How to Effectively Use an Email Welcome Series to Boost New Donor Acquisition | npENGAGE

How to Effectively Use an Email Welcome Series to Boost New Donor Acquisition

By on Jul 23, 2013


Guest post by Ryan King, Blackbaud’s Sr. Channel Marketing Manager. Get ready for some great insights from a marketer that has a passion for engaging the nonprofit community and Blackbaud customers.

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Picture this:

Bob: “Jim, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Alex. He’d like to learn more about the museum.”

Jim: “It’s nice to meet you Alex. Before we chat, can I get your credit card number and the amount for which you would you like to make your donation?”

How’s that for a conversation that should never happen?

We all want to inspire new people to talk to about our organization, and we know that the internet is a great place to start those conversations, but all too often I see organizations having that exact “conversation” with people online.

How do you make sure your organization is creating a positive experience for people looking to engage with your organization? What about continuing the conversations you have with first time donors – those who have taken a big first step towards a long term relationship with your nonprofit?

One of the best ways to engage with these new individuals is through an email welcome series. So … here are 5 steps you can take to improve your email welcome series and improve your online donor acquisition and online fundraising efforts:

1) Create one (a new donor email welcome series)

It’s surprising how few organizations have a strategic welcome process as part of their donor acquisition strategy, let along one for their online fundraising efforts.

If someone new comes to their website (or to an event or visits their organization) they just add them to their email stack and start sending away. PLEASE (yes, that’s the sound of me begging) don’t do this. Nothing is more important than the first email a new donor gets. They are going to decide then whether or not they want to unsubscribe because you’re sending them spam or if they want to stay engaged with your organization.

PLEASE (more begging) have a plan in place for how you are going to make a positive first impression.

2) Write relevant emails

As I mentioned, it’s so easy to just start sending people copies of your newsletters or add them to your existing email list. AVOID THIS TEMPTATION. If I just met your organization for the first time based on your online fundraising efforts, I’m not ready to give another gift and I probably don’t care about the progress of your current campaign. I want to be charmed and have someone hold my hand.

Think about the worst first date you’ve ever been on. Why was it bad? Did they talk about things you didn’t care about? Did they scare you by talking about kids? Did they order lobster when you only planned to spend enough to buy burgers (this one is a true story for me)?

Now, how can you prevent your organization from providing a similar experience to new constituents?

  • Don’t ask them to give a major donation 24 hours after they came to the theatre.

  • Don’t tell them about minutes from the last board meeting or about changes to the parking lot (unless it’s relevant).

  • Do treat them special.

  • Do talk about hopes and dreams, all the good things going on at your organization, and, as it applies, how they can be a part of it.

Once they’ve gotten to know you, then you start talking about having kids.

3) Begin with the end in mind

Sit down with a cup of coffee and plan for how you can help recipients learn more about your organization over a six month timeframe. Yep, I said six months. You may find through testing and research that your organization has a shorter or longer cycle, but I’ve found that six months is about how long it takes for someone to be engaged enough to be included in your overall email series.

And, the good news is, if you nurture them correctly, you will have more engaged donors as a result. And engaged donors will be more likely to donate again.

So what does this six month map look like?

It’s largely up to you, but I recommend including the following components in your donor acquisition email series:

  • A thank you email from your Executive Director. I recommend sending this within 48 hours of their interaction with your organization.

  • Information about where to go for what. Have a question about our schedule? Click here. Want to know more about membership? Email this person. Want to donate? Donate here.

  • Emails with pictures of your mission in action. Pictures speak 1000 words, so share them.

  • Opportunities to engage. Invitations to events. Follow us on social media. Volunteer openings. Welcome feedback.

  • Celebratory messages. If you know their birthday, send a birthday card. If it’s the holiday season, send them a holiday greeting card.

4) Automate the campaign

I know, at this point you’re thinking “I wish we had time to do that, but there’s no way I can track every new person and then separate them out every month.” You’re right, that would be very time consuming and difficult. That’s why this needs to be automatic.

  • First, I recommend making the emails standard for all new donors. It’s the best way to ensure your online fundraising efforts pay off. With most email marketing tools, you can create conditional fields that will allow the system to insert custom information, such as name, for that personal touch.

  • Then, set up a query or program that automatically filters new constituents to the Welcome Series and excludes them from your campaign emails.

  • Finally, let it roll. It goes without saying that you need to make sure you have a tool in place that can assist with this setup.

5) Track and adjust

Keep track of your email welcome series.

Track the open rates of the emails, the click through rates, and what people are clicking on. Is there a certain email that no one takes action on or, hopefully, an email that has astonishing activity? Use the data that you gather to adjust your emails so that you’re providing information that is relevant to your new donors.

Most email tools will allow you to easily report on this information.

Your Turn …

Now it’s your turn. If you haven’t already, start thinking about how this would work at your organization to improve people’s experience and increase the effectiveness of your online donor acquisition and online fundraising efforts. Comment below to let me know what step you’re at in the process or share your own tips and tricks for welcome series. I’ll be happy to provide feedback or insight.

Or, if you just want to share your bad first date story, I’d love to compare notes on that too.



Frank Barry, formerly worked at Blackbaud helping nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

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