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A beginner’s guide to email automation for nonprofits

July 01, 2022
A nonprofit employee smiles while looking at his computer, making use of valuable nonprofit board fundraising tools.

There’s nothing more important than pursuing your purpose. That’s why efficiency is so important to nonprofit organizations. Having the ability to accomplish more with less effort can help you raise more money and make a more positive impact on the community. 

One strategy for streamlining your nonprofit’s workflow is email automation. By converting email outreach into a largely independent, hands-off operation, you can focus your time and effort on other action items that require your attention. 

In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of email automation for nonprofits, including what it is, why it's essential, and how to use it to encourage giving and donor engagement. Whether you're just getting started with email marketing or are looking to fine-tune your existing email automation strategy, this guide will provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to succeed.

What is email automation? 

Email automation is a software feature that allows organizations to send a series of pre-written emails to their donors based on certain triggers or actions that they may take. Examples of triggers for an email in a nonprofit setting could be a new subscriber signing up for the organization's newsletter or a donor making a contribution to a specific campaign. With email automation, nonprofits can set up a series of emails to be sent out automatically based on these actions, ensuring consistent and timely communication with their supporters. 

Why is email automation important for nonprofits? 

Email automation allows nonprofits to engage their supporters with minimal effort required. By pre-writing and scheduling emails to be sent automatically based on certain triggers, your team can stay in touch with donors while freeing up time to focus on other important tasks, such as fundraising and community engagement. 

Plus, email automation helps ensure that the right message is going to the right person at the right time, thereby improving the efficiency and effectiveness of email marketing campaigns. 

3 ways to leverage email automation for nonprofits  

To get started with email automation for your nonprofit, review your current software capabilities. If it doesn’t include automation, search for a more comprehensive solution with your organization's email marketing goals, budget, and needs in mind. The software should be easy to use and integrate with your nonprofit's database or CRM for efficient management of subscriber data. Reporting and analytics features are also important to track the success of campaigns and identify areas for improvement. 

Once you have an email automation tool at your disposal, you can begin streamlining your outreach. Start with these three common types of emails: 

1. Lapsed donor emails 

Lapsed donors are individuals who previously donated to your nonprofit but have not made a donation in over a year. Lapsed donor emails are targeted email campaigns designed to re-engage these supporters and encourage them to renew their support. 

To streamline this process and win back lapsed donors, consider using workflow automation. Set a trigger so that when a donor reaches their one-year mark and officially lapses, they receive an email thanking them for their ongoing support and gently asking them to make another gift. 

2. Donor renewal emails

Donor renewal emails are typically sent to donors who have made consistent contributions, but whose support is about to expire. The goal of donor renewal emails is to remind donors of their impact and encourage them to continue giving. These emails are an essential part of your donor retention strategy, as they help to maintain ongoing relationships with supporters and keep them engaged in your initiatives.

With automation, you can schedule these renewal emails to be sent at regular intervals, such as every few months, to keep donors engaged and invested in your cause. 

3. Sustainer upgrade emails 

Sustainers are donors who commit to a giving plan, such as monthly or planned giving. Sustainer giving is an essential component of your nonprofit's fundraising strategy, as it provides a reliable source of revenue. Since these donors have demonstrated ongoing support, they are likely to respond positively when you ask them to increase their level of giving, whether that be through soliciting a major gift or asking them to increase the frequency of their donations. 

To encourage a sustainer to upgrade their giving, use email automation to send highly targeted and personalized messages. Identify sustainers who are eligible for upgrading their giving, such as those who have been giving consistently for a certain period of time. Then, use segmentation tools to tailor the email messages to the individual donor and highlight the specific projects or programs they have supported.

A final note about email automation for nonprofits

Once you’ve invested in a solution that offers automation, you can begin the process of automating your lapsed donor, renewal, and sustainer upgrade emails. Remember to focus on personalization and to set customized triggers that meet your goals. Doing so will make fundraising easier and help you make a significant impact on the communities that you serve.

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  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing