Developing a digital donor acquisition strategy takes a similar approach as direct mail, starting with a detailed analysis of your donor base, including average gift, retention rates, average gift, and if you have done previous online fundraising campaigns, cost per acquired donor.

Here are some digital marketing best practices for finding new donors by driving prospects to your nonprofit organization’s website using search engine optimization, online advertising, and email campaigns.

Optimize your website to convert visitors into donors.

Your organization’s potential donors are looking at your organization’s website to learn who you are, what you do, and how to get involved. Your website should be 

  • Easy to navigate 
  • Capture new visitor information 
  • Enable a seamless donation experience from every page 

If not, you’re probably missing out on converting qualified prospective donors. 

Optimizing your donation form to present the easiest and best user experience when someone lands on your site – from an ad, email, or search engine – is a massive win for acquiring new donors and getting more repeat gifts from existing donors. 

Add inline donation forms or lightboxes to your top-performing content, directing prospective donors to your donation page.

Keywords facilitate the connection between your website and a prospective donor. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a powerful practice requiring knowledge of your target audience’s search intent and your website content’s ability to convert visitors into donors.

Consider a content audit to evaluate how well your website meets search intent. Tracking data on unique visitors, pageviews, backlinks, and more from Google Analytics is essential to creating compelling online content. Furthermore, critical expertise is needed to gain insight from the data and employ what you learn to meet visitors’ search intent and your online fundraising goals.

Use social media to drive traffic to your website.

Develop a following on popular social media channels by posting informative articles and highlighting your organization’s work and impact. This will drive traffic to your website, where you can ask them to sign up for email. Set up a welcome email series to nurture a relationship that eventually leads to a donation. Once visitors have been on your site, you can target them in digital ad campaigns if they’ve accepted your cookie policy.

Use paid media to target your ideal donor.

Acquiring new donors through digital advertising frequently involves channels like paid search, paid social, display, and video advertising.

An essential step is starting with a specific digital advertising plan that accounts for assumptions, projected growth, budget, flight dates, targeting your ideal donor profile, design, analytics, and reporting. 

Some common considerations for growth include:

  • Revenue vs. New Donors: Decide how much your paid media (advertising) efforts should focus on acquisition. The budget spent on acquiring donors can result in fast growth but more risk by not offsetting the acquisition cost until new donors give again.
  • Audience Priorities: If your acquisition goals are more specific, you may need to divide your acquisition budget into more segments, such as younger donors, more diverse donors, mid-level donors, sustaining donors or monthly donors, etc

The Intent Funnel is essential for targeting, channels, and messaging. It simply categorizes target users based on their proximity to completing a goal, such as a new donor contributing to your organization.

  • Top of Funnel:
    At the top of the funnel, users might be defined as potential donors who have never heard of your organization. You have the burden of educating the potential donor: introducing your organization, the problem your organization is trying to solve, and the value your organization provides. 
  • Middle of Funnel
    By the time a user reaches the middle of the intent funnel, they are aware of your organization’s mission, and they’ve been qualified as having the financial or other demographic markers of a potential donor. 
  • Bottom of Funnel:
    At the bottom of the funnel, users have signaled that they are ready to take a conversion action. They include recent donors and users who have demonstrated high engagement on your website or initiated another intent signal.

Once the project’s context and goals are established, the focus shifts to how to execute the campaign, including decisions about ad copy, design, and where to place ads.

Here are the top digital platforms & channels for new donor acquisition.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) 

SEM refers to paid media efforts in search engines, usually Google and Bing. Advertisers bid on user queries to serve ads to individuals who may exhibit interest in a similar organization or related topics.

Paid search has become a channel that reliably generates new-to-file donors, even when brands bid on their name alone (branded search). 

Facebook & Instagram 

These two social media platforms have a role at every funnel level. From introducing users to your brand for the first time to asking your sustaining donors to upgrade, social media 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. 

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. Facebook allows brands to find new users based on detailed demographic data, making it well-suited for lead generation and direct-to-donor prospecting. Additionally, many organizations use Facebook as a communications channel to augment email, support direct action efforts, improve user awareness of brand activity, and promote donor engagement.

Instagram 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 makes direct actions easy for users to complete and is highly popular, even among Facebook-abandoning Millennials and Gen-Xers.

Fluent / Care2  technologies 

These platforms are great for achieving scale in lead generation at the top of the funnel and allow for performance-based pricing in lead generation. Nonprofits can essentially purchase leads at a set CPA. Although these campaigns 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.

Move potential supporters down the intent funnel with Programmatic advertising. 

Programmatic ads are delivered outside of “walled gardens” owned by Google and Facebook. They are served across many of the internet’s most popular websites, mobile applications, and connected devices like Roku.

They are powered by a diverse competitive ecosystem of advertising technology providers who offer unique and more surgical/accurate/validated targeting data than is available through Facebook or Google’s platforms.

Although audiences tend to click through banner and video ads less frequently, which make up the majority of programmatic ad creative, it’s a great tool to influence consideration and awareness while driving users further down the intent funnel working in tandem with other channels.

Reach top-funnel users with podcast & audio ads. 

These ads are often read by the hosts or a team member familiar to the audience before, during, or after a show (pre-, mid-, and post-roll). For example, the host could read your organization’s message and conclude, “To learn more and support their work, visit” 

Like programmatic display ads, podcasts, and audio ads are highly effective at influencing consideration and awareness, they have the added benefit of carrying deep influencer affinity, which can make the endorsement of a particular podcast or show more impactful with your target audiences. These ads are typically considered top-of-funnel. 

This is a new frontier for many nonprofits, but podcasts are an excellent way to reach wealthy, educated users likely to engage with progressive messages. 

Allegiance Group works with podcast networks to serve ads on some of the most popular podcasts in production. 

Build brand awareness with YouTube advertising.

YouTube ads are part of Google’s ad ecosystem and often work at the top and middle of the funnel. 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, they are powerful tools for awareness building and branding. 

Google Display Network (GDN) is a massive web of online properties for advertisers to display ads. Thousands of data points, customer data, advertiser-owned lists, and more can feed into the targeting profiles that drive GDN campaigns. 

These ads are typically used to augment other advertising efforts through 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. 

Wrapping it all up

Digital channels play a crucial role in your donor acquisition strategy. Technology has dramatically expanded how organizations attract and retain donors. It also has skewed expectations for donor acquisition in favor of hitting the next viral challenge. However, these development fundamentals apply online as they do in real life: 

  • Show up where your likely donors hang out
  • Consistently share a compelling message
  • Keep the conversation going with prospects  

It’s important to remember that online donor acquisition campaigns don’t exist in a vacuum. There is enormous potential to conduct cross-channel campaigns designed to work with existing efforts, such as direct mail. Keep messaging consistent and analyze results across all channels to identify cross-channel trends.

New donor acquisition via digital marketing should be an iterative process incorporating new learnings at each opportunity. Clear documentation gives organizations a picture of what worked and what didn’tIt’s, reducing the burden of re-learning.