Do you ever wish you had a magic wand? In the development office of a small nonprofit, it sometimes seems magic is the only way you’ll ever get everything done. You know your success depends on building relationships and touching prospects multiple times in multiple ways–“dripping” on them until they are ready to give their first gift and then drawing them closer to the core of your work, inspiring to give more regularly. It’s pretty easy to understand the concept, but the work itself can be overwhelming, especially for just one person.
Unfortunately, I am not your fairy godmother, or even an “As Seen on TV” spokesperson so I can offer no magical means to turn strangers into donors. Does that mean small nonprofits are out-of-luck? No. Relationship-building takes time; but it is too important to cut corners during the process, much less skip it altogether. Instead, you can implement a tool that helps you create a strong foundation upon which to build desirable relationships. With some time and a little bit of money invested upfront, an e-mail auto-responder can help you reach more people every day.
What is an auto-responder?
An auto-responder is a special type of automated e-mail tool designed to send prospective donors a series of messages over a period of several months. Because the messages are written by you and targeted toward a very specific audience, they read like personal e-mail sent directly from you to a single recipient; and because the messages are sent by an e-mail marketing service, you don’t have to remember who is supposed to get which message when. While there are some similarities between an auto-responder series and your electronic newsletter, there is one big difference: Instead of sending the same message to your whole list at the same time, the auto-responder delivers a sequence of messages to prospective donors over time. Each person gets the first message immediately after she signs up and then gets the rest of the messages sequentially, usually one or two messages a week.
Not sure how that will help you reach more people? Here are two of the most effective ways to use auto-responders in the development office.
One way to keep new donors engaged is to make sure they know about the many inspiring things your organization does, how you do them, and what kind of support you need to continue to thrive. Most of that information probably already exists on your website, in annual reports, in grant applications, and marketing materials; but new donors usually don’t take it upon themselves to find and digest all of that information on their own. If, however, that same information is delivered to their inbox in bite-sized chunks in a way that rewards them for reading, the chance of your messages getting through is much higher. With a new donor orientation series in place, contact through phone calls, e-mails, and donation requests will be received by engaged, informed donors who are accustomed to hearing from you on a regular basis.
Orientation material is great for people, especially new donors, who have already decided that they believe in your organization and want to know more. But what about people who aren’t quite ready to write a check? Offering an e-class via auto-responder is an efficient way to gently pull those people in, give them something of value, and, at the same time, help you earn the right to talk to them about how they can help your organization grow.
For a great example of how an e-class idea works, sign up for Sonia Simone’s e-mail and content marketing class. The course makes great use of the auto-responder concept, while the class itself gives great advice on how to make your own e-mail marketing too valuable to delete. Sonia’s work is specifically targeted at marketing for small businesses, but the concepts are 100% applicable to nonprofit development work. For a more nonprofit-specific idea of how a course like this works, check out my course on using volunteers to amplify your message.
A word of caution
The auto-responder is a great tool for building stronger relationships with supporters, but it’s still just a tool. Using an auto-responder series doesn’t change the fact that people give to people, and that development is all about building relationships. Just like putting a “donate now” button on your website won’t automatically lead to regular online giving, an auto-responder series won’t pull in prospects on its own. It simply gives you the opportunity to deliver the core pieces of your organization’s message in a consistent and efficient way, providing you with more time to focus on the relationship-building tasks only a person can do.
How do I get started?
If you are already using an e-mail marketing service, you may be able to use the same service to deliver your auto-responder courses. If not, setting up an account with a new company is simple and most offer discounted pricing for nonprofits.
You have several options. iContact, Mail Chimp and Aweber all offer fully-featured autoresponders. Each company’s pricing structure is different, focusing on slightly different features; therefore, it’s worth exploring several before you decide which one to use. Constant Contact also offers an autoresponder but it has limited features, so unless you are a die-hard fan, I suggest you try one of the other providers. (Vertical Response does not offer the autoresponder feature at this time).
Need more help? Leave your questions in the comments, or contact Pamela or me for more personalized assistance.
Maureen Carruthers uses her love of communication and the Internet along with 10 years nonprofit sector experience to help leaders determine which communication tools and techniques can best help them fulfill their missions.
For more simple ideas to help your nonprofit be heard, visit Maureen’s blog, Low Hanging Fruit.