Want More Donors? Attract Donor Leads!

A 7-step process to generate and qualify dozens of new donor leads every month

Chris Barlow is the author of this article, the founder of Beeline Marketing, and has been working with nonprofits since 2015. If you’d like to read more articles about attracting donors, Google Ad Grants, and more, check out Beeline’s nonprofit marketing blog!

Wherever you look in the world of content for nonprofit fundraising, the majority of blogs, podcasts, and webinars are going to assume that you already have an audience of people to use to find and attract new donors.

Those that do not will pay lip service by sharing one line of advice on how to grow your audience of donor leads, “run a peer-to-peer fundraiser,” “use social media,” or “run ads.”

The problem you have with a lack of major donors goes back to your lack of new donors, which goes back to your lack of new donor leads (i.e. a growing audience).

A lot of nonprofits struggle to grow this audience because of a false assumption, which leads to an ineffective approach.

The false assumption is this: if we tell our story well (i.e. “if we build it”), new people will be attracted to give to us (i.e. “they will come”).

Therefore, organizations spend their efforts creating an attractive website and telling good stories. These things are very valuable and do have an important role to play . . . but they do not bring new people to your door (they might help people walk through the door once they’re there).

In this article I want to share 7 steps you can follow to both attract new people to your audience and turn those new people into subscribers and donors. Let’s therefore start with the step that is most often ignored in the nonprofit content world:

Step I. Change your mindset 

If you want to bring new people to your door, so that you can grow your audience and cultivate new donors, you need to change the common mindset that assumes people will come to you.

Let’s examine this mindset using an analogy. If you’re at party or conference (might be hard to remember what those are like!) and see someone you want to meet, does anyone believe just standing there and hoping they’ll come talk is a good strategy to meet them? No, of course not! 

Ironically, we can see this is unlikely to work in a real-life situation, but we do this in marketing all the time. Figuratively, we dress up in fancy clothes (i.e. we have a responsive website), and we even wear a light-up sign around our neck saying, “Hi, my name is ____” (i.e. we have a compelling story), and hope that the person at the party will notice and come talk to us. It could happen, but it’s not certain; most people at the party or conference will think we’re just strange if we stand there alone, waiting for them to come to us.

The best way to meet someone is to observe when they aren’t busy in another conversation, then go to them, briefly share our name, then ask about them. In other words, the key to starting a relationship with new people is for you to think about them

When it comes to meeting new donors, therefore, we need to understand and meet new people where they are, with the goal to get to know and help them. 

Bringing this back to the world of nonprofit marketing, the best way to help potential new donors is meet them where they are, by using your expertise to serve their needs. If you can do this while giving them a taste of how you fulfill your mission, all the better.

Step II. Plan & offer something of value

The phrase I like to use about attracting people to your organization is this: If you serve people, they will be attracted to you, so make it part of your mission to serve your donors.

Your donors and potential donors are not going online to find nonprofits they can support (most of the time). They are going online to find answers to questions, solutions to problems, or entertainment. Therefore, to meet people where they are one of the best things you can do is to find a problem your potential donors have and offer them a solution.

Here are three questions you can follow to ensure you can create and offer a solution that is both in line with who you are as an organization (your mission) and something your potential donors want.

  1. What is our expertise? To clarify this question, here are some others you can ask: How are we uniquely situated to solve problems, and what knowledge, skills, and experience do we have related to how we fulfill our mission?
  2. Who is our donor and what do they need? The most important thing to identify is what your potential donors’ biggest problems are, especially as related to your expertise.
  3. Where does our expertise meet with our potential donors’ needs? The areas where your expertise overlaps with your donors’ needs is your opportunity: how you can attract new people by giving them a taste of your mission.

