Set it and forget it? What role does automation have in your fundraising?

Email Automation.

Sound scary? It shouldn’t! This is one of the most under-utilized tools across businesses and non-profits alike, but has huge potential to deepen relationships and build connection.


So this one may be obvious, but just in case, let me explain. Automation is an event or series of events that happen automatically after a trigger. Many email systems and databases are set up to automate, to some degree. For example, when someone makes an online donation, a tax receipt and acknowledgement are automatically sent. Simple, right?

But these days, automation is much more than one action per trigger. For example, you can send a sequence of follow ups after one trigger. More sophisticated systems allow you to set conditions for follow up, but for this blog, let’s keep it simple and look at one series of automation based on one trigger.


There are many ways to include automation in fundraising but I’m going to suggest you start with one simple and effective one – on-boarding.

Now, you may be asking “what’s on-boarding”? Think of it as a process through which your donors get to know your organization more deeply after they make a first donation. Here’s what a simple on-boarding sequence can look like for your charity:

  • Immediately - thank you and tax receipt emailed

  • One week following – share an impact story with an invitation to be in touch or learn more

  • Once a month for 6 months, starting one month after the donation, send a email with a specific story, update or call to action.

At the end of that 6 month on-boarding sequence, your donors will have learned more about your organization, perhaps acted on a call to action and felt connected to the work.

Now, this is not the same as a monthly newsletter. They should get your newsletter or general emails too. This is something that specifically addresses them as a new donor and familiarizes them with your charity, above and beyond what they already get.

You can also customize your sequence depending on how that donor came to give. Did they give at an event, or through direct mail?


You will need to spend some time creating the sequence, but once that’s done, you can “set it and forget it”.

Now, you may have heard my rant about elevator pitches and mission statements – neither of which help you raise money. Instead, focus on stories. Stories of clients, staff, volunteers, etc. Who should the donor get to know? Who has a compelling story that can motivate others?

Email automation is your chance to share your very best stories. Try and use stories that aren’t time sensitive (In marketing, they call this “evergreen” content). When I worked at a woman’s shelter, one “evergreen” story we used a lot was that of a young man who lived in the shelter as a child and went on to become a lawyer and a great advocate for the shelter itself!


  1. Make each email from the same person. You may relate many different voices in the content of your email, but it should be from a single sender. Also, the sender should always be the same person, and it should be the person they are most likely to hear from when it comes time to ask for a donation.

  2. Keep your automated emails short. This isn’t a newsletter. A single story at a time is more likely to be read.

  3. Encourage your donor to reply to your emails, so you are having a conversation with them. Remember, the donor probably doesn’t know these emails are automated. And then make sure you respond quickly. Let them know there’s a person on the other side.

I WISH more charities would practice email automation. You will have better campaign outcomes, because donors with whom you are meaningfully engaged year-round will give and give more.

I am so happy to be able to share this simple technique with you. Email automation will make a big difference to your relationships with your donors, and help you raise more money when the time comes to ask.

#fundraising #howtofundraise #nonprofit #charity #smallcharities

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