READ TIME: 4 minutes

What is an Email Welcome Series and What Should Mine Look Like?

By Franny Lown
Many organizations invest a significant amount of time and resources soliciting first-time donations but miss their opportunity to cultivate a more meaningful relationship with new donors. A simple way to avoid this misstep is through a new donor welcome series, aautomated three to five-part series of emails that demonstrate appreciation and help new donors get to know your organization. Ensure first-time donors are engaged from the get-go.   Use your email series wisely, so you’re not cluttering inboxes with mundane chit chat. Keep it concise, informative, and engaging. Here are a few strategies to help your organization accomplish that goal. 

Express Gratitude

Your series should kick off with a genuine “Thank You.” Although most organizations send an automated thank you email immediately after a gift is made, a new donor welcome series follows soon after (ideally somewhere between 24 to 48 hours after the donation is made) and serves a different purpose.   While a donation receipt offers acknowledgement of a financial gift and confirms that it has been processed, the first message of your new donor welcome series should be more personal, establish your organization’s tone, and set expectations for any future communication. Make donors feel important – because they are!   In this first email, you may also include a soft ask, like requesting new donors simply follow you on social media or watch a video about your organization.  

Educate Through Impact

Most donors do at least a little research before committing their hard-earned dollars to a new organization, but you shouldn’t assume they know every detail of your story. There’s a high likelihood first-time donors need some filling in! Offer an overview of your organization, projects, programs or priorities you’re working on, events you have coming up, etc. There are a few ways to go about doing this:  
  • Highlight what sets you apart – the value proposition.  
    • What makes your organization unique? 
    • Why should your new donors care? 
  • Find the right balance.
    • Though you want to turn first-time donors into recurring donors, this isn’t the space to oversell.  
    • Above all, inform and engage! A simple overview of who you are, what you’re doing, and how your donors can get involved is a good place to start.  
    • Add links to your social media and/or blog so readers have the opportunity to follow you and learn more. 
  • Be honest as you tell your story.  
    • What challenges are you facing as an organization? It’s okay to show a bit of vulnerability here.  
    • Include high-quality imagesyour best video content, or infographics to paint a clear picture of who you are!
  •  Keep your audience’s motivations in mind. 
    • Use your donor personas to include messages that reflect these motivations. Apply these to the subject lines and email content. Haven’t created your donor personas yet? This blog will help guide you in five simple steps.  

Segment Your Audience

In your email welcome series, you will naturally be interacting with first-time donors. While that may seem obvious, first-time donors could fall into many categories, including volunteers, for example. Not all donors are the same, so make sure you tailor the information accordingly.  
  • Deliver relevant content at the right time  
  • Consider email recipients’ location, giving history, and income level 
  • Make it personal 

Establish Trust

There’s no shortage of charitable organizations for caring individuals to support (more than 1.5 million in the United States alone), so consider your welcome series an opportunity to show new donors that they made the right choice. The most compelling way to establish donor trust is through transparent communication and demonstrating impact. Dedicate at least one email in your welcome series to describing how your organization is achieving its stated mission and, more importantly, illustrating how new donors enable you to make that difference.   Bonus Tip: If you’re drafting a longer welcome series, you can dedicate two emails to impact communication – perhaps making one quantitative while another focuses on personal storytelling.  

Provide a Clear Purpose

Now that you’ve educated first-time donors about your mission and proved that their gift is making an impact, you need to motivate them to stay engaged. Your ultimate goal is to retain each donor, and you can do so by working to upgrade their contribution to the organization. The final email of your welcome series should include a call-to-action (CTA) that moves them through your donor pipeline.   Committing to a monthly recurring donation is often an appropriate CTA for new donors, but you can also encourage them to volunteer, fundraise, or sign up for a monthly newsletter. Whatever final CTA you decide on, be sure you’re providing new donors the opportunity to get involved.  

Evaluate Activity

Engagement is key. You don’t want to be filling inboxes with info that no one is clicking on. Track open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates as well as website traffic and conversions attributed to your email series. If the open rate is high (according to Mailchimp, the average open rate in the nonprofit industry is 26%), then your welcome series is functioning as it should. If it’s closer to 10%, modify the copy, images, and call-to-action accordingly, but no more than one change at a time so you know what attributed to the improvement.  

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