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The 7 Emails You Should Be Sending After a 1st Time Gift

Guest post by Jess Campbell

Us nonprofits? We’ve got a major problem. I’m talking HUGE.

Want to know what it is?

While we are coming off of the most successful fundraising year on record - raising nearly $441.44B in donations in 2020 - we are truly terrible at keeping our donors.

Want to know how bad it is?

According to a 2014 study by the Urban Institute, for every $100 raised, $92 is lost. Ouch! That means that nonprofit leaders and fundraisers - who are already feeling massively burnt out - are having to work harder and harder each year to find enough new donors to replace the ones they lose.

As someone who has worked with thousands of nonprofit pros, I can tell you that one major contributor: folks are almost always focused on donor acquisition vs. donor retention.

And I get it...the acquisition part is exciting - exhilarating even. But you know which part of fundraising is the most FUN? It’s the part that comes after a first time gift is made. It’s the celebrating, thanking, surprising and delighting of your donors that is what has sustained me for the last 17 years of my career!

There are a million ways to beef up your donor retention program, but for today I want to focus on some low hanging fruit that we will call an email welcome series..

Woah, woah, woah - before I lose you - here are 7 types of emails that you can put into an automatic email sequence (remember, I said work smarter, not harder right?) once a donor makes a first time gift.

You set it - and then forget it - and your donors will feel welcomed, informed and appreciated.

Plus, did you know that people who open the first emails from a nonprofit are 33% more engaged longterm? With 96% of gifts coming from engaged email users - you want folks getting and reading your emails.

Here are the seven different types of emails:

  1. The Thank You Email: an email to say, “thank you!” for signing up for your email list OR for a recent gift made. Pro tip: include a staff person’s info in the message ie: “If you have any questions about your donation be sure to reach out to”

  2. The Welcome Email: an email to invite the person to learn more about you, your nonprofit, or the impact you are making in the world. Pro tip: infuse your nonprofit’s personality! For example, maybe you are a nonprofit dog rescue - try referring to your donor community as your “pack”.

  3. The Content Offer: an email that provides value. This might be your annual report, an e-book, a recipe, a podcast episode or a guide.

  4. The Survey Email: an email to ask a few questions on what matters most to the person who just subscribed. Need some examples? Try anything from: ‘How often do you like getting emails from your favorite nonprofits?’ to ‘What makes (insert mission statement) important to you?’

  5. The Reply Back Email: an email that asks a question to the subscriber to start a conversation. For example, “What inspires you most about….?”

  6. The Impact Story: an email that shares a story of transformation or impact that highlights that work that your nonprofit does. Pro tip: do not make an ask in this email.

  7. The Ask Email: an email that asks for a 2nd gift. I know! But the research shows that the most effective time to ask for a second gift is within 30 days of the first gift - after the donor has been properly thanked and informed of course. Pro tip: if you run a monthly giving program - this is a perfect time to invite donors to join on a recurring schedule to create an even bigger impact for your organization.

You can send just one of these emails, or a set or all seven - preferably within the first 30 days of receiving a first gift from a donor.

Nervous about sending that many emails over a relatively short period of time? Don’t be. Do you think Target or Bed Bath & Beyond hold back on emails? NO WAY. You want to become a familiar face in your donor’s inbox from the get go and if you provide a ton of value up front - you will not just get a donor, but a raving fan.

Interested in learning more tactical ways to raise money and finish your fundraising year strong? You can join the hundreds of other nonprofit leaders and fundraisers for the Raise More Together Virtual Fundraising Summit happening August 25-27th. The Donor Relations Guru herself, Lynne Wester, is speaking alongside 25+ other fundraising experts for this 3-day online event. You can sign up for free right here!

Jess Campbell is the founder of Out in the Boons (, a small shop helping nonprofits raise more money online and in-person. She has been a nonprofit fundraiser for 17 years and has raised over $17M+ working from New York to California in organizations big and small. She is also the founder of The Raise More Together Summit which to date has educated more than 1,800 nonprofit leaders and fundraisers.


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