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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

Email Automations for Donors

Updated: Apr 23

This is a guest blog and is posted with permission from Firefly Partners.

Email automations are often referred to as “journeys”, and that’s a useful metaphor when thinking about guiding supporters toward an action. Of course, to get the desired outcome you can’t just think about where you want the journey to end – you also have to think about where it starts. For fundraising automations, this means diving into your data, segmenting your donors by the type and level of their donation, and leading them toward a realistic higher level of support. Here are a few examples:

Journey 1 – From DIY donor to DIY fundraiser

DIY fundraising allows individuals to raise money from their personal network in honor, in memory, or to celebrate an occasion. A major benefit of DIY fundraising is that it helps your organization expand its reach beyond those already involved. The next step for DIY-ers is to encourage those who gave money through their friend or family’s page and have them set up their own DIY fundraiser.

For your DIY donors, the journey should start with a thank you and acknowledgement of their previous gift. Since their motivation to give was their relationship with a supporter, they might not actually know a lot about your organization. So, this automation should include information about your mission and specifically how dollars translate into impact. A smart strategy for this entry level group is to reach out to them around a holiday that could be the foundation of their DIY fundraiser – such as Mother’s Day or Veterans Day – but avoid year-end when their friends and family might be otherwise committed to other nonprofits. Since you’re asking them to set up a page of their own, make sure your automation includes coaching emails that make the process simple from start to finish.

Journey 2 – From one-time donor to sustainer

Every donation matters for a nonprofit, but recurring gifts bring a little more joy because they provide a steady and reliable stream of funding. Recurring gifts should be front and center on your forms, but you can also use email engagement automated messages to guide donors who give year-after-year toward monthly gifts.

Because you’re targeting people who already give, you can skip the introduction and start with acknowledgement of their continued support. In this scenario your second email can be your ask – but make sure that you’re asking for a reasonable amount. Segment your supporters by how much they’ve given in a year, and up your recurring ask by 10%, so as not to scare them away. Be clear about the benefits of monthly gifts to your work and those whose lives you improve. You can use newsworthy events as the impetus for your initial email, but avoid beginning this automation close to your year-end giving campaign so you don’t distract from that important time of year.

Journey 3 – Small donor into large donor

Not every small donor has the financial capacity to significantly increase what they give to your organization, but some do. That’s why conditional content is key to this automation. You want to make sure that you’re asking the right people for the right amounts so as not to come off as unrealistic or ungrateful.

Like your other automations, this one should start with a thank you. In this case though, you can be more specific and tell them precisely how their total lifetime giving history has helped your organization reach its mission. The fact that the email they get references their history shows you’re paying attention. You’ll want to conditionalize the ask to that you’re requesting a consistent percentage increase – say 25% – as opposed to a single amount. Based on their giving history, you’re asking if they would be comfortable making a slightly larger commitment. For other automations you want to stick with a single call-to-action, but when targeting some of your more engaged donors you could consider a social media ask as well, which would help you reach even more supporters.

It is important to note here that before creating an engagement program or drip you need to have your email templates and content ready. While this blog covers how to create the content, if you need help with creating an email template please check out our last blog, How & What To Send To New Email Subscribers. Once you have figured out your donor journey, created content for it using the above examples and created your email templates, it’s time to set up the campaign in your email tool. We asked our friends at Echo Technology Solutions to explain how easy this setup process can be using Pardot.

Engagement Studio is Pardot’s lead nurturing tool which lets organizations build intelligent, automated email drip campaigns. By creating an engagement program (drip campaign) in Pardot your nonprofit can engage with prospects at every step of the above donor journeys. Here is how you can create a drip campaign for the “from one-time donor to sustainer” journey in Pardot’s Engagement Studio:

Step 1: Create a New Engagement Program

To create a new engagement program, follow these steps: On the Homepage, go to Menu > Marketing > Engagement Studio > Add Engagement Program. You will see the following pop-up:

Here you fill out the basic information, namely the name of the program, what folder you want it to reside in Pardot, what days and times you want emails on and what time zone you want to set for the program (For example: Your target audience is based in New York so you might want to select EST as the time zone for the campaign).

Step 2: Build the Drip

Once the engagement program has been set up, you can start building your drip. This is what your initial draft will look like:

In Pardot a drip has three elements, namely action, trigger and rule.

An action translates to doing something. For example, sending an email or adding to a Salesforce campaign, etc.

A trigger translates to listening to an event. For example, opening an email or clicking on an email link or opening the landing page, etc.

A rule translates to evaluating a statement. For example, if a donor opens the “Donor Acknowledgement” email and gets added the “Prospective Sustainers” list then assign him/her to a user (in this case, a specific person who will follow up with donor if needed at a later stage).

Using the above elements, we built out the following drip:

As mentioned in the Journey #2 – From one-time donor to sustainer section of the blog, we start the drip campaign by sending a “donor acknowledgement” email (action) and wait up to two days for our donors to open the email (trigger). As soon as the email is opened, the donors get added to the prospective sustainers list (action). Now, if a donor has been added to the prospective list, then the rule is to assign him/her to a specific user (see Rule example above for explanation). Whether a donor opens the first email or not, he/she gets the “make an ask” email a week later (action). The email has the link to the donation landing page which the donor needs to click on within the next few days or he/she gets removed from the campaign (trigger). Once the landing page is opened the donors see the donation form (trigger) which if completed results in a “thank you for your donation” email and if not completed results in the campaign ending.

Note: As you can see in the drip above, each element is connected to either an email or a list or a landing page, etc. Hence it is important to have all your content, email templates, lists, forms, etc. ready before you start building the drip.

Step 3: Test the Drip Campaign

The golden rule of email marketing is to always test your emails or campaigns before they reach your target audience. And this is the most fun part of creating a drip campaign in Pardot. Here is a short video of how Pardot lets you test a drip campaign (engagement program):

Step 4: Start the Drip Campaign

Finished testing your drip? Well, what are you waiting for then? Go ahead and set your campaign into motion. All you need to do is press the start button on the top right corner and your campaign will automatically start on the date set for your first email.

While each automation has its own components and goals, what unites this approach is basing every journey on your data. If you want more information about this strategy, complete this form today.



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