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Creating and Using Databank Automations

If you want to send a timed series of messages to one or more of your contacts, the Automation function is your tool.

What are Databank Automations?

An Automation is a reusable series of PowerMail messages to which individual contacts or groups of contacts can be subscribed. You can manually subscribe contacts to Automations, or you can set up any Databank form to subscribe someone to an Automation when they submit the form. A subscription to an Automation is based upon a specific date, such as the current date, a Meeting date, or the date of an expiring membership.

 

How can I use Databank Automations?

Some scenarios where Automations can be used:

  • A series of “Welcome” messages, one per week, sent to new signups

  • A reminder to renew an expiring membership, to be sent 30 days ahead of expiration

  • Meeting prep information for webinar registrants

  • Follow-up messages after an event

How do Databank Automations work?

When you subscribe a contact to an Automation, the system creates future-dated Activity records in the contact’s Activity history, which it uses as the schedule for sending messages. In the screenshot below, the user clicked the Automation (gears) icon in a contact record and chose “Welcome to Our Nonprofit!” from the list of Automations.

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The system gave feedback (“Subscription created” at the top of the window) and created three Activity records:

  • One Activity with an activity type of “Subscribe” to document the subscription’s creation.

  • Two Activities of type “scheduled email” which tell the system when to send the PowerMail issues. In this case, the subscription was created on February 3rd, and the messages were scheduled on the two days following that. (Note that the Activity history is sorted in reverse date order by default.)

When the time arrives, the system will personalize the PowerMail issue, using then-current information, and send it out.
Triggers

When you set up an Automation, you specify a “trigger” which tells the system how and when to start the series when the contact is subscribed. You can specify one of the following triggers:

  • The current date (when the subscription is created, or when a contact completes an online form)

  • A fixed date, such as a holiday

  • A Meeting date (for those who sign up on a Meeting form)

  • The contact’s most recent contribution date

  • The contact’s first contribution date

  • A custom date field, such as Membership Expiration, in the Contact record

Steps and Activity records

Every automation includes a series of steps. Each step includes the following information:

  • The number of days before or after the trigger date to send the message

  • The time of day to send the message

  • The PowerMail issue to send

Each step in an Automation provides the blueprint for an Activity record. When you subscribe a contact to an Automation, each step in the Automation is transformed into an Activity record with the scheduled send date. The system scans these Activity records every hour and sends out any scheduled messages.

When each message is sent, the Activity record is marked as sent. PowerMail also creates the usual tracking Activity notes for sends, opens, and clicks, which are summarized under the Results tab of the PowerMail issue.

Since Activity records provide the schedule for sending messages, you can reschedule steps or delete the subscription simply by modifying or deleting the Activity records related to that subscription.

 

Automations vs. PowerMail Scheduling

You can use Automation subscriptions to achieve the same result as PowerMail scheduling (available under a PowerMail issue’s Publish tab). In PowerMail, you can schedule an issue to be sent to a fixed set of recipients up to ten days in advance. With Automations, you get the same result by mass-subscribing a selection of contacts to an Automation.

However, each function is best suited to different situations: the scheduling provided in PowerMail is best suited for sending a single communication, like a newsletter, at a single time, to a known audience. Automations are best suited for sending a set of one or more communications, on an individualized schedule, to a varying audience (including contacts not yet known).

With Automations, messages can be scheduled for any future date, and are not limited to a ten day window as PowerMail scheduling is. If the contact clicks the unsubscribe link an any PowerMail message, any currently scheduled messages will not be sent.

 

Getting Started: Creating a Databank Automation

An Automation requires one or more PowerMail issues that it can send out. You may create the Automation first and the PowerMail issues later, or work in the reverse order. Here’s a video on creating PowerMail issues.

To work with Automations, click Communication in the main menu, then click Automation.

The Automations page shows your list of Automations. Click the “+” icon in the upper-right corner to create a new Automation, or click an “edit” icon in the list to edit an existing Automation.

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When you click the “+” or “edit” icon, the Automation editor comes up.

