Editors’ note:
This article, first published in print during Mar/April 2010, has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.

CAMPAIGNS AND EVENTS that harness the power of your supporters’ networks by getting people who are already engaged with you to advocate on your behalf can be tremendously successful. But the question arises: How do you keep these friends of friends engaged with your organization after their initial donation has been made? You can start by welcoming them to your list.

Many of these friends of friends are probably not going to become long-term supporters. They give for a variety of reasons, perhaps with just an inkling of interest in supporting your specific organization. But once they give, many of them end up in the midst of a communication stream from your organization that assumes too much—especially that they know who you are and that they care about your issue—and that bypasses the nice-ties that are important to building any relationship.

When you’re trying to get someone who doesn’t know you to stick around for a while, find out more about you, and—you hope—decide they want to continue their relationship with you, a good introduction might be your one shot at doing it.

There are a number of things to consider about how to introduce new people to your organization, but let’s focus on how you should welcome these new donors to your list. First things first, of course—make sure you’ll actually be able to contact these new donors. Not all online tools and/or settings allow you to communicate back to these new donors. Whether you’re setting up a campaign using Causes on Facebook or managing an offline event using your ASP’s toolset (such as Blackbaud Sphere, Democracy in Action, or Convio), make sure your new donors can opt-in to receive your communications. If your tools don’t allow this access and you have the option of going with another solution that does, do so.

If you don’t have a way for new donors to sign up to hear from you, you’ll need to get creative. Brainstorm a compelling but topical case for them to join your list, and promote it wherever your toolset allows—on the donation confirmation page or automated confirmation message.

The Honeymoon Series

Once you’ve determined a way to contact these new donors, carefully consider how you’ll welcome them to your email list and introduce them—in your own words—to your organization. A “welcome” or “honeymoon” series of emails is one way to quickly engage new list members when they’re likely to be most receptive. These email messages should be written in advance and launched on a rolling, automated basis if your tools allow. Barring that, they should be sent in weekly batches.

Typically, a honeymoon series seeks to move people up the ladder of engagement—converting list members into activists, activists into donors, donors into recurring or repeat donors, and so on. In the case of friends-of-friends donors, consider a welcome series with a twist—you’re trying to convince someone who has already jumped ahead on the engagement ladder by donating to engage further with your organization. You could argue that these new donors haven’t truly engaged with you yet. They’ve shown up in the way most organizations would like their supporters to show up—by donating. But most of them are doing it more for their friends than they are for you.

The first email

Your first email in your honeymoon series should welcome these new donors while referring to how the initial “introduction” was made. Think of it this way: when you contact someone you’ve met through someone else, you usually remind them of how you met: “Hi, Amanda introduced us the other day because she knew we had some interests in common.”

Keep this memory-refresher in mind when crafting the very first email this new donor will receive from you—the donation confirmation (which will ideally be generated automatically after the donor makes their gift). Instead of sending the typical confirmation receipt, take advantage of this opportunity to start with copy that echoes how the person was introduced to your group. You may not know exactly what their friend told this donor about you, but in many cases your organization will have provided copy and talking points for emails or conversations relating to your campaign—refer to those when deciding what to say in this email.

In order to engage the person you’ve just been introduced to, focus on one of the most compelling—but genuine—aspects of how your organization makes a difference in the world. If your tools include a database field from which you can merge the name of the person who introduced the new donor to you, incorporate that name in this email. Here’s a sample:

Dear Jane,

Thank you very much for your donation to the Watershed Foundation.

I’m so glad that Amanda shared our work on [this cam-paign], and I want to tell you just a little more about how your support will be used to [save the world]—[fill in some details about campaign and outcomes].

The second email

Send the second email in your series within two weeks of a new donor’s gift. This email should strive to engage the donor in a slightly different way. Be personable—and personal. Remind them again of the introduction, and reiterate the name of the person who introduced them to you if possible. Tell a success story about your organization: the story of someone who has been helped by your work…the difference you’ve made in a community…the encounter you had with someone who told you how your organization’s work changed their thinking for the better.

Consider also including a couple of other brief highlights about your online presence, with at least one of them offering a way for the new donor to engage immediately. Link to the most compelling and current content on your website or your most highly trafficked online action.

The third email

The third email, which you’ll want to send within a week and a half of the second, could be a cultivation piece—your most recent eNewsletter or other online update with a very brief, personalized note above the main content:

Hi John,

I want to thank you again for making a donation in support of our second annual Summer Book Drive. I thought you might be interested in knowing what we’re up to this month, thanks to the support of donors like you.


After the Honeymoon

After sending the honeymoon series, you have a couple of options for continuing your contact. If you have the tools and resources, consider trying both options and tracking how each performs for your organization.

One option is simply to merge your new donors into your communication stream and treat them like the rest of your list. This approach is the easiest, though depending on the frequency and nature of your communications (and your new donors’ interest levels), it may also be the least effective at transitioning them to engaged members of your larger list.

A more complex and time-intensive alternative is to maintain these friends-of-friends donors as a separate segment and limit the number of emails you send to them, providing them only with your most compelling content (at least once a month) until their behavior suggests that they’re interested in hearing more from you.

For example, if a subset of the new donors who receive your bi-monthly eNewsletter click through to take the action featured in last month’s content, they’re expressing an interest with their action. It’s not a guarantee that they’ll want to see everything you might send to them if you then incorporate them into your regular communication stream, but it could mean that any time you have an update, action item, or appeal related to that topic, they should be included in your recipient list.

While a honeymoon series isn’t likely to turn all your friends’ friends into core donors and activists, this approach will help lay the groundwork for developing a relationship with these donors that lasts beyond a single transaction. ■

Nzinga Koné-Miller is an Account Director at Watershed, a consulting and services firm designed to help organizations build, grow, and sustain relationships with constituents online.