Have you ever heard of a group called “Charity:  water”? I only became aware of them two weeks ago when Hubspot (the online marketing company) mentioned them as a brilliant example of effective email marketing.

I thought, “wait a second … they’re saying that a nonprofit has a brilliant marketing strategy? A NONPROFIT????”

I had to click through to see what was going on, and when I saw what “Charity:  water” was doing, I was blown away.

When someone makes a donation to “charity:  water”, that person is put on an email campaign that is going to inform them at regular intervals about how their contribution is impacting the world. In the example they shared, the donors money was going to support a project in Rwanda. Here was beginning of the email message.

From there “charity: water” reminds the donor of where they were when they made their donation, how much they contributed and where the money was directed. Plus there’s a project timeline to show them where their money is in the process.

Isn’t that clever?

If you were the donor and you received a message like this, wouldn’t it make you remember this group, appreciate this group and be willing to make another contribution in the future?

Next in the email, they share just a little bit of detail about the project, plus a map and a couple of photos.

They end the email with a very simple and soft call to action.

Clearly, “charity:  water” has some sophisticated marketing help, and this type of detailed information about where a donors money has gone might feel way beyond your reach, but if you think about it, this might not be nearly as hard as it looks.

What has “charity:  water” actually done here? They put in the effort to create a timeline. Once they did that, the rest was easy. They said,  “Every one of our projects is on an 18-month timeline, so every donation we receive is either going to be assigned to a project that’s just starting, or it may be added to a project that’s already underway.”

Then the donor is added to an automated email campaign that says,

  • 60 days after their contribution, send Progress Report 1 showing that their money is in the first stage.
  • 120 days after their contribution, send Progress Report 2 showing that their money is in the second stage.
  • 200 days after their contribution, send Progress Report 3 ….
  • etc.

That’s it! It’s just an automated email campaign that has six touches over an 18-month span, and it’s extremely effective at engaging donors and letting them know that they really are making a big difference in the world.

You could do the same thing. You have some predictable timelines in your nonprofit calendar. Suppose you’re a scholarship organization. You could send out updates to your donors that look something like this:

  • You donated $250 at our October Gala, and your contribution will be used to help send a hard-working student off to college.
  • JANUARY MESSAGE:  Thank you for your $250 donation. Just wanted to let you know that we’ve sent out a request for applicants, and we’ve already received some wonderful applications. There are some truly worthy young adults, who really need our help.
  • MARCH MESSAGE:  We receive a record 124 applications this year, for the 15 scholarships that we have to offer. Our judges are hard at work going through the applications.
  • MAY MESSAGE:  We’ve got our winners! Last year, we gave out 12 scholarships, but thanks to you and others at our gala, this year we were able to add three additional scholarships. So 15 young people will be headed off to college this fall.
  • AUGUST MESSAGE:  Let’s wish our class of 2017 the best of luck as they head off to their college campuses. Thanks to your contribution, we’ve got 11 winners who are the first people in their families to ever attend college. We’ve got 8 women and 7 men, representing five different ethnic backgrounds, 4 different countries or origin and 12 different majors.
  • DECEMBER MESSAGE:  Happy Holidays! Just wanted to give you an update on how our 15 college freshmen did in their first semester of college.

You get the idea. Just taking updates about your process and tying it to each specific donor, thanking them for helping to make this happen, is a real engagement tool. So many times, people raiser their paddles at a gala, make a contribution, then get a thank you letter in the mail, but they never hear anything about how their money was spent, and how their contribution made an impact.

Show them the impact they’re having and they will keep giving you more and more.

Reggie Rivers


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