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You had me at hello

29 August 2018

You meet someone, they seem nice and friendly and so you say hello. Imagine they ignore you and then wait two weeks to say hello back. By then, you’ll probably have forgotten who they are!

Just like with any new relationship, the period just after someone signs up for your emails is a crucial time for them to learn more about you. They want to feel welcome as part of your community and – crucially, if that’s what they signed up for – how they can help. Most of all, they want a meaningful relationship with a great experience.

Email messaging drove  28% of all online revenue in 2017 for US non-profits, while in the UK 17% of online donations in 2016 were made on a mobile device. In this new post-GDPR world, email campaigns have started to take on a new significance in the campaign marketing mix.

Your subscriber lists are likely to be a bit smaller but more engaged (so we keep hearing). If they’ve actively opted-in, they’ll probably want to hear about your organisation and your work. But, with marketing emails from charities less likely to be opened than emails from any other sector, how can you get new supporters to keep reading, get involved and take action?

Invest in your welcome journey

Statistically, welcome emails have up to three times the transactions rates of regular promotional emails and subscribers who receive welcome emails show 33% more engagement with a brand.

A welcome email can double as a confirmation email. It can give your subscribers a taste of the content you produce, segment your audience so you’re only sending them what’s relevant to them, make a pitch, and reinforce your brand – but not all at once!

Breaking up your welcome journey into a regular automated campaign rather than cramming everything into one message avoids information overload and allows you to measure the response to different asks along the way, such as watching a video, donating or joining you on social.

Why you need to hit SEND

Embedding SEND (story, emotion, now, deliver) into your campaigns can help focus any email campaign, but is particularly useful for a welcome journey. Mix and match them in any order and use them to motivate your supporters to engage with your content and act.

1. Story

Trying to convey your whole mission and vision in one message can be a lot. People support real people, so take advantage of their current high interest levels as they sign up, be specific and tell your new supporters the immediate outcomes that their actions can help you achieve.

Offering practical advice or a surprising fact is also a great way to grab attention and get your message across. This email from the Stroke Association encourages its audience to test its FAST knowledge with a quiz.

The RNLI’s #RespectTheWater campaign does a fantastic job in providing useful and timely tips, while always underpinning its message with its mission and purpose.

2. Emotion

How do you want your message to make readers feel? Inspired by your content? Driven to act? Emotion really drives action, so a staggered campaign can guide supporters to a current appeal and let them know what they can do to get involved.

59% of people are motivated to donate to a charity because it’s a cause they believe in, if they “find a cause they believe in or have a connection to” so it’s worthwhile thinking about what emotions will trigger action – and it all starts with your email subject line, the equivalent of your digital hello. It needs to cut through inbox clutter, engage emotions and let your subscribers know what they can expect to read.

Research shows that conveying a sense of anticipation in your subject line can increase the rate at which subscribers read your email to six times above average. BUT if they then go through and read a completely unconnected message, they are then more likely to complain. So don’t over-egg the emotional aspect just to get more opens – be genuine and clear, always.

3. Now

The ‘now’ part of the journey includes both the timing of when you send the emails, and the sense of urgency you convey to get your reader to take action.

Once you’ve made that emotional connection, a clear call to action is crucial to encourage click-throughs from your email content. This Barnardo’s email is a great example of including simple, actionable content early on in their emails, using the first person to convey an additional sense this is personal to you and YOU are the one making the difference.

Working out the number and frequency of emails in a welcome campaign can be one of the things that puts people off even trying them, but it doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Sending the first email the minute someone signs up and when interest levels are high works well and shows that’s you’re paying attention.

Aligning your campaign with the time of year or a particular event can also increase that sense of urgency, such as with Save the Children’s Christmas Jumper Day.


You’ve set the tone with your welcome journey so don’t leave too much of a gap between the final welcome email and the first newsletter that they receive. Keep sending your subscribers what you promised them when they first signed up to keep them interested and engaged. A regular, personalised schedule is key – after introducing an automated email programme, NSPCC achieved four times as many email opens and a 21% higher click to open rate for its Big Board Game Day campaign.

Final thoughts

  • Limit your length and get to the point quickly. If possible, stick to one call to action.
  • 80% of people believe colour is one of the main qualities that impact brand recognition, so keep your welcome email designs consistent with your other comms.
  • Keep things clear and simple – over-designed and complicated emails will confuse and put off new supporters.
  • Personalise, including a real name as a ‘from’ address (not the soulless “auto-”) and include clear preheader text.
  • Test, test, test and tweak the timing and content. And test again. Regularly.

Other great email examples and more articles like this:

The Alzheimer Society’s Cupcake Day – a clear call to action, fun imagery and straightforward description of how you will be helping to beat dementia.

Headspace – not a charity, but a great example of a welcome journey email, starting off by saying thanks for signing up and explaining what the next steps are.

Which Obama e-mail subject line raised him the most money in 2012?

16 email subject lines you’ll probably want to click

Email campaigns: why less really is more

Image: Adam Solomon at Unsplash

Sarah Clarke

head of membership, CharityComms

Sarah is the Head of membership at CharityComms. She's dedicated to growing and improving the membership experience for our fantastic network of charity communicators. Previously, Sarah worked in marketing and membership roles for a variety of arts and education organisations in the UK and the US. She is a trustee of the Dance Professionals Fund and is part of the comms group for Charities Against Hate.