When you move into a new neighborhood, you’re likely to be welcomed in some way to the community. Perhaps a neighbor stops by to introduce themselves and brings a basket of fresh-baked cookies or muffins. Or maybe the neighborhood association drops off an information packet to let you know about neighborhood meetings and what is going on in the area. Whatever the welcome is that you may have received, your relationship with that community has begun to be nurtured. You now have a familiar face or faces you can turn to if you have questions or simply need to borrow a cup of sugar.
An online community should not be any different. It is also a place where relationships should be nurtured. Take for example Susy Q. She heard about your organization recently at an event, went to your website and signed up to receive your emails. By taking that action, she has moved into your online community and said “I want to know more about what you (org) are doing. I want to be a part of this.” It is now time for you, the organization, to nurture that relationship by welcoming her and thanking her for her interest and support.
Meet the welcome series.
Now is the perfect time to send Susy a series of communications that, just like the basket of warm muffins, makes her feel welcomed and at home. Home. Your online community should feel like home to your constituents. It should be a familiar place where they know they can stop by at any time to have a conversation with you or find out what you’ve been up to lately.
It’s likely that your organization is already sending an autoresponder immediately after someone takes an action like donating or signing up for your eNews. That is a good first step and it does let your supporters know that their action has been acknowledged by you. But, why not take it a step further and roll out your welcome mat? By initiating a phased welcome series you are able to nurture the relationship with that new constituent and this can help lead to a longer lasting relationship – one in which your supporter feels important and like they really are a part of what you do.
So how exactly does a welcome series work? That is up to you! It may depend a bit on the capabilities of the email system you are using, but chances are you will be able to set up some type of recurring message(s) targeted at the audience(s) or your choice. My advice is to set up the welcome series to send to new constituents typically within the first week of moving into your housefile. Some organizations opt to send a two part series, where a “Welcome” message is sent the first week and a “Here’s how you can get involved” message is sent as a follow-up the next week. In that first message be sure to let them know who you are. Introduce your Executive Director and reaffirm your mission. In follow-up messages, be sure to let them know how they can become more involved and what’s new on the block. Some organizations like to take advantage of the newness of the constituents for up to a full month and will send a series of four messages, one per week. The frequency and amount of messages is entirely up to you.
When it comes to content, if you are considering initiating a welcome series, think about your constituents and your programs. Always welcome and thank them for moving into the neighborhood. But, also use the communication series as way to let them know about your programs, upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. If you have a welcome series already, think about evolving it. It may be that you created your series some time ago. Could your content use a facelift? Maybe you have some new programs or new events that you have started since initially setting up the series. Or, perhaps, you have started some new social media initiatives and you’d like to include a portal to those online communities. Your welcome series should be a living, breathing body of work. Re-vamp it and change things up a bit if it’s been a while since you last took a good look at the content. Keep it fresh. Just like your neighbor wouldn’t bring your stale muffins, don’t give your constituents stale news.
By nurturing your relationships from the start, you are more likely to build a strong community made up of dedicated, loyal supporters who will stay tuned. After all, home is where the heart is.