Posted by Jay Wilkinson


The way you welcome new supporters can significantly impact your donor retention rate—this is a fact that many nonprofits ignore when it comes to turning first-time donors into long-term constituents.

Let’s say someone makes a donation to your organization for the first time. They are passionate about your cause and excited about the impact you’re making, so they give a gift and sign up for your email list. Two days later, they get a message in their inbox asking for another donation for a specific project or perhaps an update on a capital campaign that they have no knowledge of. Neither of those types of communication would be appropriate for a brand new donor, yet this is what happens all the time when organizations simply add newcomers to their email list and start sending away, as if these people have been on board for months.

It’s also a quick way to increase unsubscribes and turn off your new donors. People need to be welcomed and on-boarded the proper way if you want them to stick with you for the long haul. Remember this: Nothing is more important than the first email a new donor gets. That’s when they’re going to decide if they want to stay engaged with your organization, or hightail it and run.

That’s why an email welcome series is so important. Here are six ways to make one work for you. 

So what does a welcome series look like? It’s largely up to you, but here are some recommended components for an effective welcome series:

  1. Just do it.

    As in, actually create a new donor welcome email series. It’s surprising how few organizations have one as part of their donor acquisition strategy. Don’t think of a welcome series as a “nice to have.” It’s a must-have. It sets the tone for your relationship with a new donor, introduces her to all facets of your organization and brings her strategically into your community. That’s so much better than inadvertently hitting her up for more money within a week of her first donation.

  2. Plan out a series, not just a solo email.

    You can’t build a relationship in one email. A series that lasts anywhere from two to six months is going to be so much more effective than just a simple one-off welcome message. If you nurture your new donors correctly, you will have more engaged donors as a result. And engaged donors are much more likely to donate again.
    • A thank-you email from your executive director. Ideally, this would go out within a few days of a new donation.
    • Information about where to go for what. Have a question about our services? Click here. Want to know more about volunteering? Email this person. Want to sign up for an event? Do it here.
    • Pictures of your organization in action and the people you serve. It’s never too early to forge an emotional connection.
    • Opportunities to engage. “Follow us on social media.” “Tell us how we can serve you.” “Join us for our annual silent auction.” Show them all the ways they can engage with you.

  3. Experiment with timing.

    You can control the number of days (or weeks) that elapse between messages. Play around with the frequency and review your metrics to help you determine the best timing. Some organizations prefer to send several emails in a short amount of time (say, weekly over a period of a few months). Others find that it works better to wait a few weeks between emails. Do what works best for you and your donors.

  4. Stay relevant.

    It’s tempting to just start sending newcomers your regular newsletters or add them to your existing email list right away. Avoid this temptation. If someone just met you and was moved enough to give a donation, they’re not going to be ready to give another gift right away nor do they care about the progress of your current campaign. Instead, your best approach is to let them get to know you gradually and move forward at their own pace. With a series of emails that are designed specifically for new donors, you can make sure to hit all the high and relevant points about your organization before you start feeding them the nitty gritty details.

  5. Automate your welcome series.

    With most email marketing tools, you can create conditional fields that will allow the system to insert custom information, such as their name, and set up a query or program that automatically filters new constituents to your welcome emails while excluding them from your campaign emails. If you don’t have a tool that can do these things, it’s time to invest in one—email marketing is so effective, it’s worth it to learn how to automate campaigns and customize your messages.

  6. Keep track of how it’s working.

    Track the open rates and click-through rates of your emails, and pay attention to what people are clicking on. Is there a certain email that seems so ineffective that nobody takes action? Or is there one that really seems to resonate with people? Use the data you collect to adjust your emails so that you’re creating the most effective and engaging series possible.

If you’d like to learn more about email marketing and how to make it work better for your organization, we can help. Firespring’s Email Marketing tool can help you manage all the aspects of your email communication.


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