Ultimate Guide to a Nonprofit Newsletter Welcome Email

How to Create an Engaging, Authentic, and Reader-Centric Onboarding Series
In This Article
With 2x higher open rates, the welcome email is one of the most important communications in any nonprofit newsletter. Get tips on creating an onboarding sequence that sets the stage for a great relationship!
Ultimate Guide to a Nonprofit Newsletter Welcome Email

According to Mailchimp’s email marketing benchmarks, the average open rate for nonprofit emails is 25.17%. (Does that seem low? Then you may be surprised to hear that nonprofits actually rank among the top five highest open rates, compared to 46 other industries they looked at!)

So we can assume that roughly a quarter of all recipients will open any given nonprofit newsletter email.

But the very first email?

Across all industries, the initial welcome email gets opened far more often. Specific stats vary based on study, but most tend to show an open rate of at least 50%. That’s about twice as much!

For an organization with limited resources, the nonprofit welcome email is a huge opportunity.

Why Is the Nonprofit Newsletter Welcome Email So Important?

It’s not hard to understand why the first email is opened more often than any other.

The person just signed up to your website, which means they’ve gone out of their way to show interest in your organization. They’re actively engaged—right now!—and want to learn more. Unless this person is already a regular donor or volunteer, this initial sign-up is likely the most engaged they’ve ever been with your organization.

So here’s the deal.

You know the recipient is interested, and the data shows that they’re very likely to open this email. Doesn’t that make it worth some extra TLC?

By getting the welcome email right for your nonprofit newsletter, you will:

  • Immediately build an emotional connection with recipients
  • Establish your key brand identity and messaging
  • Give recipients an idea of what to expect from you
  • Provide a few clear paths and actions for people to take
  • Make a first impression that cannot be remade

Alright, so that’s why the nonprofit welcome email matters.

But what actually goes into it?


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Rule of Thumb: Be Reader-Centric (Not Org-Centric!)

A single well-executed welcome email is better than none. But a welcome series is even better.

Why? There’s only so much information you can feasibly put into a single email message. At some point, throwing more and more info into one message may lead to recipient overwhelm and analysis paralysis. If too many calls-to-action are made, the user may end up taking none.

That’s why for a typical nonprofit newsletter email, we recommend a series of 3-5 emails, written and designed to be a cohesive set.

Think of this as a “getting to know your organization”— a guided tour of what you do, why it matters, and how you impact real lives. Importantly, this information is written and designed with the reader in mind.

You want to make it easy for the reader to get to know you. You don’t want them to be guessing what to do next or wondering how they can get involved. And most importantly, you want to be sure that you’re answering a single question with every email:

What’s in it for them?

Focus on what the reader wants to know and speak to the motivations they had when signing up for your newsletter in the first place. What can they get out of subscribing to your nonprofit newsletter? Why should they continue to open your emails?

Okay, with that key rule in mind…

Now let’s look at each email in the nonprofit newsletter welcome series.

The “Pre” Welcome: Subscriber Confirmation Email

Like we mentioned above, the first email you send is the most important.

Of course, there’s a little caveat here because the absolute very first message you send will probably be the one asking the visitor to confirm their subscription. Depending on your email newsletter platform (MailChimp, ConvertKit, Constant Contact, Sendgrid, etc.), you may or may not have a great deal of control over how this confirmation email looks or works.

At the very least, however, you should be able to make this page match your brand. And that is essential! It should take just a few clicks in your email platform and will result in a much more professional impression.

Case in point?

Compare the well-branded confirmation email from Technovation to the bland (anonymized) one next to it.

austin parks nonprofit newsletter

Both newsletter confirmation emails were clearly done in Mailchimp, which we know thanks to that hideous footer tag that Mailchimp technically allows you to remove but sneakily defaults to inserting—one of my personal annoyances! BUT one feels much more personal. And though it’s a very small thing, it’s details like this that drive someone’s first impression of your nonprofit.

Think about it like this.

If this nonprofit newsletter seems faceless and impersonal from the get-go, is there anything of value in it for me in the future?

11 Tips for Your Nonprofit Newsletter Welcome Email

Okay so now that we’ve got the subscription confirmation email out of the way, let’s get into the good stuff—the real welcome email.

Again, you already know that the subscriber is interested, so how do you capitalize on that? What can you do with the first email to engage that subscriber and get them excited about your organization?

