The best way to kick off a new year is to send a welcome email series to your newest donors and constituents. A welcome email series educates and familiarizes people with your organization through several automated emails. This leads to deeper engagement, which can produce more involvement (i.e. donations) with your nonprofit.

It may be easy to overlook a welcome email series if you’re jaded by your other emails. However, many reports indicate that open rates on welcome email series can average over 50%. If you include a call to action, you could experience click-through rates at nearly 15%. For many businesses and nonprofits alike, these numbers are staggering.

When you’re ready to start welcoming donors, these easy points will help you craft some great emails.

Here are 3 steps to create a welcome email series for nonprofits:

  1. Clarify your goals and messaging
  2. Set the pacing
  3. Design and create your emails
  4. Track your results

We’ll go into some depth for each of these 4 steps, giving you some actual examples you can use.

 

flags symbolizing goals

Step 1: Clarify your goals and messaging

Putting yourself in your supporters’ shoes is the first step – no pun intended – to interacting with them in meaningful ways. You may have some goals in mind already of what you’d like for your new constituents to do. Thinking through where they’re coming from will help you give them opportunities they’re ready for.

Let’s take a moment to think through the mindset of someone who you may be including in a welcome email series list. We can use the following questions to create and develop insights:

  • How did you get their email address?
    • Donation
    • Blog subscription
    • Content download
    • Direct contact
    • Referral program
  • If they donated, how did they donate?
    • Online donation page
    • Offline in response to a mailer
    • At an event
    • Online peer-to-peer campaign
    • Facebook
  • If they donated, what kind of donor are they?
    • One time
    • Yearly
    • Recurring
  • How did they hear about your organization?
    • Google Ad Grant ads
    • Social media campaign
    • Event sponsorship
    • Researching online
    • Word of mouth
  • What are your list’s demographics?
    • Location
    • Age
    • Donation amounts

While these questions aren’t comprehensive, they cover quite a bit of ground. If you’re able to answer these thoroughly, they’ll be a great place to start determining your goals and messaging.

Onto the first part of this step: setting up your goals.

Goals for your welcome email series

Depending on what you discover about this list of supporters, donors, or constituents, you may have different goals (or opportunities) for them to progress through. It’s important to remember this is a welcome email series. These folks probably don’t know a ton about your nonprofit. They’re probably not ready to give thousands of dollars – so don’t ask them for that. The goal of this welcome email series is to nurture them.

Your primary goal should be to introduce them to your organization. Give them background information on your nonprofit’s vision, goals, field work, and past successes. Again, in a welcome email series, your main focus should be on introducing them – welcoming them – to your organization.

Secondary to welcoming, you may have small steps they can take toward deeper participation. You can approach each email as an opportunity to have them engage in a different way. Invite them to follow you on Facebook or Instagram. Tell them about your blog and give an option to subscribe. Invite them to volunteer, or to upgrade their donation habits from single time to recurring.

The point here is each email should: a) give them more information about your nonprofit, and b) invite them to engage with you on a slightly deeper level. More engagement means more donations.

Here are a few examples of email goals you could have:

Org type
Email 1
Email 2
Email 3
Email 4
Animal shelter Goal: subscribe to blog Goal: follow on Facebook Goal: volunteer signup Goal: recurring gift
Medical care for undeveloped countries Goal: follow on Instagram Goal: refer a nurse Goal: donate toward medical supplies Goal: sponsor a nurse
Product-based charity Goal: learn more about organization on website Goal: learn about proceeds on the blog Goal: buy an entry-level gift Goal: buy a gift for a friend

Messaging

When it comes to how you craft your emails, it’s important to speak to them where they’re at. If they’re brand new to your organization (we assume so since this is a welcome email series), you’ll want to not only educate them, but inspire them. Knowing that they may not have donated, or have only donated once, your goal is to inspire them to adopt your mission and get on board.

To compliment the goals you set in the previous section, it’s best to write with each goal in mind. You can provide context about your organization, and then invite the reader to take that next step, stemming from that context into an action. This will both introduce the reader to your organization and walk them through to the next step, providing a clear onramp to engagement.

Providing only one clear action is also important to note. In a test run by Unbounce, they found that having a single, strong call to action (instead of multiple) in an email can increase clicks by 371%. So cut the clutter and make the next step clear.

We’ve taken some of the goals we put in the last table and added more context around them below. Check out some of these examples.

