Five tips for developing a successful email welcome series

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The most common missing element in a fundraising program is an email welcome series. Only 8% of nonprofits have one in place according to the Online Fundraising Scorecard. One of the reasons why is because it can be so hard to put all of the elements together.

So here are a couple of lessons I’ve learned to make the process easier.

Start Simple

Write your first series for all new names regardless if they have given a gift yet or not. Don’t start by trying to create multiple email series for every type of email address you could get (new names, new donors, new monthly donors, direct mail donors that gave their email address, campaign donors, emails acquired through acquisition, etc.). This type of complication will derail or stop the entire process. Once you get the first series up and running, you can create variations and special segments to address the other audiences you have.

Add Value

People provided their email address because you have something they are interested in, not to become part of your “family.” Don’t talk about the organization; provide them with additional resources and other ways they can get involved, or tell them great stories to show the impact their support has on your mission.

Shorter Is Better

Try to finish the series in 2 weeks or less. They have signed up to get your emails; they want to hear from you, so talk to them right away. There is no secret formula for frequency, but we have found that the tighter you can make the series, the better the engagement.

Let the Data Be the Diplomat

Instead of letting personal opinions set the strategy, use email statistics. Don’t let the person who says “I would unsubscribe if you sent me 3 emails in 3 days” dictate the strategy. Start with a tight schedule and then let the data tell you if you need to do something different. Email is the most measurable marketing channel there is. If the timing, or more likely the content, is turning people off, the numbers will reflect that, and you can make a change to improve it.

Create Space at the End

It is a good idea to add a couple of days as a buffer to the end of the series before these names start to get regular email communications. You don’t want new names on your list to get an e-appeal two days in a row. So when your email series ends, make sure you hold these new names out of your other email communications for another five days or so. For example, if the welcome series ran for 10 days, your normal email select should exclude all new names added in the last 15 days.

I promise it really is that simple. Start small, make tweaks, and build upon the process as you learn from the data. To make it EVEN EASIER, below are some recommendations on what to send and when to send it. Use it as a jumping off point to get you started.

  • Day 0 – Thanks for signing up; here is another resource you might be interested in
  • Day 1 – Video that shows the impact the organization is having
  • Day 3 – Non-cash giving opportunity (for more on how easy non-cash giving has become, check out
  • Day 4 – Link to social media feeds
  • Day 5 – Newsletter: three to four articles highlighting different aspects of the organization
  • Day 7 – Evergreen appeal for financial support
  • Day 12 – Add the name to regular email communications stream

Brad Davies is the CEO of Brushfire Interactive – a software consultancy based out of Phoenix, AZ. He has sat on both sides of the conference table as the Executive Director at a nonprofit and the VP of Digital Services at the fundraising firm Dunham+Company. He most recently served as a VP at NextAfter, a fundraising think tank, and consultancy.

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