How to Retain First-Time Donors With Your Email Welcome Series

You’ve worked hard to launch a successful online fundraiser. Your fundraising story hits people in the feels, and you’ve distributed that story across your social networks.

To your amazement and relief, people are actually donating. Your plan is working!

But in the back of your mind, you worry that many of these first-time donors won’t come back again. It happened last year and the year before.

You are not alone. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, most nonprofits struggle with donor retention:

In his book, Retention Fundraising, Roger Craver lists 7 factors that influence donor retention:

  1. They perceive your organization is effective achieving its mission.
  2. They know what to expect from your organization with each interaction.
  3. They receive a timely thank you.
  4. They have opportunities to make her views known.
  5. They feel they are part of an important cause.
  6. They feel that their involvement is appreciated.
  7. They receive information showing who is being helped.

Putting these 7 points into action involves following up with each donor. One powerful way to follow up consistently with each donor is with an email welcome series.

How to Retain First-Time Donors With an Email Welcome Series

Here’s how to boost donor retention with a 3-part donor welcome series:

1. Have clear goals

Decide what you want new donors to do next.

Do you want new donors to share the campaign with their friends? Do you want them to like your Facebook Page? Do you want them to learn more about the cause?

For example, Sandy Hook Promise prompts recent donors to watch this powerful Facebook video:

2. Segment donors

In your welcome series, your audience is pretty clear: people who just made a donation. However, this audience may include:

  • First-time donors
  • Repeat donors
  • Monthly donors
  • Etc.

As you can imagine, the email messages should speak to each specific relationship. For example, a welcome email to a new monthly donor should reinforce the long-term impact of their support.

3. Make it about them

Each email in the series should create value for the donor.

Thanking the donor, reminding them of their impact, and asking for feedback all create value in the heart of your donor. In short, it’s about making them feel like they matter – that they are important.

For example, the ACLU offers new donors a 15% discount off t-shirts:

Email Welcome Series - ACLU

4. Determine message frequency

You have to strike a balance between reminding them about upcoming campaigns, and being too pushy.

The first email should go out immediately, but when you send the remaining emails in your series may vary.

The secret is to focus on creating value for the donor. Don’t waste their time.

5. Write your email series

Keep them brief and in the second-person, as if you’re writing to a friend. Consider this series:

  • Message 1 – Welcome new donor, reinforce their decision to give.
  • Message 2 – Update the donor on their impact, ask for their feedback (a quick survey).
  • Message 3 – Invite the donor to give again, or upgrade to a monthly donor.

6. Set it and (almost) forget it

The best thing about an email welcome series is that you can “set it and forget it.” The series is automatically initiated by the donor.

But you still need to monitor opens and clicks for each message to make sure they’re working.

For example, if your open rate is 60%, that’s good. But if your click rate is only 5%, you need to work on the body of that message (copy, image, action calls).

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John Haydon