How to Create The Essential NonProfit Welcome Email Series
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
By reading this blog post, you've taken a massive step towards bettering the well-being of your nonprofit. Below you will learn how to create the most important aspect of your email communication so that you can build sustainable relationships with donors that more willingly adopt your mission and raise you money.
First, let's do a thought experiment:
Imagine you're representing your nonprofit at an info fair. Your booth is looking great and you even have a big bold sign over your head that says, "Ask me for more info!." Naturally, someone walks up to you and does just that. How do you respond? Will you:
A: Stare at them for a full minute and then say, "Hi!"
B: Immediately ask for a donation of $25.
C: Talk about your latest blog post on welcoming a new staff member.
D: Welcome them and then share what you do and how they can get involved.
D of course!
You're not going to ignore them, you're not going to immediately ask for money, and you're not gonna open by talking about something they don't yet care about.
Yet this is exactly what too many nonprofits do with their email communication.
They put their new donors at the mercy of whatever and whenever their next email happens to be.
Doing so means missing a huge opportunity because we know that the first few emails sent to a new donor tend to be some of the most opened, read, and clicked emails you will ever send.
In fact, open rates of nonprofit welcome email series' can average over 50%.
People are also most likely to make a 2nd gift or even upgrade to becoming a recurring donor in their first few months after making a one-time gift.
Yet 48% of nonprofits do not thank, confirm, or welcome via email within the first two days of someone signing up for their list, and 16% did not after a donation was made.
It's no wonder that industry wide first time donor retention rates are only around 20%.
This tells us that nonprofits are not doing the best job of engaging new supporters when they're most willing and receptive – right after a sign up or donation. As a result, they miss out on building valuable donor relationships.
That's why we need a welcome email series.
It's takes some time to set up, but once it is, you will reap the rewards of:
Increased donation rates
Increased open and click rates of all your future emails (not just this email series)
Decreased unsubscribe rates
Increased content engagement
So, what is a welcome email series and how do we make one?
What is a Welcome Email Series?
It's a 3 to 4 part email series that:
Properly welcomes new donors.
Helps them get to know your organization.
Affirms the value of your work.
More importantly, it kicks off your efforts to nurture these donors to deeper levels of commitment.
Which begs the question, where do we want to lead our new subscribers?
Do we want to push them into our regular communications cycle, like our newsletter?
Do we want them to give again? To become a volunteer? To attend a special event?
There's no right answer.
It depends on your organization's goals.
But regardless of where you want them to go, you have to consider where they came from.
Talk to Donors According to Different Entry Points
Not everyone finds their way to you on the same path. People will enter your cycle of communication from different entry points and if you want to build compassionate relationships, you need to put in the extra effort to treat people like individuals rather than "subscribers".
To do that, we need to create targeted welcome email sequences that are based on their channel of acquisition.
There are three main segments of new subscribers we can speak to:
First-time donors who give directly to your organization
Third-party donors who give to a friend or family member's personal fundraising campaign
Having a targeted and personalized approach will help us keep donors engaged, strengthen our relationship with them, and keep as many new givers as possible.
Now let's go over the three main points of entry for our donors and how we can best welcome, nurture, and onboard them to our mission.
First Time Donors
A first-time donor is someone who's made a direct gift to you.
They've most likely done research on who you are and how you serve (That's why they donated!) but may not be ready yet to take next steps of commitment like volunteering or becoming a recurring donor.
They do however feel a sense of pride and excitement for supporting our cause.
That makes our welcome email sequence the perfect tool to reinforce the value they saw in us and nurture them into deeper involvement.
The content we'll include in our emails depends on your organization, but below are some basic guidelines to get you started.
What to Include in a First-time donor email
Email #1: Say Thanks
1. Show your appreciation and welcome them.
This first email is used to congratulate and welcome our new donor. We want to make them feel fantastic about the action they have just taken to support us.
Next we let them know that we'll be sending emails over the next few weeks that show the impact they've made and valuable opportunities to learn more and get involved.
2. Include a soft ask.
Each email should give our donor a next step. The high quality content we give will build their trust in us and make it easier for them to confidently say yes to our larger asks later like volunteering or becoming a recurring giver down the road.
For now, we'll ask for a small action like:
Follow us on social media
Watch a video or read a blog post
Here's how Charity: Water welcomes their new supporters:
They open with the foundation's mission story and in bold thank the donor for their support.
They also use a call to action at both the beginning and end of the email which makes it very clear what they want someone to do after reading – See the story of charity: water.
