The Channels Blog

Why Your Social Impact Organization Needs A Welcome Email Series

by Carli Van Stolk

First impressions are everything—especially when it comes to online communications.

Social impact organizations can make a poor first impression with their audience based on their digital presence. Perhaps your organization has weak branding or a slow website. (It's important to acknowledge that lack of funding may play a part in this, but with the world moving online, investing in digital marketing is an area to prioritize.) As a result, people may be less likely to join your email newsletter list—one of the most essential pieces of your digital marketing arsenal.

Email newsletters are crucial for many reasons. They are one of the biggest revenue drivers, a necessity for social impact organizations that rely on donations. They can also help increase your social media following and drive traffic to your site. If you already have an email newsletter—that's great! But once people subscribe to your newsletter, how do you interact with them? Do you just start sending your newsletters right off the bat, or do you take some time to introduce yourself and your organization?

When you gain new email subscribers, it's essential to introduce your organization ASAP, especially within the first two weeks. When you establish an initial connection, new subscribers will be more likely to engage with your work going forward. Enter: the welcome email series.

What is a welcome email series?

You know when you sign up for an email list and receive a notification email welcoming you to their community? That's a welcome email. A welcome email series often includes multiple (typically two to five) emails after the initial one. These emails are a chance to connect with your audience before they receive your standard newsletter emails. The welcome emails typically provide an overview of your organization, offerings, vision, mission, etc. Ultimately, they introduce yourself, set the stage for your newsletter, and make your audience more likely to get involved with your work.

A welcome email series is quite common with for-profit companies, perhaps because successful businesses often have their marketing down to a science—with the funds to invest in it, too. But since social impact organizations likely already have an email newsletter going, there is no reason that they shouldn't use this marketing trick, either.

Why choose a series over a single welcome email?

At the bare minimum, a single welcome email is necessary. But if your organization is looking to increase its revenue/donations, a welcome series is the way to go. MailChimp says that "on average, sending a series of welcome emails yields an average of 51% more revenue than a single welcome email.

How does each email in the series differ from one another?

Each email serves a different purpose. The first email could provide a brief background and what to expect from the emails. The second could be a deep dive into the organization and its impact. The third could encourage followers to donate, take action, engage with their content, etcetera—whatever makes sense for the organization.

Let's use the example of the David Suzuki Foundation, one of Canada's leading environmental organizations. I can confidently presume that some of their success comes from their digital marketing.

This email below is what you get right away after you subscribe via their website. The first email is essential to establish a personal connection with subscribers, introduce the organization, and set your communications off on the right foot.

The first welcome email after subscribing to the David Suzuki Foundation

Another great example is the Impact Consulting Hub, a network for people who consult in the impact sector. They provide excellent resources such as how-to guides, tips for consulting, payment advice, and more. As soon as you join the network, you receive a series of emails that walk you through different consulting stages: reflection, start-up, growth, delivery, and leveling up. This helps readers find past content as well.

There is no rule of thumb for how many emails should be in a series, but many organizations stick with three emails sent a few days apart after subscribing. However, testing and knowing your audience is the best way to go: try various numbers of emails, subjects, and times to determine what works for you.

How to do it?

Creating your welcome series is much easier than you think—once you set it up, you’re good to go! Basically, pick an email automation platform, such as Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Sendinblue, or Aweber. According to Aweber, 91% of marketers say that an automated platform is critical to their success. If you don’t know what platform to choose, Hubspot has blogs comparing factors like price, audience size, and user experience. Whether your concerns are price or large audience size, make sure to choose a platform based on your organization’s priorities. From there, create your emails.

How to write the first welcome email

First, thank them for subscribing and outline what subscribers can expect. To get inspiration, start by subscribing to your favourite organizations’ or brands’ newsletters, such as the David Suzuki Foundation. You can also look at email marketing software’s blogs, such as this one from Sendinblue. And if you’re stuck, Hubspot has 10 templates you can follow. (Note: these HubSpot examples are all from for-profit brands, but you can take inspiration and adjust it to your social impact organization.)

We also created a draft fictional template below, specifically catered to a social impact organization:

Headline: We’re so glad you’re here Introduction: Welcome! Thanks for joining our mission to [insert mission or vision here, such as to reduce global carbon emissions]. Background and overview: Our organization began in 1999 because world governments weren’t sticking to their carbon emission targets. Thanks to community members like you, since 1999, we’ve kept X tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere, diverted X amount from landfills, and planted X trees around the globe. Our work centres around:

  • XYZ

  • XYZ

  • XYZ

Address what they can expect from your emails: As a community member, we will keep you informed on upcoming webinars, events, and other ways to get involved. Expect to hear from us a few times per month. Thank them for joining: Thanks for helping us [insert vision or mission here]. Sincerely, [Your founder’s name, organization name, or “The Team behind X Organization” here] Share content to learn more: Check out this [insert blog or video] to learn more about what we do​

How to write the second and third emails in the series:

After the first welcome email, the following emails are opportunities to dive into details about how members can help. Many social impact organizations don't do just one thing, and people can donate to different aspects of the organization.

Take a look at the David Suzuki Foundation's second welcome email below. This one highlights three facets of the organization’s work: urging the government to take action, protecting Canada’s threatened caribou population, and saving Canada’s oceans. Put simply, this second email is a brief overview of all that the foundation does and how you can help, depending on what you care about most.

Or take Choose Love, for example, an online store that gives supplies and services for refugees. You can support refugees based on three different areas: emergency need, daily survival, or building futures. For Choose Love's second welcome email, they could provide more information on each of these three aspects and direct community members to donate to each one.

The third—and typically final—email sets the stage for your subscribers going forward. Check out the David Suzuki Foundation’s third and final email below. (It’s important to note that all three emails were sent two days apart after subscribing.) This last email is a message from their founder, David Suzuki himself, which adds a personal connection for the audience. The email is arguably one of their most important ones for them: it encourages subscribers to become monthly donors, which is how the foundation helps sustain itself.

Another way to conclude your series is to promote your events page or your blog, if those are major aspects of your work. Ultimately, the specifics will depend on your organization. No matter the content, the final emails in your series should cater to your organization's top focus areas. And at the end of every email, always end with a clear call-to-action about what you hope your community can do, such as donating, signing a petition, or learning more.

What do you think about a welcome email series? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me on LinkedIn to chat further.

About the author:

Carli is based in Squamish, B.C., Canada, and is passionate about using marketing and communications for social impact. Connect with her via LinkedIn or her website.