Skip to content

Every nonprofit should be continually recruiting new donors, advocates, volunteers, and other kinds of supporters. As your organization grows, it should evaluate core constituencies to best understand what new audiences to target. Allegiance Group is an experienced partner with a proven methodology for understanding supporter data and creating audience profiles. 

Using those profiles as a starting point, our experts will create digital and mail plans designed to recruit new supporters. Allegiance’s integrated approach also remains channel-agnostic, fostering growth across digital, direct mail, and other core segments. 

Establishing a Baseline / Benchmarking 

To maximize the value generated by acquisition efforts, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of your current supporter base. This requires that your online and offline analytics, plus other optional sources, reliably provide a number of metrics for your team. Some of these metrics include:

Common Nonprofit Acquisition Campaign Metrics

  • Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): How much did it cost your organization to recruit a supporter? In paid media or digital advertising, this metric is usually arrived at by dividing an acquisition campaign’s media cost by the number of donors recruited. Over the course of a calendar year, it might be found by dividing the total media dollars spent on acquisition by the number of new donors recruited. 
  • Lifetime Value: In the context of donors/financial supporters, “lifetime value” refers to the total average contribution/revenue value of a donor on your file. These metrics might be very different for individual audience segments: a sustaining donor, for example, likely has a higher lifetime value than the average one-time donor. 
  • Time to First and Second, Gift: How long, on average, does it take a newly recruited lead within a particular segment to make their first gift? How long does an average donor take to get to their second gift? 
  • Attrition/Churn: What percentage of your file, on average, is lost or goes inactive each year? This metric will help you understand the support lifecycle of your constituents while providing a target to beat as you attempt to reduce attrition. 

These (and other) metrics will build the mathematical framework that contains your organizational benchmarks, near and long-term goals, and projections. Improvements in some or all of these areas will lead to a larger and more durable network of supporters.

However, there are other data points that are just as helpful in growing support for your nonprofit. Tools like Google Analytics, Facebook, Instagram, Google Ads, and various data partners can all provide valuable insight into who your constituents are.

Some of these data points might be:

  • Demographic Data: Age, gender identity, geographic location, income, etc. can all be used to help identify an audience. 
  • Behavioral Data: Online and offline content preferences, browsing behavior, purchase behavior, political preferences, etc. All of these data, legally provided by users, can be the “silver bullet” in identifying the unique micro-communities that are lowest-funnel for your organization. 
  • Performance Data: Your own organization’s documentation from past campaigns, media engagements, email program reporting, etc. will all help to surface audience data to assist in acquisition efforts. For example, you might find that one narrow audience segment has a deep creative preference for a particular image or line of copy. 
  • Creative Preferences: Testing different images, messaging, and delivery techniques at the audience level can surface individual creative preferences that will lead to higher conversion rates.

Allegiance Group works with clients to compile data into an actionable growth strategy, using the channels that appear best suited for the effort. 

Building an Acquisition Plan: Paid Media

New donor acquisition via digital advertising should be an iterative process that incorporates new learnings at each opportunity.

Starting with a specific advertising plan that accounts for assumptions, projected growth, budget, flight dates, targeting, creative, analytics, and reporting is an essential step. Clear documentation enables organizations to have a picture of what worked and what didn’t, reducing the burden of re-learning. Before this step, however, it’s important to consider your goals.

In the overall context of your nonprofit, how do you want to grow? Why do you want to grow? Identifying the motivations, context, and ideal outcome of your campaigns will lead to a picture of success that stakeholders can agree on.

Some common considerations for growth include:

Revenue vs. New Donors: In the direct mail world, acquisition campaigns represent a loss of revenue in the short-term, since donors often cost more to acquire than they give with their first gift. This holds true in digital outside of high conversion rate periods like end-of-year and tentpole campaigns conducted by your organization. Since new donor acquisition doesn’t frequently generate revenue until acquired donors give again, it’s important to decide how much of your paid media (advertising) efforts should focus on acquisition, and how much should focus on reliably generating revenue to offset the cost. For example, you might choose to spend 30% of your media budget on acquisition, and 70% on ads targeted to your CRM file, and to users searching for you by name on Google or Bing. With more ad budget spent on acquisition, an organization can expect to grow more quickly but incur more risk by not offsetting the cost of acquisition.

Audience Priorities: If your acquisition goals are more specific, you may need to divide your acquisition budget into more segments. For example, organizations sometimes seek to recruit younger donors, more diverse donors, mid-level donors, sustaining donors/monthly donors, etc. The next consideration is how much budget is appropriate to allocate across each segment based on total available budget, anticipated cost per acquisition for each segment, and your specific goals.

Once the context and goals are established for the project, the focus shifts to how best to execute the campaign. The next phase of campaign development involves making decisions about creative, copy, where to place ads, and contingencies or predicted pivots.