The large visual and simple formatting of the email is both welcoming and engaging. It does a great job of doing what we want a first email to do: Thank and call to learn more.
Email #2: Educate and Demonstrate Impact
1. We're going to use our second email to show readers how our organization is making strides in its mission.
Telling a story like the following is a great way to do this:
"When Barbara needed help, we were there. Our case manager, Sarah, was able to use funding from donors to help Barbara get into housing where she can stay safe and focus on finding a job and getting healthcare rather than finding a safe place to sleep."
2. An important aspect of this email is to show the story visually.
If we can include a photo of our beneficiary it will connect our new donor to our story and give them proof of impact.
3. Include a call to action.
Depending on your email's content, you can ask readers to:
See their impact by checking out a photo or blog
Watch a filmed testimonial from a beneficiary or staff member
Read a full impact story on your blog
Share an infographic included in your email
Email #3: Inspire and give an opportunity to act
1. Use the last email in your onboarding sequence to inspire donors to take further action.
Now we're going to show how our supporters have been directly driving our nonprofit's results.
The best way to do this is with a story and the same aspects will apply as for the last email: We want to use images and we want to connect the donor to our outcome.
2. Include a call to action to get more involved.
Again we're going to call our new supporter to action. We can now ask for a higher level of commitment like:
Joining us at an upcoming event
Subscribing to our newsletter (If you haven't already added them to your list)
Donating or starting a fundraising page
Learning more about our recurring giving program
If you've ever run a peer to peer fundraising campaign, you know that many of the donations you receive will come from donors who don't necessarily know much about you.
That's because their donation came out of a personal connection to the individual asking for a gift, not necessarily because they were moved by your cause.
We call this type of donor a third-party donor.
Unlike a first-time donor, most third party donors haven't built up enough trust or familiarity with us to be able to ask them for another donation or fill their inbox with stories of our work.
Instead, we need to more gently nurture these brand new relationships. Appealing to them will take more finesse and a longer trust building campaign.
Here's how we can do that:
Email #1: Send A Personalized Thank You
1. Thank the donor for their gift.
2. Refer to the fundraiser the person gave to.
This will show that you've taken the time to acknowledge and understand that they're a third party donor. More effort and personalization creates more liking. It will also remind them that someone they trust is already confident in our mission.
3. Offer valuable materials to help them learn more about your cause and organization. You could link to:
A blog post of a beneficiary's story.
An impact report about your work.
News on the cause sector.
4. Thank the donor again.
We need to show maximum appreciation so that their charitable feelings are reinforced and can be redistributed back to us in the future.
Email #2: Connect them to their impact
1. The campaign may be over, but we want to continue to update donors about the impact of their gift.
You can do this by connecting their dollar amount or the total dollar amount of the campaign to effects on the ground.
2. Use photos and visuals of how their gift is driving your organization's impact.
3. Include a soft ask. You might ask them to:
Check out more photos of the campaign's impact.
Watch a video about your fieldwork.
Read a blog post.
Email: #3: Inform them about your organization
1. Educate them further about your organization and its programs.
We're going to lead our donors into the future by sharing the events and initiatives we have coming up. We want to tell another story so that they can imagine themselves participating and want to sign up.
2. Include a soft ask.
We can ask them to follow us on social media, share a petition, or an impact report of ours somewhere.
Email #4: Show their impact
1. Thank them.
2. Give descriptions and updates on our latest initiatives.
3. Let them know you'll be sharing a monthly newsletter with them.
4. Depending on how they've responded to earlier emails, ask them to take another step like:
Subscribing to your blog
Joining you at an event
This email from Make a Wish uses the Email #4 template to lead third party donors into direct donors.
They use story and concrete data to show and prove the effects of donations.
A mix of hard and soft calls to action lets the reader decide how to act depending on how they've been affected by the previous emails.
Also notice the use of imagery – both with a photo and link to a video.
These are people who have first interacted with your nonprofit through one of your fundraising events.
They're the perfect candidates for a welcome email series because they're inspired by what they've just experienced and are looking for more involvement and commitment.
Like our other sequences, we want to first thank and congratulate our attendees, then add soft calls to action.
The thing about events is that they're all different and the types of people who attend them are also different.
We wouldn't use the same emails to indoctrinate a 5k charity race participant as we would a gala attendee. For this reason, we need create a unique welcome series for each event.
The email structure for each is the same but the words and imagery will be unique.
Email #1: Thank them for coming.
