Communicate More With Less: Email Drips for Nonprofits

Ryan Jones • Oct 23, 2020

If you’re a marketer trying to build relationships and raise funds for a nonprofit organization, you already know that marketing emails are an effective way to reach your audience. In fact, just this year, email engagement has gone up nearly 80% according to Hubspot (and they should know). 

The downside of course is that planning, writing, and sending emails all the time takes up a lot of your workday. 

What if there were an easier way to run your email campaigns? And what if it were also more effective? Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it’s time for dreams to become reality with email drips.

What Is an Email Drip Campaign? 

Also called email automation, email drips are a tech-enabled strategy that nurtures your audience, keeping them engaged and driving them to donate.

By planning out a series of emails in advance and scheduling them to send automatically, you can apply consistent tactics to your content that will get results, rather than writing emails reactively and under time constraints on an ad hoc basis. Email drips are normally triggered by a specific action, such as signing up for a newsletter, donating, or buying tickets to an event.

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Why You Should Use Email Drips

There are plenty of reasons why drip campaigns are better than just flinging out an email whenever the feeling hits you. 

First, let’s talk numbers. The marketing blog Pinpointe compiled a long list of statistics on drip emails; the most mind-blowing stats include:

  • Drip campaigns generate 80% more sales but cost one-third less to produce.
  • Email open rates are 80% higher for drips over your regular off-the-cuff email.
  • And the big one: automated marketing resulted in a 451% increase in qualified leads. That’s not a typo, 451%.

But what if you’re not a numbers person? Ok fine, let’s talk touchy-feely then.

Save Time

The simple act of sitting down to write an email and send it takes time. Multiplied over hundreds or thousands of emails, manual email communication could end up taking more hours than you and your team actually have. Automating communications with your audience alleviates this extremely repetitive, time-consuming, and never-ending task, giving you time to work on more important things.

Do it Right

Imagine trying to send the right email response every time you add a new subscriber to your email list. You’d never sleep. But it’s critical to keeping supporters engaged that you respond quickly with accurate and relevant information, whether it’s confirming a subscription, providing a donation receipt, or sending information about programs. 

Because email drips are triggered by specific actions, your responses will always be relevant and go out at exactly the right time, even in the middle of the night, during your cousin’s quinceañera, or when you’re just trying to enjoy a cold drink on a hot Christmas morning.


Using email drips in concert with a segmented contact list lets you automatically send an email that is personalized to the recipient. What’s segmentation you ask? It’s when you tag your contact database in a way that lets you separate different types of recipients into discrete groups (segments) so that you can send them communications that apply specifically to them. 

So, for example, you might set up an email drip campaign that thanks donors in various tiers in different ways, with the highest tier receiving special nurturing intended to encourage major gifts. Or, supporters who sign up for an event in Dallas might then trigger a Dallas-specific drip campaign that would be of no interest to someone in San Antonio. The possibilities are endless.


The key to ensuring that the donations keep rolling in is engagement. It’s a drum we keep banging but that’s because it’s true: check out engaging email templates, re-engagement, digital engagement, and more.

Keeping donors engaged is an ongoing task that can be greatly simplified with email drips. By scheduling drip campaigns to communicate with supporters at regular intervals, you can maintain engagement without having to actually do anything on your end.

Getting Started With Drip Campaigns

If you’re just getting acquainted with drip campaigns, this all might sound like a lot of complicated planning and organization, but it doesn’t have to be. For your first campaign, try setting up just three or four emails to learn the process and gauge the results. Follow these steps to drip your way to success!

1. Set a Goal

There are plenty of goals you might set for your drip campaign, such as:

  • Thanking donors and priming them for recurring donations.
  • Soliciting donations as part of a targeted campaign.
  • Delivering content to boost engagement.

Try to start out with something attainable. If your goal is to end world hunger with an email drip campaign, you may find you’re overreaching.

2. Identify Your Target Audience 

Determine who you want to target with your campaign. This is where segmentation comes in (see above). Choose an audience segment that makes sense for your goal. For example, if your goal is to use drips to promote an event in Baton Rouge, you might create a segment of recipients who are located in Louisiana or Mississippi.

3. Create Content 

Next, you’ll need to determine how many emails you want to send (three or four to start) and then write the content. Follow best practices for a good shot at success. Try to think about how the content in the first email will lead into subsequent emails and build on the relationship that you are developing with this segment of your audience.

This is also your chance to personalize your emails based on the audience segment you’ve chosen.

Do you need help getting started on your content plan?