Step III. Research the demand for your resource

Before you create a solution to help potential donors, you want to make sure it’s something they want in the first place. Here are some tips to do market research to prove demand and the perceived value of your proposed resource:

  • Search for other content online to see what other people have created (the more content out there, the more demand!)
  • Do keyword research using a free tool from Google at ads.google.com to find out the number of searches being made for a given keyword
  • Ask your current subscriber/donor base to share their opinion in a survey to see what topics they want the most help with

Next, here are some examples of the kind of resources you could create to attract and serve new potential donors:

  • Education sector: a guide on how to be your child’s advocate at schools (from IEP to gifted programs)
  • Religious sector: a video series sharing answers from many faiths to people’s top questions
  • Environment sector: a scavenger hunt to discover wildlife and plants in a nearby natural area
  • Human services sector: a checklist on how to plan a neighborhood block party

Step IV: Create your resource

While there are many ways you can create a digital resource to serve and attract new donor leads, let me share a three-step process to show you how simple it is (even if it takes time) to put together a valuable solution for your donors:

  1. Choose Format & Outline

Before you work on the content your resource will cover, choose a format for it. Here are a few options:

  • Petition: easy to create (hours), but low opt-in rate (less than 0.5%)
  • eBook: slightly harder to make (days), but 5-10x opt-in rate (3% – 5%)
  • Online course: very hard to make (weeks), but 2x opt-in rate of eBook (6% – 10%)

We usually recommend an eBook or guide because the ratio of effort to results is the best.

Once your format has been chosen, outline the problem and the solutions or answers. Use the information you learned in the Step III (above) to help you form the topics your resource can cover. Anyone with expertise in your organization can help with this process.

  1. Record & Transcribe: record a conversation, call, or virtual meeting in which everyone with some knowledge can take part in talking about approaches, answers, or solutions that you want your resource to cover. Use the outline to guide the conversation. Once the conversation is finished, have your recording transcribed.
  2. Edit & Design: go through the transcription and edit it, turning the conversation into a written document. If needed, hire a professional writer and/or editor to help! Once the content is set, get a graphic designer (volunteer, on staff, hired) to make it beautiful and match your organization’s brand.

Step V. Offer your resource

Once your resource is created, you need to offer it on your website in exchange for your visitor’s email address. One effective way to do this is to design a unique landing page dedicated to your offer. Here are some questions that your visitors will be asking: if you can answer them on the landing page, you will have more people seeing the value in your resource and subscribing:

  1. Why should I stay on this page? (is what you’re saying relevant for what I searched?)
  2. Do you understand my problem?
  3. What are you offering, and will your resource help me?
  4. Why should I pick this resource over other options?
  5. Can I trust you? (Who are you and do you have credibility?)
  6. What will you do with my information, and/or are you going to sell me something?
  7. What will happen after I sign up?

Basically, put yourself in your potential donor’s shoes; see your landing page and resource as a stranger would, and use the page to help them see what it will do to help them.

Step VI: Promote your resource

As you are probably aware, Google provides $10,000 per month in free ads for 501c3s.

Most nonprofits have trouble using this ad Grant because they’re starting with the same mindset I shared at the beginning of this article. They target keywords like, “donate to charity” or “make a donation” or worse, “Giving Tuesday”, which many other organizations with big real budgets are also targeting, and therefore they struggle to get any traction.

If you can instead meet your potential donors where they are, by targeting the things they need and are searching for, your resource is now a relevant and helpful result for them. They will much more likely click on your ads and subscribe to your email list to access the resource you created to help them.

Step VII: Engage & qualify new donor leads 

After a new person subscribes to get your resource, it goes without saying that the first email they should receive from you should contain a link to your promised resource and a little information about what they can expect from you over the next few days.

It’s vital to plan and set up an email sequence to build a relationship with new subscribers. Effective email strategy can help you turn subscribers into donors, and more importantly, qualify those who could become major donors. 

This article won’t go in-depth in this last step, simply because there is already information how to do effective donor qualification by MarketSmart, who excels in helping organizations generate appointments with major donors from within their own audiences!

If this 7-step process makes sense to you and you’d like a more in-depth guide on how to generate new donor leads, grab this free eBook How to Use Digital Marketing to Find New Donors, courtesy of our partner Beeline and its founder Chris Barlow.

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