If you run any part of a direct response or nonprofit digital program (well...you’re reading this blog), you probably know that you can get a lot of bang for your buck through online supporter acquisition. But let’s set aside online whitemail acquisition for a moment -- those individuals whose first known connection with your organization is through a donation online -- and focus on prospects.
What prospect acquisition strategies can you use to build the biggest list without sacrificing quality? Which sources drive the most donations? How can you also measure the value of advocacy? And what does conversion of online advocates to donors look like?
I’ll address the first question today, with more to come in part 2.
Unpaid list growth tactics are the place to start, not only financially, but several offer the benefit of an ongoing stream of prospects with low maintenance.
Sign ups: Yes, old school email sign-ups are still a thing, and still provide some of the highest quality prospects you can get. It also helps to “activate” them through any kind of low bar action beyond clicking a link.
Referrals: These come mostly through people who have actually just taken action, signed something, or made a commitment, and who are motivated to get their friends on board. ShareProgress offers some nifty tools that are optimized to boost referrals. Of course the technology has a cost, but it falls more under infrastructure than advertising.
List chaperones: List swaps, or chaperones as they are often called, are all the rage these days--and for good reason. These consist mainly of organizations sending one another’s petitions to their own audiences (either paid, or metered to create an even swap). And, while they can be a little more work, joint petitions (vs. swapped ones) and campaigns like the Union of Concerned Scientists’ “Got Science” quiz can have solid returns, too. The investment in staff time isn’t negligible -- though you often can leverage existing work -- but the payback in qualified prospects can be exceptional if the creative is strong.
Sub-branded content: This takes a little more explaining, but essentially, if you have maxed out what you can do on your main program, consider innovating new digital streams targeted to specific audiences. Sierra Club launched a purely online digital advocacy program called Sierra Rise, which focuses its campaigning strategy on audience interest and response. Where to focus is determined through extensive issue and message testing, following up only what really works and moving on quickly from tests that flop.
If you’re looking for immediate financial ROI, you want to drive people directly to donations through most paid channels, but paid sources can be a great source for reaching prospects and advocates, too.
Petition (and other) direct acquisition sites: Don’t let the cost to acquire a prospect dissuade you until you test. Some sites that charge a bit more can do so because they provide better quality leads. Not everything works for everyone, so test a few angles over a few months or a year, and find out which will work best for you. But don't get married to any one source, and DO test old sources again -- quality can change a lot in a couple of years.
News and media sites: You’ll find that some news sites -- often the more partisan ones -- offer petitions with email sign up. There are even a few that offer this service at no charge because they generate value and loyalty with their targeted audiences by supporting well-aligned organizations.
Social advertising: Facebook ads for acquisition are still a bit more art than science for most (not all) nonprofit practitioners, but they are worth digging into. It’s relatively easy to get started, and you can target on a wide range of parameters including lookalike audiences. Applications like Action Sprout are also useful to capture names in-site.
“Traditional” digital advertising: Search, donation form visitor retargeting, household IP targeting, and cookie-based predictive models -- the options can be overwhelming, but a small test will go a long way. Always consider what the minimum test size is. If you don’t have this expertise in house, this is also where hiring consultants can be the way to go.
Once you’ve identified a source is fit for your organization and goals, there’s still always room to improve. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and a solid content strategy are fundamentals to supporting organic traffic and advertising. Web optimization testing tools like Optimizely are relatively straightforward to get started with -- though you’ll want to spend thoughtful time on which tests have the greatest potential.
More to come in part 2.
What other strategies have you used to drive large volume donor prospect acquisition? Share your thoughts in the Comments section!