How to automate donor outreach: 4 Ways Nonprofit Marketing Automation Can Streamline Processes and Donor Communication

One of the biggest challenges for nonprofits is managing donor communication. The bigger your list of donors, the more streams of communication will emerge. On top of that, donors expect you to know who they are and receive personalized messaging. Either you spend a ton of human energy managing donor communication, or you have to figure out how to automate donor outreach.

With a CRM that has built in automation, like Virtuous, you can use technology to manage internal processes and ensure the right donor communication is going out to the right people at the right time.

How to Automate Donor Communication the right way

There’s a right way and a wrong way to automate donor communication.

The wrong way creates robotic sounding messaging, and effectively sends blasts of email content to your list. Effectively, this is just a matter of “automating” a scheduled email. Why is this the wrong way? Because:

  1. Everyone gets the same message, which forfeits the whole point of automation. Automation is about combining the insight that lies in your CRM and the power of your staff’s native knowledge of your mission to deliver powerful, targeted, and personalized messages to the right people at the right time.
  2. There’s a whole lot more power automation offers than just scheduling an email blast.

The right way is much more nuanced, but nevertheless a lot less complicated than it may sound.

Our good friends over at SiteStacker published a great article in Forbes on how nonprofits should be using marketing automation to simplify their outreach processes (link at the bottom of this post). In their article, they articulate how automating donor communications is a game changer. They note that nonprofits need to be leveraging technology like Virtuous Automation to streamline their process, improve efficiencies and better connect with their supporters.

There are countless ways a nonprofit could leverage marketing automation. However, if you haven’t been doing it at your organization, it can be a little hard to know where to begin. That’s why we’ve put together a short list of ways nonprofits can use marketing automation to affect big results for their organization.

Four ways to automate donor outreach:

1. Welcome Series

A welcome series is simply a string of communications, whether email or direct mail or otherwise, that immediately engages new donors and fans. According to NextAfter, only 8% of nonprofits have a welcome series in place for new and potential donors. That’s a big problem.

A welcome series lets your supporters know you care about them; it lets them know you heard from them. Not only that, you’re giving them the information they want and need. Keep in mind, it’s the digital age: if they made a donation through a digital portal on your site, they expect to begin the relationship now. They will actually think it a little odd if they don’t hear from you right away.

It also happens that—according to email platform, Emma—fifty percent of welcome emails get opened. Just to be clear, that’s a giant open rate. A good welcome series can keep that new donor passionate enough to continue giving, volunteering, cheering you on. On the other hand, without a good welcome series, your donor may quickly forget all about their gift to you.

Click here for more tips on how to develop a successful email welcome series.

2. Gift thank-yous and receipting

Actually, this item is a two-for-one. You can automate both the receipting process as well as the acknowledgement process. While there’s debate around whether or not you should combine the two, your organization can decide for itself. Either way, gift receipting and acknowledgement letters are critical components of donor outreach. Unfortunately, they’re also time consuming.

A quick following up with donors to thank them for their support builds trust. It lets them know you are grateful for their donation. Moreover, they see that you’re organized and efficient, signaling that you’re a good steward of the funds they sent to you. This good impression will make them more likely to donate again to your cause. Numerous studies have shown that donors thanked within 48 hours of a gift being received far outperform donors that don’t receive a thank you.

Receipting can feel a bit like a chore for the nonprofit, but it’s important to be sure your donors have access to receipts for their donations. Nonprofit marketing automation can take the pain out of compiling and sending gift receipts. Using marketing automation software on gift receipts not only saves time, but boosts donor retention and saves on acquisition costs, too.

3. Event Follow-up

Many nonprofits rely heavily on events to acquire new supporters and to deepen relationships with existing donors.

As your organization grows, will you be able to scale to hundreds—or thousands—more potential supporters who want to join your cause? Of course, your development team won’t be able to rely on the one-to-one model of managing events, and connecting with those who participated. On the other hand, automated email sequences designed to engage supporters will help your staff optimize your events. That way, you won’t miss out on opportunities to slot the right people in and make sure they keep coming back.

4. Trigger-based Communication

Trigger-based (a.k.a. event- or action-based) communications are exactly what they sound like: communications based upon the behavior or activity of the recipient. For-profit businesses have already made great strides with this marketing strategy over the last several years, and it’s paying huge dividends.

According to eMarketeer, open rates on trigger-based emails skyrocket up to 49 percent. Furthermore, that’s a 95 percent increase over mass email blasts. And then there’s the click-through rates: nearly double that of other emails.  Unfortunately, nonprofits haven’t jumped on the bandwagon of trigger-based communication and automation like the for-profit world. Without trigger-based communication, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful elements the CRM-Marketing Automation combination offers: personalization.

Marketing automation allows you to respond with personal communication to actions your donors and potential donors take. You can know that communication is happening with the people who matter most to you, even when your office is closed. But from their perspective, it feels like you know them and are glad they’re helping you achieve your mission.

Here are a few examples of trigger-based email sequences every nonprofit should consider implementing:

  • Giving milestones like year-to-date or life-to-date giving thresholds
  • After establishing a monthly recurring gift
  • Project impact follow-ups for all donors that give to fund specific initiatives
  • Email follow-ups to supporters that open or click on emails but don’t complete the steps to fulfill the main call-to-action


Many nonprofits worry that marketing automation will be too impersonal. The irony is, when it’s done correctly, it actually helps contribute to a personalized donor experience. And similarly, it can feel like setting up automation is complicated. However, the four automation tactics noted in this article aren’t difficult to set up. And they’re just the beginning. The possibilities for managing tasks and communications via automation are nearly endless.

Click here if you’d like to see SiteStacker’s full Forbes article on How Nonprofits Can Use Automation To Streamline Their Processes.

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