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Nonprofit email automation: 3 ways to take email further

5 min read
May 25, 2023

Building relationships with your supporters is at the heart of modern fundraising. How do you build relationships? Regular, consistent, relevant communication. 

Marketing your nonprofit depends on understanding your audience, then cultivating and activating them. How do you do that? Again, it’s all about communication.

That all sounds great until it comes time to actually do all of that communicating.

Sending the right message at the right time to every one of your supporters would quickly become impossible at scale if you had to do it all yourself.

Fortunately, nonprofit email automation makes it possible to streamline many of your communications, ensuring that you’re consistently communicating with your community, and also still getting other things done. 

Why nonprofit email automation?

Email is an excellent channel to get started with automation, because of the sheer number of emails a nonprofit tends to send. M+R Benchmarks estimates that the average nonprofit sent 60 email messages per subscriber during 2022, including 29 fundraising appeals. This would take a lot of time without some amount of automation.

But M+R also found that email accounted for 14% of all online revenue. Email is reliable, cost-effective, and one of the top five marketing channels for a whopping 94% of nonprofits

If you’re mostly using email for newsletters, there’s great news: Email marketing automation will help you get way more out of email.

Instead of simply being a channel to deliver a message to your supporters, you’ll be able to transform it into a tool to be more responsive and engaging.

3 ways to use email marketing automation at your nonprofit

Nonprofit email automation is a big topic with a lot of potential, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the possibilities. Fortunately, it’s possible to get many benefits from some simple email marketing automation. Try these three automations to communicate more effectively with your supporters.

1. “Wait, come back!” Recapturing donation form abandons

Do you know how many people make it all the way to your online donation form, only to abandon it before completing their gift? It’s probably more than you think. Estimates range from 50-80%.

There are a lot of reasons people abandon donation pages, and the biggest reason isn’t usually, “It turns out I don’t care about this cause or organization.” Nope, more often, it’s some kind of friction slowing things down and making your prospective donor wander off thinking they’ll finish donating later.

Except, as you know, they often don’t find their way back. 

Your first line of defense is removing friction from your donation form. Simplify your fields, make sure making a payment is easy and straightforward, and remove distractions like additional calls to action. But after that, add email marketing automation to your arsenal. 

One of the most effective forms of email automation sends an email that's triggered by a tracked web activity. With the right technology, you can track visitors on your website, identify behavior that should trigger an email, and create an email to send when that behavior occurs. 

So instead of visiting your page, wandering away, and promptly forgetting their interest in making a gift, now, the donor visits your page, wanders away, and automatically receives an email reminding them of their intent to give.

2. Event RSVPs and follow up

The communication surrounding a fundraising event can quickly take on a life of its own. Invitations, follow-up messages, event reminders, parking instructions, these are all great opportunities for email marketing automation. 

Instead of compiling a list of RSVPs and then sending follow-up emails as a single send, automation lets you create a response triggered by your supporter’s action. Once they submit the registration form for your event, you can automatically send your follow up email. 

You can also use email marketing automation to:

  • Remind people who’ve visited your event page to register.
  • Remind people who’ve visited your online silent auction to place their bids.
  • Invite those who’ve RSVP’d “no” to make a donation.

3. Thank you and next steps

Saying thank you is important, but sending thank you letters in a timely manner can be challenging, especially during busy times of the year like year-end fundraising. 

Delayed (or missed!) acknowledgements are usually a result of inefficient systems or lack of capacity, not ingratitude on the part of the nonprofit. But your donor doesn’t know that! All they experience is sending off their gift and then not hearing from you for weeks or months. By the time the acknowledgement arrives, they may have forgotten they gave in the first place. 

Email marketing automation can save you from this unfortunate circumstance. Even if you still send batches of mailed letters, you can automatically send a warm email full of gratitude the instant someone completes your online donation form. Many organizations automatically email receipts, but go the extra mile and include an actual message to celebrate the donor’s generosity. 

To make the most of your thank-you email, include a next step for the supporter to take. This encourages more engagement at a time when they’re feeling good about supporting you. This should not be a fundraising ask. Instead, offer a way for them to connect or learn more, like:

  • Watching a video.
  • Following your social media account.
  • Subscribing to your newsletter.
  • Reading an article on your website.

This is good for your supporters, and good for you too, since it will give you more behavioral cues to learn more about your supporters and what interests them. 

Looking for automated email templates to use?

We've got you covered! We know one of the hardest parts of any work is going from 0 to 1 so we built these templates to help you jump into the wonderful world of automated emails.


Test and experiment 

Sometimes email marketing automation gets described as “set it and forget it.” While it is convenient, it’s not strictly true. You’ll get the most value from your efforts if you test and experiment, then review what happens. 

The goal of using automation isn’t only to save time, although that’s certainly a benefit. It’s also to build relationships with your supporters and help them engage with your cause. So it’s worth setting goals and testing to see if you’re accomplishing them. 

Does your recapture email influence online donations? Does your online silent auction perform better when bidders get a reminder email? Which links do people click on? Do they even want to watch a video? 

Once you start observing donor behavior, there are several factors you can play with and tweak, including:

  • The time you send them.
  • The content and design of the email.
  • Behavioral triggers.
  • The sender of the email.
  • The subject lines.

As you go on, you’ll be able to target your email marketing automation to be both convenient and effective.

Give it a try!

Nonprofit email automation is a tool to help you make the most of your time, deliver a consistent supporter experience, and build deeper relationships.

Start small, and add one auto send message to your communications strategy. See how it goes, make adjustments, and then use what you learn to add another. Pretty soon, you’ll be an automation pro!

If you have bigger questions about how to make the most of your email marketing, check out our complete guide to nonprofit email marketing or a replay of our Flight School on the topic.

About the author:

Megan Donahue is a communications consultant, writer, and nonprofit nerd. She's the host of Love & Robots and fascinated by the intersection of nonprofits and technology.

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