Welcome step four: Setting up your systems

So you have your plan for your welcome series.  It is somewhere between 1 and n number of communications, depending on the person.  It crosses media where possible.  It thanks, learns, teaches, and asks.  And it honors the gift the person has given, while letting them know they can still be a bigger part of the change they seek to make in the world.

And it is worth nothing unless it is written down.


You are working with a process that likely has:

  • At least three media (email, mail, phone) and perhaps more (mobile/texting, addressable ads, video, events)
  • Multiple vendors/systems involved (including caging, database, mail house, telemarketers, online communication systems)
  • Multiple points of differentiation, including medium, message, and high-touch v low-touch
  • Multiple people at your organization (you, donor relations staff, executives)
  • Intricate timelines.  For example, if you have three communications that you want in the order of thank you, learning about you/you learning about us, and ask, you really, really don’t want them to happen in the reverse order.  Also, every time you suppress someone from anything, things get complex.

This is not something that can be informal. In order for these systems to work together, you need to write out how.

Which does not mean you should write it in stone.  The basic principles should be (thank as quickly as possible, customize communications to the person receiving them, include both gratitude for what the person has done and opportunity to do more).  But how you accomplish them should be fluid with your testing regime.

I would say that the easiest way to create your process is to start with the simplest case and work your way up.  In this case, we have the rare example where ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny*.  So here’s how to build your program and your welcome/acknowledgment flowchart.

  1. Start with the most basic thank you by medium.  For an online gift, this is an email thank you; for an offline one, it is a mailed thank you.  Figure out how to get it out as soon as possible. 
  2. Customize those communications to the reason for giving.  A simple way to do this is to have a paragraph in the communication that changes based on the appeal to which the person gave their initial gift (since that’s usually the only information you have about the person at this point). 
  3. Create a special high-touch way to reach out to higher-potential-value donors.  This could be a policy of thanking all sustaining donors by phone or thanking all $100+ new donors and $1000+ existing donors with a handwritten card — whatever you are capable of doing.  This should be added to, not in place of, other thank yous. 
  4. Explore ways to break down your acknowledgement silos and thank people in different ways.  Put those that work into your process. 
  5. Add in a customized ask.  Yes, we’ve gotten this far before adding in an ask.  My thought is that a well-thanked donor is more likely to give to a regular-communication-stream ask than a poorly thanked one is to give to a specialized communication.  Also, you’ll note that this comes before creating a gap in communications (there likely already is one  that you can take advantage of) or learning about/educating your donor (I would rather have a less-educated donor who makes a second gift than a more-educated one who hasn’t).  This ask will be a bit more generic than we would like at this point, but you crawl before you walk. 
  6. Create your communication(s) to learn about your constituents.  These will usually be, but don’t necessarily have to be, separate communications from your acknowledgement and/or ask. 
  7. Create your if/then tree for customization from these learning communications.  That is, you should have something that says “if they are interested in advocacy, send them X paragraph in the ask; if they are interested in conservation, send them Y; if we don’t know, send them Z.” 
  8. Create the systems by which these changes will be implemented both for the ask as part of the welcome series and for all future communications. 
  9. Add communications from other media to the mix. 
  10. Create your timing for all of these communications, expressed in number of dates from the receipt of the gift.  I would encourage you to do a range, rather than an exact date for these communications — you may want to avoid having people telemarketed to on Christmas or on Sundays, for example.

Then, test the everlovin’ crud out of the system.  You are looking to break your system and then make it stronger at the broken places.  Some common things to test:

  • Do you have a plan, and only one plan, for every giving amount?  I’ve seen plans that say that donors over $100 get this communication and donors under $100 get this other communication.  They forget that a computer is going to be looking at this and ignoring people who give exactly $100. 
  • Do you have a plan for defaults?  Remember in most cases, you are not going to have additional information from the donor when you make your welcome series ask.  You want to make sure there isn’t a big blank space where paragraph three should be. 
  • What happens to your system if someone miskeys a code? 
  • What does your flowchart look like if someone does everything?  That is, you have paragraphs for people who are interested in various particular diseases, want to do advocacy, or have a personal connection to the mission.  What if they are all three, and they are a high-dollar donor?  The goal here would be to make sure you have prioritization and that you are not inundated with communications.  Remember that one of the priorities with your welcome series is to help the donor understand what to expect from you.  This should not be “I will expect to be annoyed.” 
  • How do your dates line up?  If you are integrating multiple messages and channels, you want to make sure that a person doesn’t get a phone call, mail piece, and email all exactly 21 days after their gift. 
  • How are you going to be able to handle the load?  That is, if you are going to be sending a getting to know you email seven days after the gift, will you be able to handle that on January 7th given your December 31st volume?  What?  You don’t have huge December 31st volume?  Let’s do a week on year-end fundraising at some point.

And you want to be vigilant to potential leaks even when you have this written down.  I have the privilege of working with a great donor relations person who keeps me apprised of the tone, tenor, and quantity of calls we get.  From this, she was able to discern that we were getting people calling (from a pattern of three people — like I said, she’s good) that already existing donors were getting member cards, something we include in our getting-to-know-you section of our welcome series.

What had happened was that our caging vendor had had instructions to send the new donor welcome letter to people who came in from acquisition mailings.  Since acquisition mailings often have lapsed donors in them that you are looking to reacquire, there were people who had donated for over 20 years who were being treated as if they were brand new to the organization.


Image credit.

I will say that I have entirely failed to set up a welcome series for the weekly newsletter companion to this blog.  If you were to sign up for the newsletter here, what would you like to see?  Email me at nick@directtodonor.com; I’d love to use this as a test case.

* “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” is the (mistaken) idea that we go through all of the stages of our biological evolution in development of our embryos.  The catchiest treatment of this I’ve seen is in Stephen Jay Gould’s I Have Landed, where he talks about how the drawings that supposedly prove this theory (like the allegation that we have gill slits at a point in the womb) persist in science textbooks.  It’s also the theme of his first book, which is a technical book and thus one I haven’t read.  In any case, I doubt his first book has any essays on Gilbert and Sullivan, which I Have Landed does, so that’s another point for the latter work.

Welcome step four: Setting up your systems

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