Internet Society

492% Email list growth and benchmark-smashing engagement rates for Internet Society

Author information: Phil McMinn , Director of Digital Marketing , Post information: , 4 min read ,
Related post categories: Email Marketing , Digital Marketing ,

The Internet Society is a global charity who believe that an open and trusted Internet is something that everyone should benefit from, regardless of who they are or where they live.

Their core view, supported by their 115,000 members, is that the Internet is a place of possibility and opportunity in making the world a better place to live. But the challenge they exist to tackle is big: for 33 percent of the world, across continents, in rural, remote, and even urban communities, every day without Internet access is a day of lost opportunity. Their work is powered by international campaigns to change global policies around access, and by 128 local chapters who bring members together to make change at a local level.

They have been a Torchbox client for over ten years.

Children walk together in Nepal
Children walking together in Nepal

The Challenge

Nurturing tomorrow’s donor base is critical to the long term health of any socially progressive organisation. Doing so requires intelligent, patient approaches that place the user at the heart of the conversation. These users need to be nurtured: it’s not enough to run “please give $10 a month” ads on Meta and hope for the best. Instead, organisations need to convey impact, purpose and urgency in authentic ways that pique long term interest and compassion, while giving the user a voice in the conversation.

Email is by far and away the best channel through which to deliver rich, multi-touch narratives that explain why your nonprofit needs a user’s support. But a user’s inbox is often just as crowded as their social feed; an email simply not going into Spam offers no guarantee that it’ll be (at the least) opened and (even better) read or (gold standard) actively engaged with.

The Internet Society’s challenge was to kickstart email marketing, which up until now hadn’t been a core channel in the organisation’s digital marketing toolbox. To do this, they needed to show the viability of using Meta to grow their new subscriber base and begin the process of tailoring a conversation with these new supporters that hopefully led to stronger conversion actions from those new leads in the long term.

Our Approach

We ran a two-phase campaign in service of this objective.

Phase 1 focused on growing the number of subscribers on ISOC's email list via lead generation ads on Meta.

We identified interested audiences based on demographic insights gained from previous fundraising appeals. We also included an Advantage+ audience to test the new AI-driven audience targeting available on Meta.

Our creatives centred on offering users a free guide to online safety in return for that user’s email address. We ran activity across Meta and Instagram, eventually removing placements on the latter due to underperformance.

Three ad examples
Creative ad examples

We utilised Meta’s in-build Lead Gen mechanism to remove friction for the user, removing the need for a distinct campaign landing page. We’ve seen this approach work before with Chatham House.

Meta’s in-build lead gen mechanism
Meta’s in-build lead gen mechanism

Throughout the campaign’s lifespace we allowed data to underpin a programme of continuous testing, iterating on everything from CTA usage to wider ad messaging. Whatever worked got pushed to the fore.

We utilised the native integration that exists between Meta and Hubspot to ensure that users who signed up on the former had their details automatically passed through to the latter. This step drastically reduced the manual effort it takes for many organisations to download email lists and manually upload them into their email service providers (ESPs); crucially, it allows organisations to automatically send users an email straight after they’ve signed up to receive them, which is typically when users are at their most engaged.

Phase 2 involved building a multi-step, automated welcome journey for these new subscribers that took a variety of approaches to engaging with the user, one of which included asking users to engage with a survey about Internet security.

Multi-step, automated welcome journey
Multi-step, automated welcome journey

As part of this, we were responsible for the co-creation of a range of email content that aimed to speak directly and clearly to the user about how their support helped to protect the Internet.

Clear user communication example
Examples of clear user communication


  • ISOC’s email list grew from 1,263 to 6,225 contacts – a rise of 492%. This is a major achievement. As benchmark data from M+R shows, the typical nonprofit email list sizes “decreased by 2% in 2022, after 8% and 9% growth [in 2020 and 2021 respectively].”
  • Click-through rates for our welcome journey started at over 9% for the first email received and finished at around 3% later in the journey. These results (along with our open rates) vastly exceed industry-wide metrics as outlined by M+R benchmarking data for 2021 and 2023.
  • Our Meta ads received over 214,000 impressions combined with a further 14,000 post engagements including close to 500 post shares.

What next?

The list growth we delivered for Internet Society surpassed expectations to such a degree that our recommendation going forward was to set a significantly more ambitious list growth target by the end of 2025, with an accompanying, similarly ambitious income target that we hope to see coming to fruition from 2026 onward from this list. We also put forward a range of suggestions around diversifying Internet Society’s list-building tactics; for instance, 48% of new leads indicated an interest in signing petitions as part of their survey responses. Lastly, we delivered a series of suggestions during our wrap up review for future testing tactics, such as trialling more assertive fundraising tactics in emails (using suggested amount buttons over “donate now”, for instance).

This was the first campaign of its kind for Internet Society, and it was a real success in demonstrating the power of lead gen in expanding the charity’s future supporter base. That supporter base grew by 492% under our stewardship—we can’t wait to get started engaging these new supporters in a deeper conversation about the value of the Internet in making the world a better place.

If you'd like support to grow your email subscriber list or would like to discuss your nonprofit's digital marketing strategy, get in touch via [email protected]

Author information: Phil McMinn , Director of Digital Marketing , Post information: , 4 min read ,
Related post categories: Email Marketing , Digital Marketing ,