When we moved to Planning Center, one of the core strengths I wanted to implement was to automate repetitive tasks. And I don’t just mean “automate” for automation’s sake. I mean automation for growth, automation for scale and automation so no one and nothing would fall through the cracks. That’s where the question came about – how can I automate emails for Planning Center workflows?
What is automation?
Let’s go back to the basics and start with a definition.
the technique of making an apparatus, a process, or a system operate automatically.
From a business standpoint, if I wanted to send a thank you email to every person that purchased a product from me, that’d be a very personal thing to do and create relational equity with my customers. If I have 10 customers per week, this is likely doable. If I have 100 customers per week, this is not sustainable.
This is where automation comes in. You can use tools like Mailchimp or Zapier to be on the lookout for a customer’s purchase, and after they make the purchase, setup a thank you email to automatically be sent to the customer within minutes.
Why did I choose automation?
You might be thinking… You’re a church. Why would you want to use automation to connect with people at church? And that’s a fair question. I chose it for 2 main reasons:
- I don’t want anyone or anything to fall through the cracks. If someone wants to connect with our Young Adults community, I want them to have the information as soon as possible and give our Young Adults pastors time to write a personalized email or text.
- When you’re implementing something new, plan for where you’ll be in the future. Not where you’re at today. Automation lets you be better prepared for growth compared to having manual processes in place.
Think of it this way. Your processes may be great for weekend church services. Will those same processes work at a conference your church puts on?
How do you automate emails for Planning Center Workflows?
Now that you understand a little more about the why, let’s get into the how to automate automate emails for Planning Center workflows.
First, if you haven’t already done so, create a free account with Zapier and choose the free plan. The free plan lets you get started with 100 tasks per month, which will be ~30 emails per month. I’ll explain this more later.
Second, create a Mailchimp account with the standard plan. The standard plan allows the use of “journeys” in Mailchimp, which requires the standard plan at a minimum.
Create a Journey in MailChimp
Once your Mailchimp account is created and you’re logged in, follow these steps (from a laptop):
- Click on Automations in the left-hand menu
- Click on Customer Journeys
- Click on Create Journey
- Add a name to the journey and click Start Building
- Click Choose A Starting Point
- Click Tag Added
- Type in a name for a tag, such as Customer Purchase. If it’s a new tag, you will have the option to: Create a new Tag “Customer Purchase”
- Click Save Starting Point
- Beneath the box “Contact Tagged Customer Purchase”, click the plus button to add another step
- Under Actions, click Send email
- In the email template that pops up:
- Click Edit next to To & From to adjust the to/from for your email
- Click Edit next to Subject to pick an appropriate subject
- Leave the Schedule as is
- In the bottom portion, click Select a Template
- Follow Mailchimp’s article for Design an Email with the New Builder
- Once the email template is created, click Close
- Click the plus button to add another step
- Under Actions, click Tag/Untag
- Select your new tag under the Tag dropdown
- Under the Action dropdown, click Remove
- Click Save
- Click Turn On in the top-left to let it start running
Now to recap, here’s what we just did. A customer journey is one of Mailchimp’s ways to automate emails. When a person is tagged as Customer Purchase, your thank you email template will be sent to them (typically within 15 minutes). After the email is sent, the tag will be removed so that the email is sent multiple times.
Here’s an example of one I did for a free devotional to first-time visitors at our church.
Automate the Email with Zapier
Now that Mailchimp is setup to send the email, let’s setup Zapier to be on the lookout for new workflow cards in Planning Center.
How does Zapier work?
Zapier is one of my favorite automation tools. It lets you create “zaps” that contain automation tasks between different apps, such as Planning Center and Mailchimp. For this example, the zap we create will contain 3 tasks, and the free plan allows you to run 100 tasks per month.
Automate Your Email With a Zap
To get started, follow these 3 steps:
- Login to Zapier.com with your new account
- Click on Zaps on the left-hand side
- Click on Create Zap
For this setup, we’ll be using Planning Center to “trigger” the zap and perform the additional steps (or actions) with Mailchimp.
- Search for Planning Center in the “trigger” window and click on it
- Select “New Workflow Card” for Trigger Event
- Click Continue
Since this is the first time you’re using Planning Center with Zapier, you will need to connect your Planning Center account to Zapier.
Once connect, select Continue and choose the Workflow in Planning Center to trigger Zapier with. In this example, I’m using Life Groups, which are our version of small groups. If someone chooses they want more information about Life Groups on our Get Connected form, it will create a new workflow card in the Life Groups workflow.
Click Test Trigger and make sure a Workflow Card is selected before clicking Continue.
The filter option allows you to filter our which workflow cards actually get an automatic email. You may or may not need to filter anything out, but I wanted to include it in case you need this feature.
For us, we only want to send these automated emails to those who indicated on the form they want more information about Life Groups. Here’s a copy of our filter for this example:
Let’s add the final action (task) in this zap for the app Mailchimp. It will be similar to Planning Center above, except we’ll select a different app and different action event.
After you click Continue, you will need to connect your Mailchimp account to Zapier just like you did for Planning Center. Each time you connect an account, there are different steps to take depending on the app.
Once your Mailchimp account is created, you’ll set up the action by clicking the audience in Mailchimp, the tag you created in the Mailchimp section previously, and the email address from the workflow card. Since our example uses a Planning Center form to collect information, the workflow card “field” is called Submitted Primary Email
Click the option to Test Action
The test action is the final step before turning on your zap. Since these are pre-built integrations between Mailchimp and Planning Center, the testing should be successful. If you hit any errors or issues though, please put them in the comments below so I can help you troubleshoot further. Zapier allows you to automate easily but can be tricky sometimes.
With the test successful, you can now click on the option to turn “On” the zap. This will be a toggle switch in the top-right hand corner.
Let’s recap what we did. The goal of this article is to automate emails with Planning Center Workflows. It’s not a built-in feature with Planning Center, but it’s easily doable with Mailchimp and Zapier.
When a workflow card is created in Planning Center, it will trigger a zap in Zapier to kick off. The zap will add a tag to the person’s email address in Mailchimp, which will then kick off the journey in Mailchimp to send an automated email. Once the email is sent, the tag will be removed so the person does not receive duplicate emails.
Note: It’s important to note that the tag being added in Mailchimp assumes you already have permission to send the person an email. This means the person is already in your Mailchimp audience. If you’re not sure if this is setup, the best starting point is to create a list in Planning Center of all active people and sync it with Planning Center. Here’s the article on how to do this.