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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

How to Use Digital Lead Acquisitions to Build Your Nonprofit Donor Base

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

This blog post is shared with permission from Robin L. Cabral, MA, CFRE, MFIA, of Development Consulting Solutions.

Traditional “Old School” and emerging “New School” methods of donor acquisition

Years ago, traditional donor acquisition methods were extremely costly. These methods consisted of renting mailing lists from list brokers, designing very complex donor acquisition direct mail packages, and even the use of costly up-front and back-end premiums; and then a further investment in a donor direct mail welcome series. The notion most commonly held was that most organizations would barely break even with costs, in most cases averaging $1.25 to every $1.00 raised. With a short-term vision and meager return rates, many organizations divested themselves of any donor acquisition efforts, and others never even began. It was only larger charities who had the capacity and resources to be able to invest in “loss leader” initiatives such as these. However, these organizations understood the necessity of building strong donor bases and the long-term value of donors once acquired.

Today, with the advent of new technologies, there are several lower-cost donor acquisition alternatives. All organizations have websites, most have a Facebook presence as well as on other social media networks, and almost all send emails on a fairly frequent basis.

While newsletter sign-ups are no longer a source of significant donor acquisition efforts, there are methods in the for-profit sales world that nonprofits can easily apply to the sector. One of these efforts is digital lead conversions.

Key Terms Defined: What is a Digital Lead, Lead Generation, and a Lead Magnet

As a prospect, a digital lead is someone who has shown an interest in your nonprofit. Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting prospects into someone who has indicated an interest in your nonprofit.

They almost automatically qualify themselves by engaging in content provided by the organization through “Lead Magnets.” A “Lead Magnet” can be any offer that you offer online. The offer may be a “whitepaper” on a particular topic area that your organization works on, an informational PDF or guide, or even an eBook. More importantly, a “Lead Magnet” is sometimes a quiz, a petition, or even a survey or free webinar.

Examples of a Digital Lead Magnet Trail Map Download and Petition

Lead generation is about providing valuable and engaging content to prospects in a way that brings awareness to and develops an interest in, the nonprofit. It is much more than signing up for a basic organizational newsletter.

How to create a prospect generation stream

First, the organization needs to be active in a multichannel approach by maintaining dynamic and engaging copy on its website, on social media, and in other forms. Being active ensures that donor prospects will eventually become more aware of the nonprofit.

Once a prospect finds and then becomes aware of the organization, there must be some form of “Call to Action” that a donor responds to, and that drives the donor prospect to an engaging “Lead Magnet” either hosted on the nonprofit’s website or landing page. This “Lead Magnet” must contain something related to the charity’s mission that a prospect would find valuable.

This “Lead Magnet” could be a survey, petition, free download of a Guide, course, or a template, etc. The one thing that this “Lead Magnet” must do is to trade a prospect’s contact information for the “lead.” The cost to the prospect of this conversion is an email address. Once the prospect engages with this “lead,” it then becomes a qualified prospect and moves further into the prospect conversion process.

Importance of a donor engagement journey cultivation series to converting prospects to qualified leads

With traditional direct mail acquisition, once a lead has been acquired, it was critical that the acquisition mailing be followed up by a direct mail “welcome” series. The industry commonly believed that if direct mail acquisition efforts did not include this welcome series, the acquisition efforts were doomed to a slow death. There were many faults of the high cost of acquisition and the low return on efforts. Many companies and unbeknownst nonprofits purchased lists but did not further “warm” the prospects by engaging them more in-depth in the organization. Thus, the organization was not able to successfully convert “cold” prospects into qualified leads and then eventually donors.

The same holds today with digital methods. Once an organization attracts and then converts a prospect into a lead, the organization must then place this lead in an email engagement stream or a “welcome” stream like the days gone past. It takes at least 12 impressions for a prospect to become a donor through digital methods. Thus, if an organization fails to create a donor journey, then like direct mail acquisition efforts, their efforts are for naught.

Donor journey’s or “welcome” series can be done much more cost-efficiently these days through technology such as email “drip” automation and other forms of social and digital engagement.

Example of a Donor Journey “Welcome Series” Email

Gone are the days when costly list rental and other direct mail acquisition programs were out of reach of the vast majority of small nonprofits. Today, digital methods for acquiring new donors are bringing acquisition to a more cost-efficient and effective level reachable by even the smallest of nonprofits seeking to build a first-time donor base, or for a medium to large size group wanting to enhance its broad base of supporters.

Gone are the days of costly list rentals and follow-up welcome series. Today, an organization can focus on lead conversions with minimal technology and up-front time with the cost of advertising to drive traffic and staff time for lead magnet production. It behooves any sized nonprofit organization to begin adopting what is working in the for-profit sector to bear fruit for the multitude of nonprofits who are on the verge of losing donors faster than they are acquiring them.

About Robin Cabral, MA, CFRE, MFIA

Robin Cabral, MA, CFRE, MFIA serves both fundraising professionals and executive directors new to fundraising, wanting to excel in their fundraising role, or advance in their career. She provides proven fundraising strategies, tactics, and tools including coaching, training, and content for fundraising success.

She works with these professionals to position themselves to build capacity and generate MORE fundraising prospects, BETTER donor relationships, and BIGGER fundraising dollars all the while reducing their role overwhelm and helping them to grow in their careers.



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