5 Essential Marketing Automations for Nonprofits


Updated 7/6/23

Having a strong online presence is crucial for any organization looking to make a larger impact. However, digital marketing can seem like territory that’s way too unfamiliar to even begin exploring given how focused your nonprofit organization is on fulfilling its mission to make the world a better place.

Here’s the good news: platforms that specialize in marketing automation can help your nonprofit streamline its marketing efforts, create relevant content, and track all your donor journeys and life cycles. Let’s explore what exactly marketing automation is, and what are the most essential kinds of marketing automations for nonprofits to know and implement.

What is marketing automation?

To put it simply, it is the process of 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, strengthen donor journeys, and retain a loyal donor base.

You’ll sometimes hear this approach referred to as a “drip campaign.” That’s because you’re slowly “dripping” pieces of content to people over a defined period of time. The donor 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 marketing automations you can set up for your organization using the Engaging Networks platform, including what are the best practices for each kind of automation. All of the following is made possible with Marketing Tools, our new suite of tools to send Email and SMS broadcasts (released on Friday 3rd February 2023).

1. The Welcome Series

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.

2. New One-Time Donor Welcome and Upsell Series

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.”

3. Peer to Peer: Pledge Your Birthday Campaign

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.
  • Set up 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: When you do, you should also send over some marketing tips, impact metrics, or anything else that will help advocates 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.

4. The Reengagement Series

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 into the fold before they are lost for good.

Best Practices

  • The Email Engagement Score: In Engaging Networks we measure a supporter’s interaction with your organization’s emails over discrete periods of time. The Email Engagement 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.Email Engagement Score:
  • 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

You potentially have recurring donors who regularly contribute to your organization, but whose credit card information may no longer be valid. What is the best marketing automation approach for them? Simple: ask them to update their card info!

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 Hub: The Engaging Networks Supporter 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.”Engaging Networks supporter Hub

Ready to take the hassle out of marketing?

Do you want to take advantage of all of these marketing automation tools and much more? You can get more info here to request a demo. We will tell you all about our marketing automations as well as our Marketing Tools suite that enables clients to send targeted emails, SMS messages, broadcasts, and much more.

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