Level-up your online fundraising with donor-centered email automation

Have you thanked your donors lately? Hmm… Those email solicitations might be causing more harm than good.

If you’re not putting as much effort into thanking your donors and demonstrating the impact of their gifts over time as you are in asking for money, they might be less likely to renew. Then you’re left scratching your head, or *gasp* purchasing acquisition lists.

Of course you can send thank you messages and update messages on a regular basis, but this takes time and energy, and it’s less meaningful to the donor if it’s too long after they donated.

There is another way. Using the basic concept of drip campaigns, you can time these messages from the date of the donation to help your important cultivation messages arrive at the right time for each donor.

What’s the big deal?

Cultivation and stewardship are the foundations of a healthy individual giving base. If you’re only thinking about what you need, you’re not thinking about what your donors need.


Yes, you may be great at sending your receipts and acknowledgements, but these are simply not enough. Even if you’re sending your annual report as well, the donor still doesn’t get the sense that you care about them as much as their money.

According to a 2013 study from Penelope Burk, only 40% of respondents said they could even recall recently receiving an “exceptional thank you letter.” And for those who are curious, 45% of those said it inspired to give again, and 23% of those were inspired to give at higher levels.

When I think about my mailbox, my heart starts beating a little faster. I know there are messages waiting there that I care about, but I haven’t prioritized. Some will never be seen. Sorry, that’s a fact. Donors are the same way. The answer is in providing the right messaging at the right times, and multiple times throughout the relationship. If they can’t or don’t see one message, or even only see a great subject line, you’re still letting them know the organization cares.

Personalize for greater emotional impact

Did they donate at a certain event? During a certain campaign? In a peer fundraising program? That information should be captured in your donor management system or CRM, and with the right marketing automation or email triggers, you can merge it into your messages. Can you translate donation amounts to approximations of program capacity? Use it!

Dear Patricia,

I just wanted to take a moment and thank you again for your support during our 2014 Friends Lead campaign. We’ve been working hard to expand the number of clients we can serve, and your gift alone has enabled us to help 3 more kids than we could have before! We’re so proud that you’re a part of our community, and we’re stronger with your help. Thanks again for making a difference!


Development Director
Kids on Kensington

The highlighted terms can be derived from your CRM. At Buzzbold, we like Salesforce’s Nonprofit Starter Pack as a way to get your feet wet. If you need more power and speed, a marketing automation platform that can be integrated with your fundraising management system, such as HubSpot or Pardot, might be a better fit for your needs.

As you can see, the example above has no additional solicitation–not even a linked option. You don’t need it, because you’ll be in touch again. Sometimes what the donor really needs is just to feel good.

Fundraising automation: cultivation is more than solicitation

Even if you don’t have time to construct each message personally, you can give your donors a personalized experience with strategic timing throughout the year that supports their needs as philanthropists. We draw this idea from the concept of the drip campaign.

Here’s the basic idea:

  • After the donation, send a thank you that can be used as a gift
  • Just before they forget about their donation (give them a week), remind them of why they did, and how much of a difference they made
  • After a few more weeks, give them an opportunity to contribute in a non-financial way, by volunteering or attending an event
  • A few months later, remind them that their gift is still working
  • Then when it’s time to renew, they have a richer history with you, more knowledge about the good work you do, and a better reason to renew the gift

What might a more donor-centered messaging schedule look like? Have a look!


In the above example, we’ve identified two points where the gift’s impact is demonstrated. The beauty is that once you’ve created the email templates and scheduled the messaging, you can update the content in those templates as things change, but the messages will keep sending.

One additional point to consider: No matter what you build, you will be able to improve it, so commit to experimentation (A/B or multivariate testing, for example), and schedule time to analyze your results and refine.

They need to feel loved, appreciated, and that their contributions are important

All humans need to feel appreciation, and they need a sense of equity in order to want to grow a relationship. Your thanks, if heartfelt and personal, satisfies the need for appreciation. Your progress and impact messaging makes donors feel like their gift was a important investment.

You can help their investment go further by utilizing technology to satisfy their needs and using your time more efficiently.

Yes, you do need a sophisticated fundraising management system or CRM (pro-tip: the Salesforce Foundation donates 10 licenses to nonprofit organizations for free) to enable you to send personalized and time triggered messaging, and you should know it well enough to be able to update your templates as information changes throughout the year, but once you have this in place, you can spend more time with your existing donors, and a little bit less trying to replace those you have lost.

This concept was developed in-part for the 2014 Public Media Development and Marketing Conference. A special thanks to Alice Ferris of Goalbusters Consulting for co-presenting “Delegating to Technology” with me, and co-developing this thinking about right timing and messaging. An additional thanks to Greater Public for the opportunity to share this thinking with the public media community.

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