Nonprofit Marketing Automation: The Complete Guide


What is Nonprofit Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation allows nonprofits to automate and measure marketing activities and workflows. “Automate-able” actions include emails, calls, thank yous, mail etc.

With marketing automation your constituents get the right call or email – at the right time – based on their individual preferences or behavior. A greater level of personal touch translates to dramatically increased generosity.

The end result is increased personalization, operational efficiency and revenue growth.

For a longform desktop version
Download the Full Marketing Automation Checklist PDF

Key Stat

70% of businesses are already using automation to drive growth!

WHY Marketing Automation is Critical

Giving your time or money to a cause you believe in is one of the most personal things you’ll ever do. Yet most nonprofit communication is incredibly impersonal.

Like it or not, the world has changed. Your donors are receiving incredibly personalized and relevant communication from Amazon, Facebook…and even their favorite local pizza spot. Modern marketing is hyper-individualized – and your donors expect a personalized experience. They expect you to know who they are.

In order to succeed, nonprofits need to build personal relationships with more than just their top 100 donors. Nonprofits need to personalize communication with their entire database. The problem is that charities are stuck on legacy platforms that leverage traditional one-to-many communication strategies. As a result, there’s a growing chasm between modern donors and nonprofits. Marketing automation is the tool that helps close that gap.

How to Choose Your Marketing Automation Platform

Marketing Automation is a burgeoning software market with a growing number of options. It’s important to have the right selection criteria in place as you make your platform choice.

The following four steps are a helpful framework in successfully choosing and implementing a new platform:


Write down your marketing and engagement goals (new givers, engagement, constituent advocacy, education and retention). Setting your overarching objectives creates clear evaluation criteria.


Marketing Automation is only moderately effective unless it is connected to donor behavior. Choose a Marketing Automation tool built for nonprofits and connected to real time giving data


Engagement with prospects and donors isn't just about email. Find a system that can integrate with team task assignments, direct mail and data updates in your CRM


Hopefully this is obvious but your Marketing Automation choice shouldn't be made by your IT team. Your platform decision should be in the hands of your marketing and fundraising staff.

Services & Strategy to Suceed

There are two common reasons given as to why marketing automation won’t work at a nonprofit

  1. “We don’t know where to start. We don’t have anyone on staff who can build automation sequences.”
  2. “Even if we can figure out a strategy, we don’t have the staff to create personalized content.”

These are legitimate concerns but they don’t have to stop you from getting started with Nonprofit Marketing Automation. Here are 3 simple suggestions to help you clear the initial barriers.

  • Start small. You don’t have to automate everything. Start with a 3 email “Welcome Series” or a 2-part event follow up. Focus on one or two areas where you can start testing and make a big impact.
  • Use dynamic fields to vary content. Using variable fields from your CRM can make the same email or letter feel slightly more customized for each donor. You can use a dynamic project name from a gift, the donor’s state or the donor’s life to date giving to make the content feel more individualized
  • Don’t be afraid to use a consultant with experience creating and maintaining automations to get you started. A good consultant can help you create a strategy that is right for you and even create ongoing content to ensure your automation program is effective.

Core Marketing Automation Features

This list includes the non-negotiables for a nonprofit marketing automation platform. At a baseline a nonprofit needs the following features to effectively automate their marketing activities.

  • Create a workflow of automatic actions and set a delay between each step
  • Assign workflows to dynamic searches that are constantly updated based on donor behavior
  • Drive next best actions with constituents based on behavior (gifts, form fills, clicks etc)
  • Use Moves Management visualizations to see how automation is moving donors along a donor journey
  • Branching features to move donors between workflows
  • Create emails using easy drag and drop tools from your Automation platform
  • Dynamically merge fields from your CRM (gift data, donor data, etc)
  • Donor actions should kick off task assignments for your team (thank you call, handwritten card, etc)
  • Tasks should be emailed to staff and tracked at the donor level in your CRM
  • Automation should integrate with mobile for fundraisers on the go
  • Donor’s segment/persona/tag should be updated based on workflow rules
  • API integration should allow outside systems to update based on donor actions

Analytics Tied to Donors

Peter Drucker famously said “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. This saying is especially true in the world of marketing automation. Automation gives you the ability to constantly test and measure your effectiveness – then make the appropriate adjustments in real time.

The following features are critical to provide the analytics and reporting that nonprofits need to optimize their marketing automation program.

  • Clicks/opens tracked at donor level
  • Email versioning and testing
  • Reports to show effectiveness of each email or action
  • Reports to show effective automation is in moving donors from on behavior to the next
Big Data to Multiply Giving

Predictive Analytics to Drive Custom Calls to Action and Messaging

Lead scoring allows nonprofits to rank donors and prospects based their relational or financial value to the organization. A good predictive analytics systems should

  • Allow nonprofits to vary the gift ask based on the donor’s capacity
  • Recognize and automate actions to lapsed or “pre-lapsed” donors
  • Identify social influencers for advocacy, ambassador, and peer-to-peer campaigns

The lead score is used to determine how and when to engage with each individual. The leading-edge nonprofits using lead scoring have seen 3-5x increases in campaign results.

All-in-One Email Functionality

Integrated Email Marketing

Personalized transactional emails can be transformational to nonprofits, but traditional email marketing pieces still have a big role to play in marketing. It is important that your email marketing system is fully integrated with your CRM and your marketing automation system. A fully integrated email marketing systems allows you to

  • Merge a wide variety of fundraising related fields directly from your CRM
  • Compare learning (engagement, message effectiveness, etc) between your email marketing pieces and marketing automation emails
  • Use dynamic searches and donor tags to update your email lists in real time rather than importing Excel files to a separate system

Need a desktop checklist to guide your Marketing Automation selection process?

“Virtuous is powerful yet simple, smart yet not intrusive. It is designed as a capable partner for today’s high touch fundraiser who works to build relationships across multiple channels and understands that networks are as important as gifts.” Otto Monroy Director of Advancement, Logos Academy