Digital Advertising Channels for New Donor Acquisition

Acquiring new donors through digital advertising frequently involves channels like paid search, paid social, display, and video advertising. It’s also important to remember that acquisition campaigns don’t exist in a vacuum. Each communication an organization makes with potential donors/non-supporters can impact the efficacy of ad campaigns. Frequently, there is enormous potential to conduct cross-channel campaigns that are designed to work with existing efforts. It’s usually a good idea to keep messaging consistent and to ensure that measurement is effective across all channels to identify cross-channel trends.

The Intent Funnel: The intent funnel simply categorizes target users based on their proximity to the completion of a goal, which exists at the bottom of the funnel. In this case, the conversion is a new donor contributing to your organization. However, it could easily be used to illustrate progress to a conversion like filling out an advocacy petition or submitting an email address for a newsletter.

Top of Funnel: At the top of the funnel, users might be defined as potential donors who have never heard of your organization before. This means that the advertiser has the burden of educating the potential donor: introducing your organization, making a case for the problem your organization is trying to solve, and demonstrating the value your organization provides to a donor. What outcomes can they expect once they join you? Advertising at the top of the funnel involves scale, creative excellence, and efficiency.

Lead Generation & Branding: It’s important to reach enough potential donors to accurately evaluate their behavior on-site and their interactions with ads.

Additionally, since top-of-funnel advertising communicates with the users that are chronologically farthest from the completion of the campaign conversion goal, brands try to reach as many users as possible within their budget and targeting parameters. These ads might entreat users to join an email list, to watch a video ad about an organization, or the ads might accompany a direct mail acquisition drop in-home with addressable digital geotargeting to lift acquisition in both channels. Note that top-of-funnel advertising typically carries these guiding conversions (joining the email file, viewing a video, interacting on a landing page) because the intention is to further re-engage the users who show the most promise, further down the funnel.

Middle of Funnel: By the time a user reaches the middle of the intent funnel, they are aware of your organization’s mission, they may be aware of your organization, and they’ve been qualified as having the financial or other demographic markers of a potential donor. These users frequently come from a number of sources:

  • Brand Awareness Observed in Search: When users type your organization’s name, or closely related phrases into Google or Microsoft search engines, they’re signaling an affinity for, or knowledge of, your brand. 
  • Brand Awareness Observed by Behavior: Users who may have engaged with your website, social content, video content, or other on or offline activity. The primary differentiating factor between these users and audiences marked for re-engagement is their distance from the higher intent actions signaled by re-engagement audiences. For example- an organization might choose to re-engage a donation form or petition abandoner, but not a user who read the “About Us” page on the website and moved on.
  • Donor Lookalike Lists: Powerful audience modeling technology can help find audiences who are highly similar to owned segments of a certain size (usually greater than 5,000 email addresses). Although these audiences may not be aware of the brand, they are so similar to current donors that they qualify as middle of funnel. 
  • High Confidence Acquisition Targeting: Similar to lookalike list targeting, some behavioral/demographic/psychographic targeting is so effective that it’s best considered at the middle of the funnel. Organizations that have a very clear view of donor personas have a higher chance of using this kind of targeting to their advantage. 
  • Bottom of Funnel: At the bottom of the funnel, users have signaled that they are ready to take a conversion action. There is are varying degrees of behavior signaling that are appropriate to include in this segment, including:
  • Owned Segments & Prior / Semi-Recent Donation Behavior: Users who have donated within the previous 90 days, current active donors, sustainers, and mid-level donors typically make up a core recurring revenue stream. They understand the mission, care about the cause, and have a relationship with your brand. 
  • Audiences Marked for Re-Engagement: The highest-intent audiences, who may have abandoned a form, joined an email list, demonstrated high engagement on the website, or initiated another intent signal, are great candidates for retargeting. Just like you might expect to see ads for a new television following you around your web browsing experience after you add it to your cart on an e-retailer’s website, users can be reminded to complete a donation or other action. 

Commonly Used Platforms & Channels for New Donor Acquisition

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Position in the Funnel: Search is typically used in the middle and bottom of the funnel in order to capture as much intent as possible. When users express an urge to donate to your organization or cause in Google or Microsoft’s search engines, meeting them with an ad ensures they can find the right donation form or petition instantly, reducing the chances they’ll get distracted on their user journey. 

SEM refers to paid media efforts in search engines, usually Google and Bing. Advertisers bid on user queries in order to serve ads to individuals who may exhibit interest in an organization, topic, or product with their search behavior. Typically, mature organizations can rely on Search Engine Marketing as a reliably high return on ad spend platform, driving revenue during major fundraising pushes like End of Year, Giving Tuesday, and Fiscal Year End. Unlike organic search results, SEM can be used to influence a user’s intention and landing page. SEM is frequently viewed as a necessity for digital fundraising programs. Additionally, paid search has become a channel that reliably generates new-to-file donors, even in cases where brands are bidding on their own name alone (branded search). 

Facebook & Instagram

Position in the Funnel: Facebook and Instagram have a role at every level of the funnel. From introducing users to your brand for the first time to communicating upgrade asks to your sustainers, users are habituated to receiving communications through Social. The targeting power of Facebook’s data makes new donors easy to reach, while the familiarity of its environment makes it a comfortable place for users from all segments to convert. 

