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The Anatomy of a Multichannel Welcome Series for Nonprofits (and Others)

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Donor retention is top-of-mind for nonprofit marketing professionals. And rightly so. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, donor retention continues to decline. That it's more cost-effective to retain donors than to find new ones makes this issue all the more pressing.

The most efficient and affordable action nonprofits can take to combat decreasing donor retention is to execute a welcome series as soon as new donors connect with their organization. Yet, as it stands, only 8% of nonprofits have a welcome series in place. So why are 92% of nonprofits laggards in such an important process?

Nonprofits are notorious for delaying the implementation of new technologies. However, for creating a great welcome series, marketing automation—the use of which is increasing at staggering rates—is exactly the technology nonprofits need to scale their fundraising efforts.

Marketing automation helps charities automatically send the right communication at the right time without intervention from staff. The best automation tools span multiple channels, which means charities can automatically send emails, assign tasks, tag donors, or create direct mail segments from the same simple tools.

Before you can automate a great welcome series, you need to better understand some best-practices for welcoming a new donor, and then design a series that meets the needs of your specific charity.


Here are a few recommendations for an effective welcome series:

  • Multi-channel is best. When strategizing a welcome series, plan for multiple touches on multiple channels. If you have only an email address, send multiple emails. If you have their email and physical address, send direct mail and email. If you have their phone number and email and physical addresses, do all three—call, email and mail. The goal is to connect with givers and potential givers through the channels they use.
  • Keep it short and sweet. The folks who provide their information to your nonprofit do it because they are interested in your organization's impact and want to know more right away. To that end, get the series up and running quickly by thanking them for signing up. Follow up with news of your organization's impact, perhaps with a video embedded in an email. Are there interesting, non-cash giving opportunities? Let them know. Keep potential donors engaged by sending a reminder email to connect via your social media channels. At this point, mail your organization's most recent newsletter. Finally, it will be time to make an appeal for financial support—and actually get a result. Whether you're emailing or mailing to their physical address, it's important for each of your communications to build upon the previous one.
  • Add value. There's a balance to strike between what you want to communicate in your outreach and what prospective donors are interested in. Introduce them to the impact your charity makes by sharing stories showing how their support makes a difference and how real lives change. Provide resources and tell them about volunteer opportunities and additional ways they can get involved. Resist the temptation to talk solely about your organization or use organization-centric language. People provide their contact information because your mission interests them, so give them valuable and actionable information.
  • Be data-driven. There will always be someone that gets in touch to say not to send more than one email per week. It's easy to let personal feedback direct your overall strategy, but don't. With digital outreach, for instance, use statistics like opens, clickthroughs, and gift/CTA conversion rates to set the plan, and only then be open to changing it up. Start with your planned series schedule, and data will tell you whether you need to add more space between emails and the times of delivery. After all, when measuring a marketing channel's success, email and social media make it easy. Keep an eye out on the numbers, and you'll know whether timing or content is turning people off so you can tweak your efforts to improve.

There's no exact science to creating the perfect welcome series, but finding a way to thank and engage your new donors is critical to your organization.

Remember to keep the emails tight to keep engagement up. Usually seven communications—via email, mail, or phone—will complete a welcome series, but be open to being flexible.

After your final communication goes out, wait a few days to move the recipients into your organization's email stream and the appropriate segments.

Start small, make tweaks, and build on the process as you learn from the data. It may take a bit of testing, but you'll develop a welcome email series to move prospective donors into first-time donors in no time.


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Jeff Jacobs is director of marketing at Virtuous, a CRMsolution helping nonprofit organizations raise more money and do more good.

LinkedIn: Jeff Jacobs

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