 

Org type
Email 1
Email 2
Email 3
Email 4
Animal shelter Introduction to your goal of providing homes for pets, and invite them to read a blog post about homeless animal stats. Talk about the goal of adoption. Invite them to follow on Facebook, where you can see new dog additions every day. Provide info about the actual care for dogs in the shelter. Provide the opportunity for volunteer signup. Give insight on the costs of hosting a dog every day. Invite the reader to help by setting up a recurring gift that covers the cost of 1 dog.
Medical care for undeveloped countries Send a thank you letter from a doctor in the field, and let the reader know they can follow the current news on an Instagram account. Share a story from a nurse who has traveled with your org, and end by asking for referrals of other nurses. Talk about what medical supplies cost in in western countries, how much they cost where your supplier is, and then how a donation can cover x amount of supplies. Share a video of work happening in the field, and invite the reader to donate a nurse’s sponsorship.
Product-based charity Talk about how many product purchases have resulted in people helped or change made, and invite the reader to continue reading on your website. Tell a story about someone who has been affected by the proceeds of your products, and reveal the rest of the story in a blog post. Remind the reader of how a single, low-cost item can make change, and invite them to shop entry-priced items. Remind the reader of how more money donated means more positive work going on, and invite them to buy a gift for a friend.

Another important point about messaging is to brainstorm, analyze, and test different email subject lines. Any email series will fall on its face if your constituents don’t open what you send!

There are some amazing tools out there to help you critique and rank your email subject lines. Venngage conducted a study that utilized some of the main subject line scoring sites, and found quite a bit of insight around these services and how you should actually be writing your email subject lines. See the study and its plethora of infographics here.

 

mailboxes with emails 1 through 4 written on them for welcome email series

Step 2: Set the pacing

Now that you’ve set your goals and figured out how many messages it will take to warmly welcome these people to your organization, it’s time to decide on cadence.

In the examples above, I listed out a 4-email nurture series for new supporters/donors. Although 4 isn’t a magic email number by any means, there are a handful of authorities that suggest making a welcome email series only 2-4 emails long.

In our own introductory nurture series for Kindful, we went with 4 emails, primarily because it seemed to flow well that way. You could make it a 12 email series, or you could make it 2. The point is to keep your new supporters engaged and on the path toward deeper (and continual) engagement with your nonprofit.

But how often should you send these emails? The resounding consensus in research: Send your first email immediately. This allows you to stay relevant and front of mind when someone is just beginning to scratch the surface of your organization.

For most nonprofits, the immediate email a supporter will receive is likely a donation receipt. Use this automated donation receipt to share about your organization! Don’t leave the email with a simple PDF receipt and a thank you. You can include a story, a personalized note from your executive director, or anything else to enrich their experience.

Apart from the first email (which should be immediate), the pace is a bit more up to you. Some things to consider:

  • Are you adding people from this welcome series list to another email list?
    • If so, consider the amount of emails they may receive from you.
    • If not, make sure these emails keep your supporter engaged.
  • Do you see any pattern between when people find your organization and when they choose to engage in another way?
    • If so, try to capitalize on this timing to prompt their next engagement.
    • If not, test a pattern out and see how people respond.

A big part of optimizing pacing is doing just that: monitoring how your emails are performing and making small changes to improve. More on that later.

For now, put yourself back in your supporters’ shoes. If you’ve discovered a cool, new organization you’re interested in, how often would you like to see more info about them? This will help you create a baseline for how many days you should place between each email. For the welcome series we use for Kindful, our cadence is immediately, 1 day, 3 days, then 7 days.

 

email template builder for welcome email seriesStep 3: Design and create your emails

Depending on what integrated email marketing tool you’re using, the process of designing and creating emails will look different. Regardless of the tool, the best place to start is with the template.

Look across your brainstormed email messaging, and connect the dots on common elements. Do you use a lot of images? All text? Is it sent from the same person? Deciding how you want your emails to look will help a lot as you create or choose a template. Once you decide, you can quickly place your text and elements into your welcome email series template, keeping them looking consistent and professional.

You’ll also need to automate these welcome emails to send automatically after you collect someone’s contact info. Don’t worry – it’s pretty easy these days.

Here are some resources for creating an automated email series in our favorite email marketing tools:

 

line charts showing results for welcome email series

Step 4: Track your results

You’ve made it.

You developed concepts and goals for your welcome email series. You’ve figured out a cadence that you want to try out. The emails you wrote have been put into a template and a workflow has been made to send automatically.

Now is the time to put your feet up and pat yourself on the back, right?

Almost.

Even though this process doesn’t require many steps, it’s a lot of hard work to get a welcome email series up and running, and it’d be great to just set it and forget it. However, as with anything in marketing and communicating – the ball is now in your court to optimize!

Use your integrated email marketing tool to track your progress. Open rates and click-through rates are a great place to start. But then you can go deeper. You can begin comparing these results against the different emails in your series.

Did email #2 get opened more than #3? Now you have the opportunity to test different subject lines and cadences.

Did email #4 have a higher click-through rate than all the other emails? What type of content do you have in that email? What is the call to action at the end? How can you bring those elements into emails #1-3?

There are plenty of tips out there for improving nonprofit emails, but investigate your own data first.

 


 

Now that you have the core concepts for creating a welcome email series, you can begin applying them to other email series. You can create an automated email series for lapsed donors, or occasional major givers, or a welcome series that goes out to only event attendees.

These 4 steps can be applied to any email series to help your nonprofit engage with your audience using very little effort. Work hard on these email series, then let your software work smart by automating your outreach.