Facebook offers brands the opportunity to find new users based on detailed demographic data, making it well suited for both lead generation and direct-to-donor prospecting. Additionally, many organizations use Facebook as a communications channel to augment email, support direct action efforts, and improve user awareness of brand activity. Despite the recent decline in consumer trust in the platform and the removal of some third-party data targeting options, Facebook remains a valuable tool. Instagram is owned by Facebook, and integrates well with Facebook campaigns. Using the same tracking pixel and ad interface, Instagram is a highly visual platform that many users are unwilling to navigate away from because of their high engagement with its content. Instagram has an in-app browser that can make direct actions easy for users to complete, making it ideal for awareness and simple direct-action campaigns, especially with younger audiences. Instagram is highly popular, even among Facebook-abandoning Millennials and Gen-Xers.

Fluent / Care2

Position in the Funnel: Technologies like these are great for achieving scale in lead generation at the top of the funnel. 

These platforms allow for performance-based pricing in lead acquisition. Advertisers can essentially purchase leads at a set CPA. Although these leads can take up to 36 months to break even from a fundraising perspective, programmatic buys paired with robust messaging campaigns can make all the difference for list growth goals.

Programmatic Display Advertising

Position in the Funnel: Programmatic functions as an excellent top of funnel channel, with the ability to narrowly target audiences at scale with impressive creative served on platforms like Hulu. The powerful behavioral optimization and retargeting technology behind programmatic also allows it to function in the middle of the funnel- although audiences tend to click through banner and video ads less frequently, and these make up the majority of programmatic ad creative. For this reason, programmatic display is a great tool to influence consideration and awareness, while simultaneously driving users further down the intent funnel working in tandem with other channels.

Programmatic ads are delivered outside of “walled gardens” owned by Google and Facebook. They are served across much of the internet’s most popular websites, mobile applications, and even connected devices like Roku. They are powered by a diverse competitive ecosystem of advertising technology providers who offer unique targeting and delivery capabilities. For example, since ad targeting is a function of access to data about a set of users, some programmatic technology can access more surgical/accurate/validated targeting data than is available through Facebook or Google’s platforms. It is specifically because of the unique targeting data available through these more niche ad platforms that programmatic may be a great tool for top and middle funnel new donor acquisition.

Podcast/Audio Advertising

Position in the Funnel: Podcast and audio ads are highly effective at influencing consideration and awareness, like programmatic display ads. They have the added benefit of carrying deep influencer affinity, which can make the endorsement of a particular podcast or show more impactful with key audiences. These ads are typically considered top of funnel. 

Allegiance Group works with podcast networks to serve ads on some of the most popular podcasts in production. Podcast ads are read before, during, or after a show (pre-roll, mid-roll, and post-roll). They are often read by the hosts themselves, or by a team member familiar to the audience. This is a new frontier for many nonprofits, but podcasts are an excellent way to reach wealthy, educated users who are likely to engage with progressive messages. Audience and download data drive CPMs (cost per thousand impressions), and engagement is typically measured by audience visits to custom landing pages. For example: the host could read a message from your organization, and conclude by saying “to learn more and support their work, visit organization.org/podcastname.” Podcasts are excellent in support of prospecting, lead generation, and branding efforts.

YouTube

Position in the Funnel: YouTube is part of Google’s ad ecosystem, and works at the top and middle of the funnel, much of the time. Since users are watching videos, they tend not to click off-site as frequently as on other channels. However, users spend an incredible amount of time on YouTube, and engaging them with great video content is a surefire way to build engagement and fundraising momentum. 

YouTube ads can be both highly efficient and highly engaging. Although video ads sometimes feature lower engagement than other forms of display because of user intention to watch their selected video, they are powerful tools for awareness building and branding. Additionally, they can be used tactically as part of a media mix designed to help new users travel down the funnel. For example: users might hear about your organization on Facebook, visit your website through a search ad on Google, and then see information about a match or tentpole campaign on YouTube. From there, users would likely re-enter through a search ad to donate. YouTube offers a variety of ad formats for different goals. For example, Skippable Video Ads don’t incur a charge to the advertiser if users choose to skip the ad. Bumper ads, on the other hand, are very short and unskippable, playing before a video.

Google Display Network (GDN)

Position in the Funnel: Like programmatic ads, display ads are frequently used for brand building and awareness. However, they’re also frequently used to re-engage abandoners, making them functional at all levels of the funnel. 

Google’s Display Network is a massive web of online properties across which advertisers can display ads. Thousands of data points, customer data, advertiser-owned lists, and more can feed into the targeting profiles that drive GDN campaigns. Most GDN ads are standard display ads, but can be animated as well. GDN ads can also serve on YouTube, in static placements near and over top of videos. These ads are typically used to augment other advertising efforts in the form of retargeting. For example: a user who visited a donation form but abandoned the page before donating might be served an ad reminding them that it’s not too late to complete their donation.