5 Essential Marketing Automations for Nonprofits


What is Marketing Automation

To put it simply, it is scheduling and automating communications based on user behavior, ending with an appeal for your subscribers to take a specific action. The purpose of marketing automation aligns well with most nonprofits’ priorities and can help you boost content engagement, increase action rates of petitions and surveys, generate revenue, and retain a loyal donor base. 

You’ll sometimes hear this approach referred to as a “drip campaign.” You’re slowly “dripping” pieces of content to people over a defined period of time. The journey between that first email and the final desired action is always about building trust between the supporter and your brand. If you’ve successfully gained their trust, there is a much better chance they will ultimately take the action you want them to take.

As an FYI,  Marketing Automation could include more than just email, but, in this post, we’re focusing on email as it is most likely where a nonprofit looking to get into marketing automation will start. (For instance, in the Engaging Networks’ Marketing Automation tools you can integrate SMS messages.) Now, let’s get into some out of the box automations you can set up for your organization using the Engaging Networks platform.

hand shake

1 – The Welcome Series

What is it?

A welcome series typically goes to all new supporters who subscribe to your email list. It should introduce new subscribers to your organization, your culture, and your cadence or timing and pattern of emails sent. Welcome emails are an essential part of your email marketing strategy. The welcome email may be the single most important email you send. Welcome emails confirm permission and set expectations with the subscriber. In fact, according to a study by Return Path, users who read one welcome email will go on to open at least 40 percent of the emails from the same brand in the following 180 days.

Best Practices

Take the opportunity after supporters sign up for your emails to make a strong first impression. To do this, you should consider including some of the following elements:

  • Personalization: You should think about creating a mix of different welcome automations based on the channel that your supporter came to you. For example, if you acquired the supporter through a specific petition or Facebook ad,  include content In your welcome series specific to the cause they showed an interest in. 
  • Outline Cadence and Content: We typically suggest 2–4 emails as a good place to start for a welcome series. It’s also always a good idea to use the welcome series to set expectations for how often subscribers can expect emails from you and what those emails will contain. This prevents any unwanted surprises on the receiving end of your email campaigns.
  • Brand personality: The welcome series should aim to give your new subscriber or supporter an idea of your brand personality. This is a great way to humanize your organization and build trust with supporters and prospective donors

long ladder

2 – New One-time Donor Welcome and Upsell Series

What is it?

A series of emails thanking new donors for their support with the end goal of upgrading their support to a monthly contribution. On the ladder of engagement, recurring donors are the highest status a supporter can achieve. These donations are reliable, predictable and reduce administrative costs associated with acquiring single gifts. If you can make a good case and demonstrate the value of sustained support in this series, you may find that those who are interested in supporting your work will be willing to support you on an ongoing basis.

Best Practices
  • Testing: Test different messages, issues, and ideas to see what performs best in generating upgrades. 
  • Personalization: Again, if you have the information, you should try segmenting and targeting sustainers with the issues that are relevant to them. If they initially donated to a fundraising campaign around a specific issue, try to tailor the new ask around this interest.
  • Demonstrate Impact: Donors want to know that their money is being used effectively and that there is a high ROI from their contribution. Make the mission part and parcel of the donor experience during this automation. Link gift stories to how philanthropy supports the mission of your organization. Be explicit about this: “Our mission is X, and your gift of Y helped us fulfill our mission by doing Z.”

happy birthday candles

3 – Peer-to-peer: Pledge your birthday Campaign

What is it?

Many organizations are implementing year round peer-to-peer fundraising options on their websites, allowing supporters to use their birthdays or any other life events for that matter – as the perfect occasion to support your cause. And because your donor base will no doubt be celebrating birthdays and other life events all year round, you can create a consistent revenue stream, just from this one campaign initiative.

Best Practices
  • Create a landing page: Ask supporters to “pledge their birthday” by providing their email and date of birth in your form.
  • Setup the automation: Trigger an email when the supporter fills out the form, thanking them for their pledge. When  their birthday is getting close, trigger another message reminding them of their pledge with instructions on how to create their fundraising page. Finally, wish them a happy birthday and send over some marketing tips, impact metrics or anything else that will help them reach their fundraising  goal. This is also super easy to do in the Engaging Networks platform, as this type of campaign is one of our out of the box automations.

lost person in middle of the road

4 – The Reengagement Series

What is it?

While it’s easy to use marketing automation to build relationships with new supporters and donors, it can also help you reconnect with your less engaged supporters too. Let’s face it,  it is nearly impossible to keep 100% of your email list engaged all the time. This series allows you to bring supporters back in the fold before they are lost for good.

Best Practices
  • The Email Engagement ScoreIn Engaging Networks we measure a supporter’s interaction with your organization’s emails over discrete periods of time. The score is calculated on the first of each month and looks at email opens, link clicks, and page conversions from email. You can use this scoring to determine who on your file needs to be re-engaged and at what point. We have seen many organizations start with their score 11’s or folks who haven’t engaged in at least 12 months. Other groups start even sooner and will re-engage at the 6-9 month mark in order to prevent folks from reaching score 11.
  • Where to start: A series of 2–3 emails aimed at getting your inactive subscribers to open/click on an email to demonstrate that they still want to hear from you. Test different reengagement emails to see what performs best for you. The best supporter communications are specific, urgent, and clear.
  • Keep your list clean: If even after sending this series they do not engage, it’s time to stop sending them messages.While re-engaging supporters is a great way to win back some donors, it also has the added bonus of helping you maintain a clean email list. Sending emails to a disengaged email list can have negative consequences on your spam rate and email deliverability so feel free to remove supporters from your file who do not choose to engage. 


5 – Recurring Donor Credit Card Update

What is it?

Recurring donors who regularly contribute to your organization, but whose credit card information may no longer be valid.

Best Practices
  • Who should get it: Any donors whose recurring donation fails. Trigger a series of emails asking supporters to update their information. Make sure you thank them for their support.
  • Use the Engaging Networks supporter Hub: The Hub enables your supporters to log in to access a personalized web page, which matches the look and feel of your website, for a seamless user experience. They could then go in and update their information themselves. You could also give folks the option of increasing their donation amount and use this opportunity to “upsell.”

You may be looking at this list and feeling overwhelmed… fear not. You can start with one or two to implement before year-end. Then, once things settle down a bit in January, you can approach the rest. Which of these would be the most helpful to your organization? Do you have a steady stream of failed recurring donors? Are new supporters being introduced to your nonprofit? Could your list use some re-engagement and clean-up? Whatever the case may be, doing even one of these will help your organization. 

If you are an Engaging Networks client and need help with any of these, do reach out to our client support team. If you’re not a client but wish you were so you can take advantage of all of these tools (did we mention that the Marketing Automation tools are drag and drop?), you can get more info here.

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