How effec­tive is your wel­come programme?

Written by
Erik Van Dorp
March 25, 2016

Many charities have a welcome programme in place to keep more donors giving, to make them feel welcome, or to ask for more money. For whatever the reason you have your welcome flow, there is always room for improvement. So, here’s a simple 10-point checklist that will help you estimate how much room for improvement there actually is.

1) How fast is your follow up after registration?

Of course, your donors already get an automated e-mail reply when they sign up online (right?), but how long does it take after that e-mail before you actually really communicate with your donor?

Our research showed that taking more than eight days between registration and follow up increases the chance of attrition significantly (up to 12 per cent lower retention in the first year). Make sure you send a personal and relevant (for the donor) e-mail and/or letter (see points two and three) as soon as possible.  An effective way is to create a series of welcome e-mails. Send these every one or two weeks and cover a specific (single) topic. And please make sure it contains elements of interaction (see point two).

2) How interactive is your welcome programme?

Communication is supposed to be a two-way street. Make sure your welcome programme is too. For instance, send out a short survey where you ask donors why they want to give to you. Or give them the chance to say what topic they would like to know more about. For WWF this could be something like animal welfare, climate change, corporate partnerships, innovation. Interaction leads to more knowledge for you and higher loyalty from the donor.

3) How relevant is your message (for the donor, not just for you)?

Research shows that donors (as with all customers) seek justification for their transaction. So give them feedback on the goals you have achieved, your plans for the future and where the money is being spent. Show (and tell) them why they made the right choice.

4) How well do you monitor your programme (in terms of KPIs)?

When you start a welcome programme you try to make it perfect. But of course that’s impossible. Make sure you keep improving your programme by trying to add (or, better, take out) certain steps if it doesn’t perform well enough. How much time do you reserve to look at the numbers in total? And how much time do you take to evaluate each part of the programme in terms of cost and effect? It really helps to define a short list of key performance indicators (KPIs) and monitor each of them continuously. Make sure you choose one KPI per element in your programme and a few for the programme as a whole. Measuring how well your welcome programme works on a detailed level can be pretty scary (because you may have to admit that your idea wasn’t as good as you thought), but it offers you valuable time to change it for the better.

5) How good is the ROI of your programme?

All welcome programmes have costs and, if you do it well, will have a positive effect on your fundraising. For example, donors stay longer and/or start giving more. Make sure the costs do not overshoot the positive effect. Our method is always to start simple and build on your success. Some charities build a big welcome programme and then take out parts that don’t work. We think it’s better to start small and grow.

6) Do you have a control and a test group?

Always define a control group that does not go into your new welcome programme. If you do not do this, you will never know if changes in the retention rate are caused by your new welcome programme or not. It’s ok if your retention rate goes up, but you will run into trouble if the retention rate goes down.

7) How well do you mix your channels?

Rubbish in; rubbish out. That’s always the case, even in fundraising. Make sure you have a mix of different media with different characteristics when it comes to retention. A basic law of fundraising is: the harder you push to get donors in, the easier they will walk out. Online donors that come in spontaneously tend to stay longer than donors from face to face.

8) Are you comparing your suppliers?

Even if you are satisfied with your existing suppliers be sure to compare them with their direct competitors. This will make your existing suppliers perform better as they won't want to lose business. Additionally, you will actually learn how good your suppliers really are.

9) Is your welcome programme trigger based or calendar based?

If you are still sending out a newsletter because it’s March or December, you’d better scratch your head. Donors do not adjust their behaviour to fit your marketing calendar. Our tip: make a welcome flow based on the time a new donor is a donor and match your communication with the emotional calendar of the donor.

10) Do your departments work together (communications, projects, marketing, IT)?

Involve all relevant departments when creating a welcome programme. Communications people are skilled on messaging, while the project people sit on the valuable information you want to share with your new donors. And good content is key for a good welcome programme. Make sure your welcome programme team consists of different departments, but make sure you stay in the lead.

Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect welcome programme, but I hope this checklist helps you to improve yours.

About the author: Erik Van Dorp

Erik van Dorp has over ten years experience in marketing management, marketing strategy and direct marketing, with a special interest in fundraising in the Netherlands and abroad. First as a fundraiser for WWF Netherlands and international, now as a Strategy Consultant building business plans and campaigns for numerous clients. Check out or

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