Email strategy

Is Your Welcome
Stream Effective?

Four Questions to Optimize Automated Streams

Many welcome streams follow a similar structure: three messages, sent over 10-14 days to new followers, laddering up toward higher-bar engagements with each email. Lately, however, we’ve noticed some testing, attitudes, and approaches are shifting when it comes to this conventional form. Organizations are shaking up best practices, trying out new creative approaches, and finding success. Others are seeing new acquisitions engage more when they’re looped directly into their program’s existing email calendar.

Developing effective welcome streams is highly dependent on each organization’s community, messaging, and focus area. So in lieu of hard-and-fast fundamentals, we’re digging a little deeper into the particulars with four questions you can ask yourself when considering what kind of welcome streams would be right and appropriate for your organization.

Does your regular email cadence offer a steady stream of content?

If so, it’s possible your organization can forego a general welcome stream. We’ve seen the greatest volume of onboarding data come from political campaigns, whose programs tend to send a very high volume of emails. And the trend we see from political programs is clear: The more often your organization emails supporters, the lower your welcome message count can be. For many high-volume nonprofits, a quick welcome is enough before new supporters are brought into the regular stream of messaging.

If your program’s email cadence is lower, a slightly fuller welcome stream can be useful. Lower-volume programs tend to see bigger gaps between onboarding new subscribers and the release of timely content, so a welcome stream can provide an organization the chance to share top-performing content and keep up engagement until the next big campaign.

Where are your new leads coming from?

While there are clear perks to the ease of setting up a welcome stream and letting it run on auto, it’s important to take a more manual approach when deciding which leads would benefit from flowing through a welcome stream. When onboarding leads from fixed-cost sources, it’s best to skip the welcome and fold these new leads immediately into the main stream of communication. If a subscriber joins your list through a donation, a separate welcome stream that thanks new donors will offer a more personal, 1:1 interaction.

We can think about automated streams as opportunities to focus messaging not just on welcoming new subscribers, but also on more “downstream” communication, with series focused on lapse prevention, donor outreach, or sustainer stewardship. Shifting the focus of automated email streams toward different, segmented audiences can allow your program to connect more directly with personalized messaging.

Have you tried a new creative approach?

The functional welcome stream, set up in the past and collecting dust, is a prime candidate for testing new creative angles to bring supporters into your email program. We’ve seen some organizations have success taking that traditional three-message ladder of welcome messages – which begins with an introductory email, builds to an engagement ask, then follows with an ask for a donation or action – and reversing the order. One nonprofit we partner with recently tested a series of quizzes in place of their traditional welcome emails – and the results showed that the quizzes drew a significantly higher rate of response.

Can you go shorter?

We know established programs have relied on the traditional welcome stream for years – it can be hard to let go! But whatever your current strategy, and taking all the caveats above into account, here is our broad advice: Consider making your stream shorter. Whether that means fewer emails or a quicker cadence, the sooner you can get new followers into your regular stream of engaging content, the better. When considering content and creative for your welcome series, think about the goal at the heart of these messages: Are you aiming simply to onboard quickly ahead of a campaign, or is this a warm-up for a new subscriber, meant to ease them into your email program by sharing top performing content? By trying out a refreshed approach, testing new tactics, and personalizing by audience, you may discover results that surprise you.

Want to keep the email strategy conversation going? Check out Our Favorite Subject Lines From 2021 next or dig into Five Things to Keep in Mind: Writing Compelling Fundraising Emails.