Efficiency in day-to-day operations is essential to your nonprofit’s success. You’ve got a lot going on, and even more you’d like to be doing. Any opportunity to save time and be more effective is worth looking into, right? Well, marketing automation accomplishes both.

Now, “marketing automation” is some pretty trendy jargon from the digital marketing world. It gets tossed around a lot without much explanation as to what it actually means. So, instead of starting in the middle and talking execution tips and tricks, we’re going to take a step back and cover the basics.

What is Marketing Automation?

Simply put, it is scheduling and sending emails based on user behavior with the ultimate goal of driving subscribers to take action.

The purpose of marketing automation aligns pretty well with most nonprofits’ priorities. It can help you increase volunteerism, boost content distribution, generate leads for services, establish and retain a loyal donor base, and more. Granted, marketing automation could include more than just email, but, in this post, we’re focusing on email. It’s most likely where a nonprofit looking to get into marketing automation will start.

Benefits of Marketing Automation

So, our definition of marketing automation was…hefty. It’s a lot to swallow. But, if you break it into pieces, especially in terms of how it can benefit you, it begins to make a bit more sense.

It saves time.

The scheduling emails piece of marketing automation requires software. By using marketing automation software or an automation tool offered through your email marketing service provider, you have the ability to build entire campaigns with timelines and prescheduled send dates.

For instance, let’s say you want to send a follow up email to a recent donor one week after they’ve made a donation. Instead of doing this manually, you can set up a template to go out to that donor one week after their transaction.

While the setup requires a decent amount of work upfront, it can save you an incredible amount of time in the long run. It helps you connect with people at key moments, rather than being forced to wait until you have a spare minute.

It’s targeted.

Since it’s driven by user behavior, marketing automation allows you to deliver well-targeted content to subscribers. You have the ability to hit people at the proper, predetermined moment with content matched to their needs and preferences.

It drives action.

The whole purpose of marketing automation is to take someone who engaged with your nonprofit and lead them down a path that ends with them taking another specific action. The communication that happens between that first engagement and the desired action should establish a connection between subscribers and your cause, deepen that relationship, and inspire them to take a more invested interest in your work.

Maybe a visitor started as an email subscriber, but you want to turn them into a donor. Or maybe they started by signing a petition, but you want to drive them to sign up to volunteer. You’ll need to tailor these paths to your cause, but the bottom line is marketing automation can help you turn broad action into specific action that helps your nonprofit in tangible ways.

How Marketing Automation Works

Marketing automation starts with a trigger. This is the action that sets the whole process in motion. This could be downloading a PDF, signing up for your newsletter, registering for an event—the choice is yours. But this trigger is going to be what you use to determine who should be included in your marketing automation campaign.

Typically, you send a series of emails over a period of time, ending with an appeal for your subscribers to take a specific action. You’ll sometimes here this approach referred to as a “drip campaign”. You’re slowly “dripping” bite-sized pieces of content to people over a period of time. The journey between that first email and the final, desired action is about building trust. If you’ve successfully gained their trust, there’s a much better chance they’ll ultimately take that final action.

Once a subscriber is on this path, the content they receive from you is based on their behavior. This could be how they interacted with the last email they received from you or an action they’ve taken on your website. For instance, maybe you send one email to subscribers who opened your last email and a different email to subscribers who did not. The drip campaign continues, driving them from the trigger action they took initially toward a targeted, more beneficial action like making a donation or reaching out for your services.

Marketing automation has the potential to do a lot of good for your nonprofit, which will only increase your ability to do good in your community. It can save you time, increase efficiency and improve relationships with donors and potential supporters.

As I mentioned, this is just a brief overview of how marketing automation works. Are you interested in learning more? Well, you’re in luck. Keep an eye out, because we have more posts on marketing automation for nonprofits in the works.

Does your nonprofit use marketing automation? What’s your experience been? Or do you have any burning questions about marketing automation at this point? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.