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Allison Gauss
6 min
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How to Turn a Casual Donor Into a Devoted Evangelist

Nonprofit fundraising is a uniquely challenging form of sales. While you’re still trying to convince people to exchange money for some value, the process is complicated by the fact that the goods or services purchased are being passed on to someone else. Donors pay for the value you deliver beneficiaries, but you still need to deliver the satisfaction and good feelings that comes with supporting a charitable cause to the donor.

Although there are key differences, the process of cultivating donors into lifelong supporters is quite similar to the sales process of converting a new contact into a loyal customer. By understanding the different stages of the process and how to move donors further down “the funnel,” you can nurture new contacts and casual donors into the devoted evangelists that spread your mission and support your work for years to come.

From Awareness to Investment

Sales teams (like ours at Classy) use the concept of a funnel to understand how a person progresses from their first encounter with an organization to making a purchase or commitment to a partnership.

Although different organizations have different models, the simplest way to understand the process is to consider these three phases:

  • Top of Funnel (TOFU) – This group of people is new to your organization or product. They may have some awareness of what you do, but they aren’t ready to purchase or partner.
  • Middle of Funnel (MOFU) – These are people who are familiar with your organization or product who require more information before they take a further action.
  • Bottom of Funnel (BOFU) – At this final phase, people know who you are and what you or your products do. They are informed about the value you provide and are ready to buy or partner with you.

Like a funnel, each group is smaller than the one above it. In other words, only a fraction of the people at the top of the funnel will progress to the middle of the funnel and only a fraction of that group will reach the bottom. Think about when you want to hire someone for your organization. At the top of your funnel are all the applicants and referrals, all the people who have shown some interest (TOFU). Only a few will make it to the interview stage, though (MOFU). And in the end you will narrow your choices down to a couple of serious candidates (BOFU).

As you can see, this process is all about learning and building trust—a lot like nurturing donors. If you understand how different kinds of donors correspond to different stages of the sales process, you can learn how to grow their connection and commitment to your organization.

Levels of Donor Investment

Most social impact organizations have several different types of donors who contribute different amounts for different reasons. Here are the most common types of donors, arranged from the least informed and invested (TOFU) to the most committed (BOFU). While every donor is important, the more deep long-term relationships you develop, the more sustainable and solvent your organization will be.

Third-Party Donors

Third party donors are truly at the top of the funnel. These are people who made a donation to your organization through a peer-to-peer fundraising page or third party event. They tend to have a very high attrition rate because they’re often moved to contribute to support an individual fundraiser, versus your cause. Your challenge is to convert these donors who act on emotion or to honor a personal relationship into informed direct supporters of your nonprofit.

Action Items

  • Follow up with third-party donors. Send them a series of welcome emails that illustrates your mission and impact.
  • Deliver engaging content that makes them want to learn more. For example, send them updates on what their gift helped accomplish.

Direct Donors

Direct donors are those who donate to your organization without going through a third-party campaign or event. Perhaps they saw a video about your work and donated through your website, or followed you on social media and responded to an appeal. Direct donors show a real interest in your work, so your next step is to nurture them into an even greater supporter and move them further down the funnel. That desired next action might be setting up a recurring gift or even creating a peer-to-peer fundraising page.

Action Items

  • Highlight the benefits of your monthly giving program in email and other communications.
  • Send powerful impact stories to encourage donors to get more involved.

Recurring Donors

Recurring donors, commit to support your organization on a continual basis, typically monthly. These donors tend to be more informed about your work and devoted to your organization. They trust that their money is used wisely and understand the impact their ongoing support has on your work. Supporters at this stage of the funnel are a huge benefit to your nonprofit because they create reliable, sustainable revenue. You can, however, move some supporters even further along the funnel to become fundraisers.

Action Items

  • Highlight how other supporters have used peer-to-peer fundraising to make an even larger impact.
  • Ask recurring donors to participate in a peer-to-peer campaign or to fundraise for their birthday.

Fundraisers

Peer-to-peer fundraising allows individual supporters to raise hundreds or even thousands of dollars—much more than they could donate themselves. Supporters at this stage are informed, committed, and passionate about your cause. Therefore, if you can hang on to them and keep them on your team, they can become the kind of advocates that support and grow your work for many years.

Action Items

  • Send personalized thank you messages to fundraisers and recognize them in your newsletter or social media.
  • Ask devoted supporters to become volunteer leaders or help with a specific program or campaign.

Lifelong Evangelists

These donors are true members of your tribe, dedicated and with you to the end. While this is a small subset of your donors, their passion and commitment means you always have somewhere to start. These are the very first people you get onboard for a soft launch, the volunteers you can count on at every event, the people who are as much a part of your team as your employees.

Action Items

  • Continually thank and recognize these supporters for their extraordinary contributions.
  • Make sure they are the first to know about exciting initiatives and new ways to stay involved.

 

Finally, remember that most of your donors won’t reach the very bottom of the funnel, but that’s okay. When you understand how one type of donor involvement leads into the next, it will help you hang on to supporters and nurture fruitful donor relationships. Use these tips and insights to strengthen your connections with donors and move them toward greater investments in your mission.


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