An email automation guide for small charities

Email automation can seem complicated, long-winded or impersonal when done wrong. It doesn’t have to be this way!

A good email-automation strategy can considerably help your charity increase donors, donations and customer satisfaction.

This brief guide is designed to help small charities make the most of email automation by following some basic starter tips.

Captivate your audience

1. Know your audience

Automation allows you to send the right content at the right time. This means improving the experience for your audience and maximising the return for you. It’s basically a win-win, so getting to know your audience should be step one.

You may well have different audiences depending on the content of your emails, whether you’re appealing for new donors or thanking previous ones. It’s important your communication with each group is tailored accordingly, so a good CRM is essential.

Check that you have the essential information for segmenting contacts. This could be any variety of data fields depending on the goals of your organisation, but some key examples include:

  • Address (City or postcode).
  • Donation payment plan (One-off, direct debit etc)
  • Sign-up date
  • Last-donation date

Whether it’s donors, donations or event attendees you’re hoping for, these criteria will be great for segmenting who you should be sending certain content.

Another way to suss out your audience is by looking at previous campaign reports. With these you can gauge some essential information, including if and when people open your emails and whether they click-through or not. With this you can assess if there are better times you can send these emails or more enticing subject headings you can use for these specific campaigns.


2. Choose which emails you’re going to automate

Don’t worry, just because you want to start automating emails, it doesn’t mean you have to automate everything. Be selective, especially to begin with, on which campaigns you have being sent out automatically. Some obvious examples would be:

Automate your emails

  • Thank you for signing up/donating – Sent immediately after someone has signed up for your newsletter or has given a donation.
  • Event reminders – Sent a specified amount of time prior to an event or meeting that the individual has agreed to attend.
  • Customer survey – Sent once an individual has had a lengthy enough user experience on your site.
  • We miss you – If you haven’t had a donation, response or even email open from someone in a while.

Depending on the goals of your organisation, you may have completely different ideas of which emails to automate. It’s key to make sure your chosen emails make sense to all individuals they may reach.

3. Draw out the activity flow

Before you get writing your content, it’s good to map out exactly how the automation process will work from the moment the process is activated.

For this you want to be as detailed as possible, including time frames between emails and criteria for terminating the process.

Trigger and automate email streams

An example automation flow might be:

  • User signs up for the newsletter > Receives welcome email immediately > Receives first newsletter x weeks later > If no donation for x weeks, send ‘easy ways to donate’ campaign to prompt > receive donation > immediately send ‘Thanks for donating’ email.

The example chain of emails above uses four automated emails. Doing this saves extensive amounts of time and effort to make sure everyone receives the correct emails at the correct time.

A good stat to be aware of is that open rates for triggered emails are 4 times higher than newsletters. This makes them the perfect opportunity to engage participants with valuable content early on in the signup process.

Donations may not happen right away. Make sure that throughout the series of emails you include content that keeps people motivated and engaged with your cause. This could be case studies, words from beneficiaries or simple call to action reminders.

4. Track the success

Track the success of your automation flows

It’s all well and good to have your emails being sent out without you having to worry, but are they working effectively. It’s important to track the open and click-through-rates you’re achieving with these automated emails to make sure they’re still worth sending.

If you notice any emails involved aren’t performing well you can then make informed decisions about adjusting the automation process.

If you use a basic email service such as Gmail or Outlook for your campaigns, there are a few good plugins available online that allow you to produce brief reports. An example that’s directly applicable to Outlook is Microsoft Business Contact Manager.

It’s more likely, however, that you’re using email marketing software, such as our offering, tt-mail, which makes tracking pretty straightforward. You will (hopefully) have used previous campaign reports to work out when best to send out automated emails, so now it’s simply a case of adjusting based on the evidence.

With any luck, changes could be as small as sending certain emails later in the day when more people are checking their inbox. However, it could show you that one of your automated emails is having little or no impact and it’s time to take it out of the process altogether.

The rights and wrongs of your automation process wont show themselves overnight, so be patient. Give it enough time so that you have consistent evidence of what is and isn’t working.



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