Here are 10 tips for creating a great welcome email for your nonprofit newsletter:

  1. Send it from a person.
  2. Personalize the email.
  3. Think about the subject line.
  4. If possible, speak to the recipient’s situation (via email segmentation).
  5. Build an emotional connection.
  6. Tell people what to expect from your emails.
  7. Always provide a next step.
  8. Provide a high-level overview and multiple ways to engage.
  9. Keep it digestible and easy to scan.
  10. Don’t make a donation request the main attraction.
  11. Ask for input from recipients.

*By “great,” we mean welcoming, personal, and authentic—setting the stage for a real relationship moving forward.

Let’s look at each of these tips in turn.

1. Send it from a person.

Pretty simple—send it from a real person with a name! In most cases, you’ll probably want to include your organization name, too. (Unless the sender has a lot of name recognition in your community, in which case a first and last name alone might be fine. But usually, giving the additional signifier of your org name will help.)

Some possible examples would be:

  • Iris Liu, LIVE
  • Iris at LIVE
  • Iris Liu, LIVE Community Manager
  • Iris, Community Manager at LIVE
  • Iris from LIVE
  • Iris with the LIVE Team

2. Personalize the email.

Take advantage of personalization features within your email marketing platform to add customized fields like the recipient’s first name. (These are called “merge tags” in Mailchimp but have lots of other names in other email marketing platforms.)

In most email newsletter software, you can personalize the subject line as well as the content itself. Why does this matter?

Studies have shown that emails with personalization in the subject line are 26% more likely to be opened—which makes them a good tool to keep your back pocket. For a welcome email, addressing the recipient by first name can definitely create a personal touch.

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

Austin Parks Foundation puts it in the subject line.

austin parks nonprofit newsletter

Appalachian Voices puts it in the subject line of a message from their Executive Director.

appalachian newsletter signup confirmation

3. Think about the subject line.

There are a million different opinions on email subject lines, and many digital marketers fall on different ends of the spectrum. Some want tons of drama and mystery to drive more clicks (!), and others prefer a straightforward, no-clickbait approach. And the truth is that both approaches can be perfectly valid—it just depends on your organization’s personality and the content that you want to convey.

I personally tend to lean toward “straightforward and authentic,” so I would probably go with something welcoming and clear:

  • Thanks for joining ______!
  • Thanks for subscribing!
  • Welcome, [name]! We’re glad you’re here.
  • Thanks for joining the ______ newsletter!
  • Welcome! Exciting news coming your way.
  • Glad to see you! Now can you answer a question for us?*

*This last one would work well paired with tip #10 below!

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

Group for the East End has a casual subject line that feels friendly and youthful.

east end newsletter subject line

If you don’t want to be “boring,” you certainly can be more creative. Mozilla’s welcome email is a good example of a surprising subject line that does make you want to click.

mozilla subject line

4. Speak to the recipient [via nonprofit email segmentation].

Your newsletter subscribers likely come from many different channels.

Some are volunteers, some are long-time donors, and some are probably people who just stumbled across your organization on Google or social media. Each of these people would likely appreciate a very different set of content from your nonprofit onboarding sequence.

To speak to each type of recipient, it’s very helpful to segment your newsletter subscribers. There are multiple ways to do this:

  • You could automatically send out a different onboarding series based on the page the visitor signed up on.
  • You could ask the user to check boxes indicating their specific interests when signing up.
  • You could send the same initial email asking the subscriber to click a button to indicate their primary interest. Based on that click, you’d send different emails moving forward.
  • You could segment based on donation or volunteer history (manually or via integration with your CRM).

The best way to do this will depend on your email marketing platform, website set-up, list size, and more.

P.S. If this sort of complexity isn’t in your capacity right now, that’s okay! It’s better to go ahead and have an onboarding sequence written to a general audience than to skip the onboarding sequence because it can’t be perfectly tailored to every single audience (yet).

Perfect is the enemy of good, right?

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

Western Resource Advocates include a button to a survey in their welcome email. This does two things: it gives me an active way to engage, and it can inform the nonprofit about what I care most about—helping them send more tailored communications in the future.

western resource advocates nonprofit newsletter confirmation

5. Build an emotional connection.

Whether you’re creating a general onboarding sequence or you’re able to create more tailored welcome series for different audiences, emotional connection is critical. Upon opening your email, recipients will form an instant impression of your organization.

