Welcome Series 101: How to Create a Successful Nonprofit Welcome Series


At Whole Whale, we’re big believers in the idea that nonprofits are the answer to #fakenews. Edelman TRUST BAROMETER research shows is that the general public continues to view the NGO sector as the most trusted source of information, which means that important information around health, education, unemployment, and the environment are being lost in a sea of finger-pointing. This leaves an awesome opportunity for nonprofits to fill this gap in reporting and disseminating trusted information around the issues they cover. And since email has a median ROI of 122% — over 4x higher than other marketing formats including social media and paid search, your nonprofit email strategy is primed help your organization win the battle of consensus.
So once you’ve registered that brand-new email subscriber, what are you going to do next? (Hint: Email them.) And there’s an easy way to welcome new subscribers at scale. Welcome to Welcome Series 101.

What is a welcome series?

A welcome series is an automated, drip campaign that you can build in your email marketing tool and set to send to new subscribers when they opt in to hearing more from your organization. This can be anywhere from a single welcome email to an email sequence of 3-5 (or more) messages.
The goal of any welcome series is simple: Introduce new subscribers to your organization and your work, thereby continuing to build a relationship with someone who has the potential to become a donor (or take other meaningful action) down the road. You do this in a welcome series by giving new subscribers a taste for your organization’s mission and vision, your available resources, and stories of success and impact.

Why should we have a welcome series?

Think of it like the first day at a new school: As a new student, you’d most likely want someone to show you the ropes, help you decide on which extracurricular activities to join, and help you understand why you want to get involved. A welcome series does the same thing, but instead of school it’s your organization.
The effect is still the same: Help your subscribers feel comfortable, and engage them into becoming even more committed. These first few emails are the first impression you make on a user who has given you permission to interact with them on a more meaningful platform than your website or their social media. And, when done right, a welcome series should take no more than an hour to set up and minimal maintenance over time.
The data support this argument as well. According to Emma, engagement from subscribers who receive welcome emails is an average 33% higher than engagement from subscribers who don’t receive a welcome series. So how do you set up a welcome series for your nonprofit? Read on below.

What’s in an effective welcome series?

The specific content of your welcome campaign will vary from organization to organization. That said, here are a few musts for an effective welcome email series:

  • A consistent “From” address strategy: This breeds familiarity and recognition. If you’re on Whole Whale’s email list, you may recognize Meredith from Whole Whale as the sender for each email.
  • Merge tags for subscriber names: Personalization counts when you’re extending a warm welcome!
  • Eye-catching subject lines and pre-headers.
  • Visual elements: Consider embedding videos or infographics with key statistics. Stuck for visuals? We love Canva for nonprofits.
  • Clear, consistent, and branded tone and design: Your welcome emails should give users a sense of what they can expect to receive from you outside of this automation journey.
  • Clear calls-to-action and UTM-tagged URLs. That way you can track how effective your welcome emails actually are.

A note on the above: Design, sender’s name, or content can be different from your regular email campaigns, but the big takeaway here for a welcome series is to make all installments cohesive to build a high-performing email sequence. Stuck between two ideas? A/B test your emails to see which content works best.


The Nonprofit Organization’s Guide to Email Marketing

From lead generation to email segmentation to A/B testing, this guide is a one-stop-shop for bringing your email marketing strategy to the next level.

Welcome series setup: The first email

The first email of your welcome series should be sent immediately after your subscribers sign up in order to keep them engaged and build on mental availability (the likelihood of supporters noticing, recognizing, and thinking of your organization around high-activity times, like end-of-year giving).
This is also the easiest email to write: Thank your new subscriber for taking action by signing up, give them more information about your mission, and help guide them to the most important resources on your site. Everytown for Gun Safety does all of this in a simple, to-the-point welcome email.

Everytown for Gun Safety Welcome Email
Everytown for Gun Safety’s Welcome Email

Welcome series setup: Subsequent emails

The rest of your welcome campaign is up to you (and how you test!) in terms of how many you send and how you want to space them out. Our recommendation for starting off is to make the frequency of your welcome automation emails proportional to the frequency of your email campaigns or drumbeat newsletter, then test and reevaluate from there.
In terms of content for the rest of your welcome series, start with the goals you have on your website: Do you want to drive more views on video content? Shares on social media? Signatures on petitions or views on stories of people who have personally benefitted from your cause and work? Work backwards to determine what you want to include that would help continue warming users up to your organization and mission.
Evergreen content is especially useful here as it won’t need to be changed up as often as in-the-moment content around key campaigns.

Use automation hacks

Many email platforms will let you determine the triggers that will send out each email. We like to use Mailchimp to space out emails by the following triggers:

    • Time of day
    • Day of the week
    • Whether or not someone opened your last email
    • Whether or not someone clicked through on the last email
    • Segments based on interests/locations
Four Freedoms Park welcome email

Don’t forget to test to see what keeps people engaged and keeps your click through rates high! Testing can be a process but you will have an optimized welcome series in no time.

Anatomy of the perfect welcome email

The first email from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park Conservancy appeals to users who have already shown engagement by signing up with their email address by giving them “5 more ways to connect with Four Freedoms Park.”

The options then take users to key sections of the park’s website, including their event calendar, the legacy of its namesake, social media links, their blog, and information on visiting the park in all 4 seasons (thereby reminding users that they’re open year-round since their events only take place May through October).
Also in this welcome email, Four Freedoms Park lists its hours and directions (alongside a map) and reiterates its purpose: To serve as the first memorial dedicated to FDR in his home state of New York, celebrating the Four Freedoms that the president described in his 1941 State of the Union speech.
There’s plenty for the user to dive into here, regardless of their key interest, and the template will make for easy updates to content if and when the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy decides to test out new links or calls to action.

Make it a warm welcome for your organization as well as your new subscribers. Learn more about how you can shed light on important email segments with Lighthouse by Whole Whale at getlighthouse.io. 

6 elements of a successful welcome series