How to Think About Meeting New Donors
If you are at a party and see someone you want to meet, is it a good strategy to ensure you meet them by just standing there and hoping they’ll come talk to you?
Or would you consider it a good idea to hold up a sign saying, “Come over here and talk to me instead!”
Of course, that’s a bad strategy, and naturally you wouldn’t hold up such a sign. The most natural and effective way to meet that person is to look for an opportunity to introduce yourself to them, ask their name, start asking questions that demonstrate interest in them, and then let them do the talking.
If that second approach seems obvious to us, why do we tend to use the first approach when it comes to attracting new donors? We post some things on social media, or on our website, or run fundraising campaigns, and hope new donors will “come to us”.
The fact is people don’t usually turn to Google or social media to find causes or nonprofits to support. They go online seeking entertainment, distractions, ideas, or solutions to the challenges they face. This is your opportunity: if you can understand your donors (current and prospective) and meet them where they are, you stand a far better chance of attracting them and building a solid relationship that will engender their support.
But what is a sustainable way to “meet your donors” where they are? What can you do that won’t pull a ton of time and energy away from your mission or add a ton of time to your current fundraising efforts?
Sustainably and Effectively Attract Donors
In our opinion, one of the best ways to retain your donors and attract new ones is to use your expertise – which you have developed as you’ve successfully delivered your mission – to serve their needs, while simultaneously giving them a taste of that mission.
One of the simplest ways to do this is to create a digital resource – such as an eBook, checklist, research report, or guide – to help your donors answer questions or solve problems they are facing. The beauty of a digital resource is that it is a sustainable, “evergreen” way to help donors: you create it once and can use it again and again. eBooks and similar collateral give people a compelling reason to want to subscribe to your email list.
And we need to remember that email is still the marketing channel with the highest return on investment, for nonprofits and across the board. (On average, across all industries, email brings in over $40 for every $1 spent.) If you want to be effective in growing your donor base and in fundraising, grow your email subscriber list, and use email to grow relationships with your audience.
In addition, whenever your donors, prospective donors, and other interested parties request resources, subscribe to email, or even unsubscribe, you have the opportunity to collect data about their preferences, practices, and perceived interests that can be used in future communications, file segmentation, personalized messaging, etc. Even the most granular data, such as whether email messages are opened and which links are clicked-through, can be useful in subsequent segmentation and message-targeting. Donors and, especially, prospective donors will feel that you are really speaking to them personally if you can build messaging that leverages all of these data points.
Thus, we come to the “meat” of this article – the steps to create content (eg, your eBook) that attracts and retains donors. The goal here is to give you a framework so that you can decide exactly what your organization should create that will be sustainable and effective in attracting donors while also giving these people a real taste of your mission.
3 Steps to Create Content that Gets a Powerful Response from Donors
Step 1: Find your opportunity
Where is your organization uniquely positioned to serve donors? That’s the first question to answer, to ensure you are able to create a digital resource that’s valuable. Here are three more questions to answer that will help get you there:
- What are your organization’s expertise, skills, and knowledge? What do you already demonstrate and actually use to fulfill your mission?
- What do your current and prospective donors need or want?
- Where do these two overlap?
The place where these areas overlap is your “area of opportunity” – the place where your organization’s expertise can be used to create a digital resource that meets donor needs or wants.
Step 2: Determine what your donors want
Before you actually choose exactly what to create (or what set of resources to create), you need to do some research to understand what your current donors and prospects actually value.
If you want to create a resource that gets a powerful response from supporters, you should consider doing some cogent market research first. Here are three simple ways to do this:
- Quantitative research #1: using the keywords you imagine your donors might use, search Google, YouTube, and social media platforms to find what resources are already out there. The more results you find for given keywords, the higher the demand for your proposed resource.
- Quantitative research #2: using the free tool inside Google Ads, search the Keyword Planner to see how many searches were made over a given time frame in a specific area (a metro area, state/province, country, etc.). The more search volume you find for a given keyword, the more demand there is for a solution.
- Qualitative research: share a survey through email or on social media asking your existing audience(s) for their opinion about your proposed resource ideas. Have them tell you which topic(s) is/are most valuable/useful to them. A survey makes it easy for them to share their answers and for you to compile the resulting data.
This research is key to knowing exactly the problems or topics your resource(s) should address so that you know that people will respond before you put a lot of work into this initiative.
It’s frequently the case that research outcomes will support the creation of a series of related or unrelated resources that can be published and offered over the course of, say, a year or some other timeframe that’s appropriate for your organization (eg, a school-year or the summer). If your donors and other supporters get used to the idea that your organization provides useful resources ongoingly, they will be more likely to subscribe overall as well as scour your website more frequently.
Step 3: Create and offer your resource>
The final part of this 3-step process is to create and offer your resource. In this section, we’ll share best practices to make this step as easy and effective as possible.
When you are ready to create your resource, there are a few things you can do to make this process easier and lead to long-term results:
- Choose the format (petition, quiz, eBook, online course). Pick the format that has the highest perceived value, without picking something that you don’t have the ability to design and develop properly and professionally. A petition is very easy to create but will have lower value to a potential donor than a free online course. On the other hand, creating an online course could be an unreasonable amount of work for you and your team. A quiz or an eBook (or both) may be the perfect in-between option for the perceived value it has vs. the amount of effort it will take you to create.
- Plan a series of 5 or more welcome email messages that automatically go out to new subscribers once they request your resource. These emails can begin to build, or rekindle existing, relationships with your subscribers, tying the resource you gave them to your mission. Your welcome series can end in a call to action where you invite them to make a general gift, support a particular fundraising initiative, participate in an event, volunteer, or more.
- Use email marketing data, in conjunction with other data that you already have in your database, or are collecting on current and prospective donors, to effectively segment and target the most productive communications and messaging to build relationships.
- Offer your digital resource to lapsed donors as a way to get them to re-commit by re-subscribing to your email lists and giving yourself another chance to ask them to donate or participate, but from a different angle (ie, as part of your welcome series).
- Offer your digital resource to current active donors as a stewardship tactic: a way to thank them and show your appreciation. Let them know that creating it came from a desire to help people experience a taste of your mission (it is, after all, tied to the same expertise you use to deliver on your mission).
Some examples of digital resources
Listed below are some examples of digital resources that organizations from different nonprofit subsectors could create to serve their donors. Hopefully, these get your ideas flowing and show how this process could be used by any nonprofit:
- Arts and Culture: short video series on acting, auditioning, and backstage skills
- Animal Welfare: infographic of dog breeds and their best fit for a variety of lifestyles/families/needs
- Family Services: checklist on how to become a foster family in your state
- K-12 Schools: template for a homework plan
- Faith-Based: list of questions for studying other faiths
- Environment: tip-sheet for moving toward a zero-waste lifestyle
- HealthCare: a guidebook to free exercise resources in your community or region
- Cause/Cure/Research: scientific method checklist for new ideas
If you’d like 20-plus more examples from 7 different nonprofit subsectors, and more details on how to attract donors effectively and consistently, download Beeline’s eBook, How to Use Digital Marketing to Find New Donors.
Chris Barlow is the author of this article, the founder of Beeline, and has been working with nonprofits since 2015. If you’d like to read more articles like this, check out Beeline’s nonprofit marketing blog!
Stu Manewith contributed to this article. Stu is the Director of Thought Leadership at Omatic Software.