It takes just 50 milliseconds to form an impression of a nonprofit website design, and an email is not likely to be much different.

To create the right emotional connection, make sure you pay attention to the “high-level” stuff:

  • Include striking, high-quality imagery
  • Represent your brand accurately and consistently, using your colors, logo, fonts, and general visual identity
  • Use the text to communicate your core message, personality, and beliefs
  • Write a personal note from the ED or another high-level staff member

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

Worldreader does an awesome job of making an emotional connection with a GIF showing people and languages from around the world.

worldreader nonprofit newsletter welcome

Trees Atlanta gets the welcome email right, too, with an attractive logo, simple layout, matching color scheme, and high-quality image that 100% communicates its mission—trees in Atlanta!

trees atlanta nonprofit newsletter

Download the complete nonprofit homepage template

Wondering how to make your nonprofit’s homepage as clear, captivating, and user-friendly as possible? Download our homepage template and interactive PDF with a list of 11 essentials for a nonprofit homepage.

5. Tell a story.

The words “nonprofit storytelling” are all over the marketing and comms spheres these days, but it’s really just the latest iteration of something that effective communicators have always known: people love stories.

It’s much easier to connect with a single person than a faceless mass of people, and as human beings, we’re much more likely to remember and feel moved by a personal anecdote than a list of statistics.

Putting a story in your nonprofit welcome email will set the tone for what you do in a rich and resonant way. You can put a face and a name to your mission, showing supporters not what but WHO their support will impact.

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

Charity:water is one of the absolute best examples of nonprofit storytelling, and their newsletter welcome email is no different.

Charity water nonprofit newsletter welcome email

The welcome email from One Million Degrees could use a little formatting for readability, but the focus on an individual story is spot-on.

One Million Degrees nonprofit newsletter welcome email

The Partners in Health welcome email is chock full of stories presented in multiple formats.

Partners in Health nonprofit newsletter welcome

6. Tell people what to expect from your emails.

Just like little kids, we all like to know what’s coming next. Even for something simple like a nonprofit email newsletter, we feel more comfortable when we’re told what to expect.

So tell your recipients! Give them an idea of what you’ll be sending and how often. This will set expectations and can also get them excited about what’s to come.

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

Young Women’s Trust tells you exactly what to expect from their nonprofit newsletter.

Young Women's Trust nonprofit newsletter welcome

Grand Canyon Trust also tells you what to expect. As a bonus, they use this message to drive home one of their core beliefs—quality over quantity. Awesome messaging.

Grand Canyon trust nonprofit newsletter welcome

7. Always provide next steps.

Whatever you do, your nonprofit newsletter’s first email should always provide a next step. You should make it as easy as possible for the recipient to continue exploring your organization.

What you absolutely don’t want to do? Send an email like this one.

nonprofit newsletter with no CTA

Notice how there are no links, not even a footer or a signature with a link back to the website. If I wanted to learn more, I literally have no way to do so.

If possible, consider providing several ways to explore your organization, such as:

  • Watch a video
  • Read our latest blog posts
  • See our upcoming events
  • Meet the team
  • See our latest programs

Etc. etc.

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

PENCIL does a great job of including simple buttons.

PENCIL nonprofit newsletter buttons

Donors Choose provides a next step that’s uniquely fitted to their mission: suggesting a specific classroom to support. (Also works well from a storytelling point of view!)

Donors Choose nonprofit newsletter welcome

Adirondack Council gives another creative next step: offering a 20% discount to shop now.

8. Give a high-level overview.

Unless you’ve segmented your email list very well, it’s best to assume that recipients are not very familiar with your organization.

In most cases, it’s better to provide too much overview than too little—and, of course, the best “overview” won’t be just a dry list of information anyway! Instead, it’ll be a captivating way to subtly reinforce your nonprofit’s core messages, tone, and personality.

In your welcome email for your nonprofit newsletter, give the thousand-foot view of what you do, which could include:

  • Primary services
  • Main audiences you serve
  • Goals and mission
  • Core beliefs
  • Founding story

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

The Anacostia Watershed Society gives an excellent lay of the land (…or water, as it were!) with an emotionally resonant photo at the top.

