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Boost donor retention with an automated welcome email series

Whether they’re donating, signing up for emails or volunteering for the first time, create an automatic series of “getting to know you” emails to solidify your supporter relationships.

Image of welcome sign that says "Welcome: Come in, we're open"

Less than half of first-time donors come back. What can you do?

Donor retention is a major challenge for most nonprofits. In 2017, only 45.3% of donors — less than half on average — chose to give to the same organization again. (AFP and Urban Institute) Why do donors drop off like this? Donor retention strategy is a big topic with a lot of moving parts, but one of the biggest factors is lack of connection and continued communication with the nonprofit. In this article, we’ll focus on how you can use an intelligent welcome email series triggered by specific interactions to get your relationship off to a good start and reduce donor disconnect.

Those first 45 days: the golden time for engagement

When a supporter first interacts with your organization — be it through a donation, email signup, volunteer gig or event — this is a critical time to build connection. Your organization’s thoughtful automated email responses within the first 45 days can make the difference between a productive relationship and one that fizzles. These individuals have given you their money, time and/or attention, demonstrating their interest and commitment to your mission. They’re extending their hand for connection. It’s up to you to respond with a warm, firm handshake.

Strike while the iron’s hot

Your first welcome email needs to be triggered immediately after the interaction (donation, email signup, etc.) The timing is key, because this is when your organization is fresh in your supporters’ minds and their interest is high. Welcome emails have average open rate of 50% — about 86% higher than regular emails. (Campaign Monitor) And yet a study by Ciceron found only 39% of brands send a welcome email and 27% send no welcome emails at all during the first 3 weeks. Don’t miss this special opportunity! Use your welcome email series to start drawing your supporters in right away.

Make it worthwhile

Your goal here is to start a relationship. Help them get to know you in different ways over the course of the next several emails and weeks. To build your strategy: 

  • Think about what you want to say over the course of the series, and then divide that into brief email “chunks” you can spread out over the series. You may decide to keep people in the welcome series shielded from your main email list until they’re finished with the welcome cycle.
  • Start with thanks. Thank them for their support, for signing up, for participating in your event. Show them what you’re trying to do and how their support matters.
  • Give them something to look forward to in their support of your organization. Welcome them in and invite them into a conversation. Make each email a short, focused “touch” on one topic at a time. Maybe you share impact statistics and stories of real humans your organization has helped. Point them to your social media properties and key content on your website. Ask them what they’re most interested in, what they’re concerned about, or why they donated to your organization. Make sure you’re set up to respond to replies!
  • Make it personal. Personalization in the subject line alone can increase open rates by 26%. (Campaign Monitor) Think of other ways you can personalize further, e.g. surveys and other indications of interests that can allow you to segment and give them a more meaningful experience.
  • Segment and customize wherever possible. Your welcome series will be more effective if you adjust your approach depending on where the person has come from and what their interests are. A first time donor from your website may already be familiar with your work and be more interested in stories of impact. Someone donating from a friend’s Facebook fundraiser or dropping in at a volunteer event might not really know what you do and may engage better with more information about your work. 
  • Optimize for mobile. About 53% of emails are opened on mobile devices (Campaign Monitor) — be ready. Review and test your emails across mobile devices and email clients to avoid nasty surprises. 
  • Create a cohesive experience arc. Find ways to tie the welcome emails together so it feels like a continuous thread. Plan out how this experience will integrate with your website / social user experiences. Decide how to transition welcome email audiences to your main email lists after the welcome series has been completed. 
  • Test the journey. Create test personas to complete test donations, email signups, etc. to see what it’s like to go through your welcome series of emails. For each call to action you include in the emails, be sure to test that click-through journey as well to make sure donation / signup forms work and the experience is smooth.

We’re here to help!

Do you currently have an automated welcome series set up for your nonprofit? How’s it working for you? We’d love to talk with you about the systems you’ve set up and how we can help make them even more effective. Send us a note and let’s chat!