With this content calendar, you can start creating content that’ll help tell your nonprofit’s story, engage more donors, and maximize your marketing and fundraising efforts.

4. Set Up Triggers and Timing

Once your emails are written and you’ve figured out who should get it, you’ll need to decide what the trigger is, as well as a schedule for the follow-up emails.

Keela’s Automation feature uses an IF/THEN logic that sends contacts in one of many different directions depending on the action they take while giving the creator full visibility of the path and how their contact got there.

Using the example of promoting an event, the trigger might be when someone in an appropriate geographical location, signs up for your email newsletter. 

Once that contact has been added to the drip campaign, the emails come on a schedule of your choosing. If the event is six weeks away, the first email might come 48 hours after the trigger, then three more emails, one roughly every two weeks.

When your schedule is fixed, you just have to set it and forget it. Okay, don’t forget it—you should monitor how your emails are doing just like you would any marketing email, and use any new data to make future drip campaigns even better.

Examples of Email Drip Campaigns for Nonprofits 

Need a few examples to get you going? We’ve got you covered.

Welcome Email Series

Goal: Give a memorable introduction to your organization and build the foundation for long-term relationships.

Who: New supporters. We recommend creating different welcome email drips based on contact groups (donors, volunteers, subscribers, members). 

How to do it: First, brush up on your welcome email skills. Then craft three or four emails for your series.

  • Email 1 – Include a strong message of welcome, thank them for their interest, and introduce them to your organization with high-level information. If possible, include an in-email survey asking about their interests.
  • Email 2 – Demonstrate the impact of the work your nonprofit organization does. Include a video showing people enjoying the benefits of your organization. Include messaging that reinforces the idea that they are joining a community. Provide a link to program information.
  • Email 3 – Provide information about how to get involved further, such as links to social media, volunteer opportunities, etc.
  • Email 4 – Donation solicitation. For new donors, provide the opportunity to upgrade or become a recurring donor.

Donor Upgrade Series

Goal: Turn one-time donors into recurring donors. 

Who: One-time donors.

How to do it: To get started, have a look at these examples of recurring donation emails. Then plan out your own.

  • Email 1 – Thank them for their initial donation. Be grateful. Take the time to recognize your donors and their efforts.
  • Email 2 – Tell your story. Share the work you do every day and show your supporters how you are using their money to really make a difference.
  • Email 3 – Celebrate a milestone (50% of the way to our goal!) as a way to build momentum. Don’t be afraid to use incentives. For instance, a matching gift initiative can go a long way in convincing people to become recurring donors.
  • Email 4 – Ask for a commitment directly. No beating around the bush.

Re-engagement Series

Goal: Re-engage with supporters who were at some point interested in your organization but stopped opening your emails.

Who: Supporters who haven’t interacted with you for a set period of time.

How to do it: First, define who you consider being an inactive subscriber. Is it someone who hasn’t opened your emails for the past three months? Six months? Or it could be someone who still reads your content but has stopped donating. It’s up to you.

  • Email 1 – Say that you’ve missed them and show them what they’re missing, such as a roundup of recently published blog posts or the last milestone your organization celebrated.
  • Email 2 – Showcase the impact that your organization makes and remind them both why they gave in the first place and why their support matters. 
  • Email 3 – Send a survey asking about their communication and donation preferences.

Stewardship Series

Goal: The goal of this email drip campaign is not to solicit donations but nurture your most loyal supporters. 

Who: Donors. Depending on the size of your contact list, you might want to create a different series for first-time donors, major donors, and recurring donors. 

How to do it: Remember that all the content in this series is meant to create goodwill between your organization and your donors, building your relationship so that when an ask for donations comes later, they are primed and ready to give.

  • Email 1 – Thank them for their ongoing support of the organization.
  • Email 2 – Send an impact story to show how important their support is to your cause.
  • Email 3 – Interesting, educational content that relates to your cause. Include information that is, directly and indirectly, relevant to your organization, such as blog posts about current events.
  • Email 4 – Update about all things to do with your organization. New staff, new successes, challenges, anything that makes your email communication feel fresh and up to date.

And Don’t Stop There

Once you’ve got a taste of email automation for nonprofits, chances are your imagination will run wild with the possibilities.

With Keela’s Automation feature, you can set up drips across not only emails but through common contact interactions as well. You can use drips to welcome new contacts, add contacts to specific segments based on their giving propensity or trends, follow up on donation form abandonment, update and check off to-dos, and more with a simple workflow.

If you decide to embark on more complicated drip projects, it can be immensely helpful to use a flowchart tool like this one to map out all the options. Happy dripping!

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