How to Write a Welcome Email

hanging wooden handmade welcome sign

When someone knocks on your door (pre-COVID-19, anyway), the first thing you do is say their name and welcome them in. Are you doing the same in your welcome email when someone signs up to receive information from you?

Most email systems allow organizations to set autoresponders at specific steps along the audience journey. They’re great because you write a welcome email message once, and the system sends it out to every new subscriber without additional work from you.

But what should welcome emails say?

This is one of the less complicated emails you will write. The 5-step structure of a subscriber welcome email is:

  1. Welcome subscriber by name (make sure your software can do this accurately).
  2. Make a statement that immediately focuses on who you serve, not your organization.
  3. Briefly state what the subscriber will be receiving. Reassure them that you respect their privacy.
  4. Proffer your thanks, with the focus again not on the organization, but on the cause.
  5. Provide some kind of easy call to action: “In between newsletters, keep up on our Facebook [link] and Instagram [link] pages.” Don’t undo your sincerity by asking for money in your welcome.

Let’s look at an example I received today, then how I would edit it.

Original welcome email: The XXX Refugee Agency

Thank you for joining us

Dear Cindy

Thank you for subscribing to our email updates.

You will receive monthly updates about our work to protect refugees and those in need, plus the latest news from the field. We will also send you occasional emails alerting you to urgent emergencies and how you can help.

[photo of smiling mother holding child in street]

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the emails you receive, or contact us if you have any questions. You can also check our privacy policy for more information on how we use your data.

Thanks again for joining us.

XXX Team

Get involved right now

Donate [link] – Your gift will allow us to protect refugees and continue our life-saving work.

Visit our website [link] – Check out UNHCR’ s website to get the latest news on our work, and how you can get involved.

Follow us [social links] – Talk to us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and watch and rate our new films on our YouTube channel.

Now, here is what I wish they’d said (aka my edited version):

Dear Cindy,

[same photo]

On behalf of Bekah and thousands of refugees like her, thank you for caring enough to subscribe.

You’ll receive monthly updates about work your support makes possible – protecting refugees like Bekah – plus the latest news from the field. You’ll also get occasional alerts about emergencies and how you can help.

We value your privacy and will protect any information you share with us.

Thanks again for being one of the many people who believes every human being deserves a life free from persecution and discrimination.

[positive photo of a refugee from the field] [photo of a staffer/volunteer in the field with 2-3 refugees] [positive photo of a refugee]

Find out about potential long-term damage to human rights from the COVID-19 pandemic. [link]

Why did I make the changes I did?

1. On behalf of Bekah and thousands of refugees like her, thank you for caring enough to subscribe.

People subscribe because their hearts have been touched. As soon as they hit the “subscribe” button, we immediately reaffirm their decision by again evoking an emotional response. In their head, they’re hearing one little girl say, “Thank you.” What could have more of an impact?

2. You’ll receive monthly updates about work your support makes possible – protecting refugees like Bekah – plus the latest news from the field. You’ll also get occasional alerts about emergencies and how you can help.

Donors make all things possible, so they’re front and center. We told them how often they will hear from us and why.

3. We value your privacy and will protect any information you share with us.

We protect our donors, too. We mean what we say about human rights.

4.  Thanks again for being one of the many people who believe every human being deserves a life free from persecution and discrimination.

Not “thanks for supporting us” – because they aren’t supporting an organization. Donors support a belief, a cause, an issue. Show them you understand where the focus is.

5. Find out about potential long-term damage to human rights from the COVID-19 pandemic [more]

We can change out this last line to keep the message fresh and the donor current.

Tell Donors How They Helped in 2020

woman lying on leaves looking up at sky as if thinking

Nonprofits, it’s time for those annual letters from your CEO to your donors. Whether they be for fundraising or an annual report or your last newsletter, I want to issue a plea: If yours begins with, “2020 has been a tough year for everyone. Here’s what we’ve done to get through it,” get out a clean sheet of paper and start a new draft.

Now is not the time to extol how hard you worked. It’s not the time to inform your supporters how you turned in-person events into virtual ones or made the “tough, but right” decision to let your staff work from home.

Instead, now is the time to thank your supporters for keeping your services available to the people who need them.

I can’t help thinking no word will ever be 
as full of life as this world,   
I can’t help thinking of thanks.

I know you really did work long and hard. Few organizations had a script for a pandemic. My point, though, is that whatever you accomplished in 2020 was possible because of those who supported you … and now’s the time to say thank you.

Why do donors give?

Remember, donors don’t give to your organization because they care about it. They care about the people, animals, environment or whatever part of society it addresses. Fortunately for us, our supporters continued to care during 2020 while they also were struggling with economic uncertainty, sick family members, children learning at home, elderly parents and so much more.

Their struggles have been intensely personal. So I hope you can see that hearing you managed to write an annual report during the pandemic will sound out of touch at best … and maybe a little insulting.

That’s how I felt when I read a 902-word (really) e-letter from a local nonprofit this week. Below are examples from the letter of some of the most egocentric-sounding parts of the message – mistakes I hope you’ll avoid in your own 2020 messaging.

In the introduction:

‘It’s hard to comprehend all the challenges our organization has faced in 2020. … Our staff has been on the front lines of this pandemic.’

Nope, they have not. “Front line worker” has taken on a specific meaning, thanks to COVID-19, and this definition shouldn’t be co-opted. Imagine an ER nurse reading such a line.

In paragraph 2:

‘We had to dig deep and exert enormous effort to implement completely new ways of doing things.’

If this doesn’t sound like patting oneself on the back, I don’t know what does. “Dig deep” and “exert enormous effort.” Really? Think about the parent who, without warning, had to start working from home while helping their school-age children learn virtually and adjust to the family being together 24/7. Now that’s digging deep in all kinds of ways.

16 bullets of accomplishments (yes, 16!):

These business-as-usual “milestones” included producing an annual report, “transitioning” (buzzword) events to virtual platforms, and “deciding to continue to provide staff the option to work from home.”

By this point, we’re about 650 words into the letter and the CEO has neither mentioned how any of these successes benefit the people they serve nor thanked the supporters who made them all possible.

Only in the closing does the writer say thank you – well, they “express appreciation” to those reading the letter “for your willingness to stand by us and ensure our sustainability.”

Those words aren’t likely to produce a warm glow.

Outside of the board and maybe a few of the biggest donors, supporters don’t want to hear how the organization adapted to challenges, especially when everyone else is doing the same.

This worthy nonprofit missed the chance to connect to donors with genuine stories about who supporters helped during the pandemic. That’s what donors want to hear about: how they are changing the world through you.


photo by Greek Food – Ta Mystika
poetry from “Slant,” Copyright © by Suji Kwock Kim

Want more? Read why your nonprofit’s About Us page shouldn’t be about you.