You just got a notification of a new donation, and are ready to break out the bottle of champagne. Congratulations! The fact that someone made a financial commitment to your organization is extremely rare and precious.

But how will you keep them coming back? This is the constant challenge of even the most seasoned fundraiser. All too often donors never return to make a second gift.

Roger Craven, in his book Retention Fundraising lists seven factors that influence donor retention:

  1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission.
  2. Donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction.
  3. The donor receives a timely thank you.
  4. Donor has opportunities to make her views known.
  5. The donor is given the feeling that she is part of an important cause.
  6. Donor feels her involvement is appreciated.
  7. Donor receives information showing who is being helped.

Of course it’s important to reach out and personally thank each donor, making them just feel that their gift matters. One of the easiest ways to do this is with an email welcome series.

What is an Email Welcome Series?

An email welcome series is a series of email campaigns designed to welcome new donors, lower donor remorse, and nurture additional engagement. They consist of a series of messages delivered over a specific timeframe.

How to Create an Email Welcome Series for Your Nonprofit

The technical steps for creating a welcome series vary depending upon the email marketing software you use, but generally follow these steps:

1. Create Clear Goals and Objectives

Decide what your goals are for welcoming donors. Do you want new donors to share the campaign with their friends? Do you want folks who create a peer-to-peer fundraising page to get the most out of their fundraiser? Do you want them to like your Facebook Page?

2. Select Your Segment

In a welcome series, your audience is pretty clear: people who just made a donation. However, this audience may include:

  • First-time donors
  • Repeat donors
  • Monthly donors
  • Donors who gave over / under a certain dollar amount
  • Etc.

As you can imagine, the email messages should speak to each specific relationship. The more you can personalize the messaging to the audience, the more likely you’ll retain that donor.

3. Determine Message Quantity and Frequency

Decide on the frequency and number of messages. You have to strike a balance between reminding them about upcoming campaigns, and being too pushy.

Your message frequency will depend on what actions you want people to take after they make that first, second, or monthly gift.

4. Write Your Email Messages and Subject Lines

Write the messages in advance, and base them on your understanding of what motivates your segments / personas.

Keep them super-short and written in the second-person, as if you’re writing to a friend. Read this post on email marketing for more tips on writing more effective email messages. And don’t forget to write awesome subject lines!

5. Create Segmentation Rules

The next step is to create segmentation rules for each audience. Constant Contact lets you add tags to subscribers, which is the best approach. This way, you can create more personalized email campaigns. For example, repeat donors should receive an initial message that acknowledges their prior support.

6. Enter Your Messages into Your Email Marketing Tool

After you’re written your messages and subject lines, enter them into your email marketing tool.

7. Configure Your Message Frequency

In terms of how the drip part of all this works, the timing of your messages is typically kicked off when someone makes a donation. The first messages should be sent immediately and should remind the donor of their impact. The following messages vary depending on your goals (sharing the campaign, joining your social community, making another gift, etc).

8. Measure Your Welcome Series

You’ll want to start tracking open rates, click-through rates, conversions and other stats important to determine the effectiveness of your welcome series.

The data you gather from day one will help you avoid unintended disasters by adjusting the messaging and frequency, leading to more happy donors.