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Nearly one-third of all annual giving happens in December, so there is no better time to follow-up with supporters than in the new year! Learn how to craft a compelling welcome email to keep your hard-earned donors around.

While we still suggest a multi-channel approach to everything you do, including stewardship, email is an easy way to give thanks, introduce your community to your mission and vision, and seed upcoming opportunities to amplify their impact.  Open rates on a welcome email series can average over 50% and if you include a call-to-action, you could experience click-through rates at nearly 15%.

That’s an extremely valuable tie-in to other channels and appeals.

In addition, it’s clear that donor retention is an essential building block of year-over-year growth.  It can take 18-24 months for nonprofits to recoup the amount of money they spend to attract a first-time donor, as most gifts are generally two to three times less than the recruiting cost. Gift sizes and engagement levels are also more likely to increase over multiple interactions.

Unfortunately, donor retention is an area where many fundraising organizations perform poorly. 

The following is a breakdown of why commercial customers leave or switch loyalty VS fundraising organizations:

It’s not a pretty picture. The bottom line is that the majority of donors leave because of a lack of clear communication from the organization they gave to.

The good news is that this is easy to remedy.

So, how do you get started?

Welcome Email Ground Rules

In order for this tactic to be effective, there are a few rules you should always follow:

  1. Send your first email within 48 hours. The average worker gets 90 emails a day, so it’s important to be top-of-mind directly after they take action. It’s also easier to stand out from the crowd when your first message is all about appreciation.
  2. Don’t “thask” your donors. Don’t include a solicitation in your first two to three follow-ups. People will never believe in the authenticity of your ask if they feel over-solicited and under-appreciated. Keep your initial messages focused on tracing the story of donor impact.
  3. Let supporters hear from recipients. Your message should focus on humanizing a donor’s gift by emphasizing the transformative effect it had on real individuals. Even if a donor gives to an unrestricted fund, you should tell them where their gift will go and what it will do.

Here’s a great example of an initial email from Charity: Water. You can see the breakdown of some of the elements that make it both eye-catching and impactful:

Segment Your Supporters

Segmentation is your ally in this endeavor, so the best place to start is looking at the different groups you want to customize your message for. This is especially true for digital giving, where it’s easier to identify donor profiles and create personalized appeals with automated triggers to send to the right people, at the right time.

There are several ways you can split up segments (and you can select several markers to develop a profile), but here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:


Affinity is one of the most meaningful segments you can use because it speaks to people’s passions. A great way to identify affinities is to employ microsites or targeted stories. Some typical affinity campaign types include:

  • Medical Research
  • Athletics
  • Greek
  • Capital Improvement
  • Global Programs
  • College/Department

Affiliation is the most basic and should be a standard part of every education organization’s CRM. The most effective affiliation differentiators are:

  • Alumni (this can also be broken out by years or decade)
  • Current Student
  • Friend/Family
  • Parent
  • Faculty/Staff

Geographics/demographics can be useful for building comprehensive outreach plans. Examples of outreach goals based on these segments include involving local donors in on-campus activities or involving major gifts as a stewardship component for donors with a higher giving capacity. Some useful segments are:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Income (you should use wealth screening)
Donation Channel

Donation channel is often a great indicator of communication preference. Again, you should always employ an omni-channel approach, but the primary channel can shift based on the emphasis a donor preference indicates:

  • Email
  • Webpage
  • SMS
  • Direct Mail
  • Phone
  • Event/Gala
Donation Type

Donation type can influence both timing and approach. For example, a one-time giver may be approached for recurring programs, whereas a monthly donor might be provided with similar opportunities to increase the size of the gift.

  • One time
  • Monthly
  • Yearly
  • Recurring
Donation Level

Donation level should automatically signal which tiers of stewardship programs individuals should fall into. You should have thresholds pre-defined within your advancement office that signal the coordination between annual, leadership, and major gift programs and streamline the communications so that they do not duplicate, but build off one another.

Referral Source

Referral source can be useful to understand traffic patterns as well as help you push donors to the communication networks they prefer for upcoming giving opportunities. You can also track these on your giving site via UTM codes.

  • Google Ad Grant ads
  • Social media campaign
  • SMS
  • Email
  • PR Placement
  • Direct Mail

Define Your Outreach Goals

As you segment your messaging, you can define goals per group that outline the actions you want them to take over time. An easy way to do this is to table out the segments you have in rows, the messaging count in your sequence in columns, and then assign a goal and timing to each cross-section.

Here are a couple of examples:

Donor Segment
Email 1
Email 2
Email 3
Email 4
  • Alumni
  • $5-$200 Gift
  • One-time
  • Donated online
Goal: subscribe to alumni association newsletter Goal: follow on Facebook Goal: volunteer signup for giving day Goal: recurring gift
  • Medical Affinity
  • High capacity wealth screening profile
Goal: follow medical college on Instagram Goal: connect with leadership giving officer for meeting Goal: donate toward medical supplies Goal: sponsor a nursing scholarship

Craft Your Messaging

The final step is to sit down and create your messaging and assign triggers in your email system. Your messaging should be succinct and impactful. Here are a few pro tips to get you started:

  1. Motivate action with your subject line. Try asking a question or being direct about what people can expect to find when they open your email. You should keep your subject line around 65 characters for the highest engagement.
  2. Use “you” language and personalization. We know your organization and cause are awesome (seriously, we think you’re great), but this about how amazing your donor is. You want your message to feel tailored to the individual, so try using merge tags to bring in details like their full name, city, or last gift.
  3. Include a single call-to-action. In a test run by Unbounce, they found that having a single, clear call to action in an email can increase clicks by 371%. As you approach your initial asks, make sure you define the most engaging action a donor can take based on their history with your organization.

In the end, a welcome email series is a great start to motivating a donor to give again, engage in different ways, or simply plant the seeds of brand awareness for future initiatives. However, it’s only the first step on a journey that should involve multiple channels and touchpoints to keep your organization and its mission top of mind for your community.

Katie Haystead

Katie Haystead

Senior Vice President, Partnerships

With over a decade of experience working with K12 schools and higher education institutions’ fundraising efforts, Katie Haystead now oversees the partnerships team at Community Funded. Her passion for partner success and satisfaction aligns with Community Funded’s priorities and Katie’s unique background is well suited to manage the day to day operations of our partnerships team as well as new market acquisition.

Prior to joining the team at Community Funded, Katie served many roles within the Fundraising Division at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Her experience ranges from working onsite and remotely with clients executing phonathon programs, developing annual giving strategies, onsite consultations and also developing multichannel strategies allowing for strong synergy between annual giving channels and creating strong major and planned gift pipelines.

Katie is based in Metro Detroit and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she worked for the phonathon for 3 years while working towards her History Major.

Kim Jennings

Kim Jennings

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Kim Jennings, CFRE is a skilled fundraising leader who believes in the power of Christian education to raise up thoughtful, strong, committed leaders who can make our world a better place for all.

Kim Jennings

Todd Turner

Director of Digital Strategies, Generis

In addition to his 11 years overseeing Chuck Swindoll’s Insight Living Ministries communications department, Todd Turner has worked as a digital strategist for faith based organizations across the globe..

Kim Jennings

Jennifer Perrow

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Jennifer is a skilled fundraising and communications professional who helps ministries articulate vision, communicate mission, and raise abundant funds to advance Kingdom priorities.