and more. Volunteers help get the goods ready for sale and BIG!NYC often works with contractors to help with deconstruction efforts.

The items that end up in the reuse centers in Queens and Brooklyn are marked down by about 40-80% of the price, which is part of the reason BIG!NYC has become so popular.

Because, really, anywhere where you can buy a dresser-and-mirror combo for $60 is going to be a hit.

In fact, whenever an email is sent out, managers at the centers tell staff to stand by the phones.“We’ll send emails featuring the items and get about twenty calls every time,” Jaclyn says.

She tracks the click-throughs, too, so she can tell which items attract more attention when they’re featured in emails. “That way, I can say, ‘Okay, a box of screws doesn’t do too well, but vanities and sinks get a lot of clicks.’”

By selling these materials to be repurposed, BIG!NYC is doing a real and permanent good for the city.

In 2012, the organization saved New Yorkers over $1 million and diverted roughly 1,200 tons of waste from landfills. With such great growth this year, it’s easy to expect that next year will be even more impressive.

If you think BIG!NYC’s mission sounds intriguing, check out the website! The organization suffered a huge loss of inventory due to Hurricane Sandy and is actively seeking donations to recuperate.

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