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First, give your Automation a descriptive name, like Welcome series. The Automation’s name is for your internal use and is not shown to message recipients. Choose a PowerMail folder that holds your Automation’s issues. If your issues don’t exist yet, you can skip this for now. Then choose the type of trigger to use, from the options described in the Triggers section above.

The lower section of the page lists the Automation steps, in date order. Click the “+” icon to create a new step, or click the “edit” icon to edit an existing step. For a new step, the step editor opens a new row at the bottom of the list. When editing an existing step, the step editor opens in-place.

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Three icons appear under the Edit column: Delete step, Cancel editing, and Save changes.

The “Send on Day #” input holds the number of days before or after the triggering event to send the message, using negative or positive numbers respectively. In this Automation’s case, the subscription is triggered when the user fills out a volunteer form, so only positive numbers are useful in this context – the system will not schedule deliveries in the past.

You may also opt to Send on Day #0, meaning the same date as the triggering event. However, we don’t advise doing this for Automations that are triggered by forms because a person may submit your form later in the day than the (Day 0) Send Time, and so they would miss receiving the message. Instead, you should put the same-day info into the form’s Thank-you email, which is delivered immediately following form submission.

The “Send at Time” input holds the time of day that the message will be sent. Automated messages are sent once per hour, so there are 24 options in this drop-down.

The “PowerMail Subject” input lets you choose an issue from the Automation’s PowerMail folder. The issue’s internal description is shown to the right. (When not editing the step, the PowerMail subject is linked to a preview of the PowerMail issue.)

It’s important to remember that with your Automations running in the background day after day, over time the content may silently become out-of-date. You should review your Automation messages periodically to make sure the messages are still on-brand and relevant.

Setting a form to trigger an Automation

Databank forms can be set to trigger Automations. Simply select an Automation from the list of available Automations on the form’s Properties tab (Forms > Properties). Anyone who submits the form will be subscribed to the Automation.

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The drop-down list only shows Automations that are triggered by “Current date/Form completion” or, for Meeting forms, “Meeting date (when used with Meeting form).” When the “Meeting date” trigger is used on a form that allows a person to sign up for multiple meetings at once, only the first meeting date will be used as a trigger. If a person signs up for multiple meetings, the system will not create multiple subscriptions.

Note also that when triggered by a form submission, the subscription is created after the user fills in the personal part of the form. If the form is multi-page (that is, if the form collects data on multiple pages and has a “Continue” button), the Automation is triggered by the page that collects personal information. Depending on the form, that could be the first page or a subsequent page.

Manually subscribing contacts to an Automation

The first screenshot in this article shows how to subscribe an individual contact to an Automation. You can subscribe any contact to an automation in this way (with the exception of Meeting Date-triggered automations, which only create subscriptions when the meeting form is submitted). Click the “gears” icon in the upper right corner of the contact screen, and choose an Automation from the list.

To subscribe your current selection of contacts to an automation, click the “Subscribe Contact Selection” button in the list of Automations (Communication > Automation).

Only relevant messages can be scheduled

When viewing an individual contact record, the list you get when you click the “gears” icon will only include the Automations where the contact’s data is compatible with the Automation’s trigger.

All contacts can be subscribed to Automations that are triggered on the current date, or on another fixed date. But for Automations with different triggers, the system may or may not have the necessary information to create a subscription.

If an Automation is triggered by first contribution date or most recent contribution date, it will only appear in the list if the contact you’re viewing has at least one contribution.

If the Automation’s trigger is a custom date field, such as Membership Expiration, it will only appear in the list if the contact you're viewing has data in that custom date field.

Automations triggered by Meeting date (when used with Meeting form) are not shown in the drop-down list. This is because the system doesn't know which of the contact’s Meetings to use as the trigger.

Regardless of the Automation’s trigger, the Automation will not schedule messages to be sent in the past.

Happy Messaging!

If you have any questions or difficulties with Automations, please submit a support request (Help > Support Request) or send email to techsupport@thedatabank.com.

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