Let them know that their action is appreciated. It takes time and effort to attend an event so make sure your email copy reflects a high level of thanks.
1. Link the event to the mission of your nonprofit.
We want to tell them that "Hey, we appreciate you showing up. By doing so, you've helped further our mission of saving the world. Now, you're a member of our team. Here's how you can get more involved."
2. Include a call to action.
Now is a great time for a call to action because our attendees are still excited from the event.
Since many events don't have to do with direct donations, you can ask them to give if they feel called to.
The email should not focus on asking for a donation, but at the end of it we can say something like, "The event might be over, but there's still time to give. Click here to donate and get involved."
Email #2: Report the Events Success
1. Give a synopsis of your event and its success. Share and celebrate your fundraising totals.
2. Explain how the funds will be used to support your mission.
3. Include photos and videos from the event.
4. Let them know you'll keep in touch (with impact and event-related updates).
5. Include a CTA. Choose from one of the following:
A short survey about the event
Check out a larger photo gallery from the event.
Watch a video to relive the event and its success.
charity: water does great job sharing the success of their event with links to a recap video, photos, and stats on how many lives will be directly affected by the money raised.
This proof of work beautifully leads into the important element of asking donors who have not fulfilled their pledge at the gala, to do so now through this email.
Email#3: Offer other mission or event related specific updates
1. Provide mission related content or news.
2. If you conducted a survey, mention its results and your future plans to implement feedback.
3. Announce any upcoming events.
4. Include a main call to action. You might ask them to:
Register for an upcoming event
Fundraise for your upcoming event
Save the date and pre-register for the same event.
Timing and Frequency
For first-time donors and third-party donors, your thank you email should arrive in their inbox right after they donate. For event attendees, as soon as the event is over.
The first email your new donor receives is the most important.
It will arrive in their inbox while they're at their peak of their excitement (right after they make a donation) and it will be the first time that you will be speaking to them personally rather than through your website or social media.
Unlike option A in our opening thought experiment, we want to greet new comers with open arms and encouragement. Like a good friend, we want to share our enthusiasm with them and reward their efforts with confirmation and nudge towards the next steps.
Subsequent emails for all types of donors and subscribers should happen weekly.
Now that we've gone over three different types of welcome email sequences, let's talk about universal elements that should be included in each.
10 Elements of An Effective Welcome Email Sequence
1. Experiment and test
Try different subject lines. Different Images. Different Calls to action. Get creative and see what works best. The more you do, the better you'll get to know your audience and how to cultivate trusting relationships that keep donors on board for years to come.
2. Always include a call to action
Every email should give the reader a next step – whether that's watching a video, reading a blog, or making a donation. Not to ask would mean losing engagement and wasting a valuable opportunity to give value.
3. Make your emails easy to read
American workers will receive an average of 126 emails per day. To ensure that we get across the information that we need to, our emails need to be succinct and engaging.
4. Tell Stories
Stories are the most effective tool we have to connect donors to our mission. Use them in most of your emails.
5. Brand your emails consistently
Consistency is a cornerstone of professionalism and trust. Brand consistency will show donors that we're a stable organization, have standards for representation, and have a plan for achieving goals.
6. Lead new donors to your newsletter cycle
It's of the utmost importance that we form a continuing relationship with our new connections so that we can partner with them for years to come. This can happen on the page they donate, or as a CTA in your welcome sequence.
Schedule your fist email to go out immediately (Right after sign up, event, etc)
People are at peak excitement when they first sign up with you. Don't ignore them! We want to thank our donors immediately. Just like you would if someone were right in front of you.
7. Incorporate surveys (Ask a question)
Feedback is how we make our communication better. Responding to feedback will give us stronger relationships faster – resulting in more volunteer hours, greater donations, engaging events, and an overall more rewarding experience for staff and donors.
8. Use images
Images lead the reader into your email and get your words read rather than glossed at. They quickly show your personality and your impact. They are unique to you and easy to create and share. Use them!
9. Put social share buttons at the end of all emails
Remember that donors have adopted our mission because they wanted to! By following us on social media, they get the best chance of being able to share our work and impact with others.
A welcome email series is the cornerstone of your email marketing strategy. It's gives you the best chance at making a stellar first impression and symbiotic relationship.
As you create your emails, always link your content to your mission. Get your donors involved and a part of the bigger picture.
Think about where you want to lead them and how you can nurture your relationship to the level of commitment they're ready for.
Any kind of welcome sequence is better than none, so make one now! With this guide, you have all the information you need to turn new donors into long term, action driven supporters.