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A Nonprofit’s Introduction: What Is a Drip Campaign?


By Allison Gauss

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Good things come to those who wait. Some of our most gratifying moments come from sustained effort, whether it’s graduating from college after four years of hard work or retiring after saving for 40 years. And most fundraisers know that securing a large donation can be a long, multi-step process, but a big payoff makes the extra time and effort worthwhile.

Unfortunately, many nonprofits don’t think they have the staff or resources to spend months courting the average individual donor. But by learning to use drip campaigns, even smaller organizations can build long-term relationships with donors and keep them engaged until they are ready to give.

What Is a Drip Campaign?

Drip campaigns are an inbound marketing strategy that uses a CRM (client relationship management) or CMS (content management system) service to build a relationship with a visitor and eventually convert them into a customer. Most importantly, the process is automated, allowing the sales team to focus their energy on closing deals.

This technique is also known as lead nurturing. Nonprofits can adapt this process to engage and guide potential donors to discover their organization and give to their cause.
A drip campaign is like a choose-your-own-adventure story that ends in donations. It all starts with the donor’s first interaction with your organization.

Let’s say you are an environmental conservation nonprofit and you are at a farmer’s market campaigning to protect a local river from pollution. Anne stops by your booth and although she declines to make a donation to your organization, she signs your petition, providing her name and email address.

You can use this first interaction and contact information to inform Anne about your organization and build a relationship that results in a donation later on. If you have created a drip campaign in your CRM system, you need only plug in her information and your automated campaign will periodically send emails to engage Anne and convince her to donate.

Anne stops by your booth and although she declines to make a donation to your organization, she signs your petition, providing her name and email address.

The next day, Anne receives an email thanking her for signing your petition and offering some interesting facts and photos of the river you are protecting. If she opens this email, your CRM system then sends her an email next month with a video from your organization. Essentially, the CRM system sends her next email based on her engagement with the last one. This infographic from Salesforce does a great job of visualizing the process.

Drip Campaign Infographic from Pardot

Embedded from Pardot

Tailor to Your Target Audience

Like any campaign, identifying your audience and goals will only make your drip campaign more effective. You will probably start out with only one drip campaign, but that doesn’t mean it should be broad and unfocused.

Is this campaign targeting

  • People new to your organization?
  • Lapsed donors you want to re-engage?
  • One-time donors you want to convert to monthly supporters?

Plan your drip campaign for a specific donor persona and send them CTAs and content that apply to them. Not only does creating donor persona-specific campaigns make your automated drip campaign more personal, but research has also shown that email segmentation increases open rates and decreases unsubscribe rates. And every email opened sends the recipient one step closer to your ask.

How Do I Make It Rain?

Choose Your CRM/CMS

What makes drip campaigns a time saver is the automation, which you can set up through a Customer Relationship Management system or Content Management System. You have several options here, and many nonprofits are already using systems like Salesforce or Oracle. Here at StayClassy, we are big fans of Hubspot. They also have an excellent ebook on lead nurturing. Whatever system you choose, you will need to send engaging emails if you want to move prospects towards donating or fundraising.

Keep Them Interested

A drip campaign IS NOT a monthly appeal for donations. You wouldn’t make every one of your Twitter posts an ask, so why do that with your email? In the for-profit sector, most drip campaign emails will offer some kind of content or value for the recipient. The email doesn’t ask them to buy the product, but is simply looking to increase engagement with the company. Over the course of your drip campaign, your emails can:

  • Share your organization’s latest YouTube video
  • Offer a list of “10 Ways You Can Be an Everyday Conservationist”
  • Tell a story about how your organization has succeeded in the past
  • In later stages of the campaign, finally ask them to create a fundraising page

Through smart subject lines and great content, you want to make your emails something subscribers and supporters look forward to.

Time It Right

As mentioned above, a drip campaign operates over several months, slowly building trust before asking for commitment from the potential customer or donor. Your first email, however, should come quickly after you receive their contact information. You don’t want them to forget about you before you get in touch.

Think of what happens when you enter a clothing store. Usually an employee will greet you as soon as you walk in the door and then let you to look around until you want help making a purchase. You want to acknowledge your new contact without smothering them. Be available, not clingy.

Getting to Know You

Over the course of a drip campaign, a potential donor can get to know your organization and eventually decide to donate or fundraise for you. But drip campaigns also allow you to learn about your contacts. Monitoring the click-through rates of your emails can help you find out what content is more likely to engage your audience and what emails are missing the mark. You can also learn by running A/B tests with email content and CTAs and experimenting with the lengths of campaigns. CRM/CMS software generally provides the tools and analytics to go through this important learning process.

Drip campaigns are ideal for supporters who aren’t ready to give but are still interested in your cause (or maybe they have given, but will eventually be ready to contribute more or more regularly). And because the system is automated, you can build a bond without your development team having to constantly guide each donor through the process. Creating a whole series of emails for a drip campaign might sound like a lot of work, but a well-crafted campaign will save you time and effort in the end. You are essentially building an engagement machine!

Image Credit: Øystein Alsaker

A Comprehensive Guide to Nonprofit Welcome Emails

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