Anacostia watershed nonprofit newsletter welcome

Another great example is Eye to Eye. This welcome email not only is easy to scan but has a great photo at the top, cohesive branding, and several clear resources to explore.

Eye to Eye nonprofit newsletter welcome email

9. Keep it digestible and easy to scan.

A good rule of thumb for most nonprofit email newsletters is this: people scan. Even when they’re genuinely interested in what you’re sharing, their attention is inevitably divided among a dozen other things.

It’s best to assume that the reader might stop reading your email at any moment. (The toaster went off! The baby started crying! Another slack notification—uggggghhhhhh! Etc. etc.)

Be kind to your reader. Give them something to hold onto while they’re scanning: clear headers, plenty of breathing room to divide sections of content, and obvious calls-to-action.

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

Lots of the email examples that we’ve highlighted so far also work well because they’re easy to scan. But here are a couple more examples.

Earthday.org starts with a fairly long letter but keeps it visually broken out and then provides several other easy-to-scan ways to learn more.

Earth Day nonprofit newsletter welcome email

The Ocean Foundation uses a similar method, dividing the email into three sections that each have unique ways to learn more. Large headlines and dividers make it easy to scan.

The Ocean Foundation nonprofit newsletter welcome

10. Don’t make a donation the main attraction.

For most nonprofit newsletter welcome emails, we would not recommend making a very prominent ask.

By making a donation request the main attraction of your first email, you risk coming across as demanding, begging, or desperate. And no matter your nonprofit brand, those are surely not words you embrace!

If you do ask for a donation, keep it subtle and present it as just one few different options. Or place it in the footer of your email where people can see it but are not necessarily directed to act.

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

Grace Place does include two buttons to get involved (donate and volunteer), but there are many other ways to engage, too.

Grace Place nonprofit newsletter welcome email

11. Ask for a reply.

To make the most out of your nonprofit newsletter, try to think of it not as a one-way presentation but rather a two-way conversation. Especially for the first email, consider asking for a direct reply!

Many people are hesitant to reply to newsletters because they seem automated (and many come from a no-reply address). By requesting a reply, you’re breaking that expectation and setting the tone for a real conversation. Of course, make sure that you’re prepared to actually reply.

This tip in action: nonprofit welcome email examples

American Rivers asks for a reply (though it gets a little buried in the rest of the email, in my opinion).

American Rivers nonprofit newsletter welcome email

Actually, I wasn’t able to find many nonprofits doing this (which means *ding ding ding* excellent opportunity to stand out!), but lots of my favorite newsletter writers do it—like Erik Kennedy who has fantastic UI/UX design courses.

Erik Kennedy email newsletter

Download the complete nonprofit homepage template

Wondering how to make your nonprofit’s homepage as clear, captivating, and user-friendly as possible? Download our homepage template and interactive PDF with a list of 11 essentials for a nonprofit homepage.

Tips for Subsequent Emails in Your Nonprofit Welcome Series

Here’s some good news. Most of the above tips will apply to the second welcome email for nonprofits…and the third and the fourth and the fifth!

The key is to think about these emails like a set. What did you provide in the first email, what did you not provide, and how can you fill the gaps?

So if you wrote a personal note from the ED in the first email, use the next emails to share a scannable overview of your services or to share your various social media channels. If your first email was mostly text, send an embedded video or some animated GIFs in the next one. If your first email was focused on expressing high-level core messages or aspirational text, then the next ones might be focused on more practical things like the specific services you provide or a set of impact statistics.

Taken in its entirety, your nonprofit welcome series should ideally contain a good balance of:

  • Types of content (text, images, videos, etc.)
  • Content focuses (stories, services, impact, background, etc.)
  • Asks and non-asks (e.g. some donation requests and some educational only)
  • Information sharing and information requesting (both sharing info about your org and asking for reader input, replies, or interaction)
  • Core messaging and brand identity elements

By varying the content and presentation of your nonprofit newsletter onboarding emails, you’ll have the greatest likelihood of reaching your various audiences. Someone who doesn’t care for social media links can still find value in blog posts or videos.

And remember—you can always make improvements over time! Based on how people are interacting with your nonprofit newsletter (or not), you can play around with things like subject line, content, and even the date/time of send. You can improve your newsletter over time.

The key takeaway is that, just like your first-time subscribers, you have to start your nonprofit newsletter somewhere.

Why not put the best foot forward?


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