The Critical Elements of a Nonprofit Marketing Funnel


In today’s fundraising environment, there’s more competition than ever before for donors who will become long-term supporters of any particular cause. There’s also a dizzying array of channels that nonprofits can use to reach those potential donors, creating a complex communication and marketing landscape unlike what they’ve dealt with in the past. Put together, those factors present a major challenge to nonprofits that they must overcome to accomplish their stated goals.

The most crucial part of those efforts, though, is creating a centralized nonprofit marketing funnel that can capture potential donors coming from their multichannel efforts and convert them to supporters at a high rate. To do so requires an understanding of the best ways to shepherd a new prospect through the stages of your conversion process. To help nonprofits in this area, here’s an overview of exactly what a marketing funnel is, and the elements needed to create a simple one that pulls in donors.

What is a Marketing Funnel?

Put simply, a marketing funnel refers to the potential donor’s journey with your nonprofit, from their first contact to donation and beyond. Ideally, that journey, if sketched out on paper, would look much like a funnel. At each stage of the process, the total number of people involved decreases as you separate high-quality leads from everyone else. When done well, every person who reaches the bottom of the funnel will become a donor. When done perfectly – they’ll become an evangelist for your cause.

Although the overall concept of a marketing funnel may sound simple, creating one that works well isn’t. This is especially the case for the majority of nonprofits, where there’s no “product” to motivate action among their target market. For that reason, a nonprofit marketing funnel relies much more heavily on fact-based issue messaging and emotionally engaging content to drive results.

The Stages of a Nonprofit Marketing Funnel

Just like a sales funnel, the purpose of a nonprofit marketing funnel is to convert the maximum number of leads into donors to your organization. As prospective donors move through the stages of your funnel, some will lose interest and others will move further through the process. Here’s what each stage entails:

The Prospect Stage

The top of the nonprofit marketing funnel is the prospect stage. This is where everyone who makes contact with your organization begins their journey toward becoming a donor. Prospects may enter the funnel from a variety of places, including visits to the nonprofit’s website, a live event, a pledge drive – anywhere the nonprofit might interact with the public at large.

The idea at this stage is to provide plenty of information about what the nonprofit does and why it exists. This makes it clear what value the prospect might get out of learning more about the organization’s mission and prepares them to move on to the next stage of the funnel.

The Capture Stage

As the name suggests, the next stage of the funnel is designed to capture the contact information of the prospects who have decided to look into your organization a bit further. No matter the platform they’ve engaged with (web, phone, mailer), the idea is to entice them to provide their details so you can engage them further in various ways in the future.

The best way to accomplish this is to give every prospect a clear value proposition in exchange for their information. Examples include:

  • Free eBooks or guides related to the nonprofit’s mission
  • Discounts for events sponsored by the organization
  • An informative periodic newsletter
  • Giveaways or sweepstakes

At this stage, the most important question to ask is if you’re providing something of enough value for the average prospect to willingly join your contact list. If the answer is yes, you should have a steady stream of prospects proceeding to the next step in the funnel.

The Engagement Stage

Once your nonprofit has a contact list made up of prospects who have already expressed an interest in your cause, the next part of the process is to re-engage them with an outreach campaign. This may be the most difficult part of the process to get right, for a number of reasons. First, if your outreach campaign is too aggressive, it will turn your nonprofit into a nuisance and will drive prospects away. If it’s too subtle or not focused on driving a specific outcome, your contacts will remain engaged but have no reason to become donors.

One of the best ways to strike the right balance is to rely on email drip campaigns. They’re easy to track, easy to personalize, and allow you to segment your prospect list according to their specific interests. It’s important that your re-engagement efforts begin the moment that the prospect joins your contact list, with periodic contacts at specific intervals thereafter. The idea is to push them toward further interaction with the nonprofit, and ideally, a donation.

The Conversion Stage

If your engagement efforts succeed, the next part of the funnel is the stage where the prospects convert into donors. It’s the holy grail of fundraising – the moment when all of your work turns into funding for your cause. In most instances, you can see this part of the process by measuring the analytics of your donation page and using referral data to trace visitors back to your email drip campaign or other outreach efforts.

Just getting prospects to your donation page is only half of the battle, though. Once they arrive, you still need to give them the final little push it takes to get them to commit real dollars to your cause. This is best accomplished by presenting them with a powerful story that details exactly what their donation will help with. This connects the act of giving with a specific outcome – so they’ll know they’re making something happen other than filling the nonprofit’s coffers. Once they donate, though, it’s time to move on to the next part of the funnel.

The Evangelist Stage

At this point, it’s time to turn every donor into a true supporter of the cause. Immediately after their donation, each new donor should be presented with a page that thanks them for their help – but also that gives them easy means of sharing the nonprofit’s message with their friends. For that reason, no post-donation page would be complete without social sharing buttons that let the donor tell their friends about their support for your cause. This not only reinforces the positive feelings of the donor but also further spreads the nonprofit’s message far and wide.

You shouldn’t stop there, however. After a donation you should go right back into another drip email campaign, this time detailing how the donor’s money is being used. This level of transparency helps to turn one-time contributors into recurring donors, which is essential for long-term fundraising success. Plus, everyone loves seeing the results of their generosity – even if they’ll never admit it out loud.

A Self-Sustaining Process

If everything has gone well to this point, your nonprofit should have a viable, profitable, self-sustaining marketing funnel. It should be one that not only boasts a high conversion rate, but also generates new participants via the social sharing of the prospects you’ve already converted into donors. There’s no need to stop there, though.

There are plenty of ways you can fine-tune your new nonprofit marketing funnel to drive even better results and create a long-term engine for the success of your nonprofit. Before long, you’ll be calling it a conversion funnel because it works better than you’d ever imagined possible at turning every new contact into a donor. And at the end of the day, you’ll be doing a world of good for the cause you’ve worked so hard to support – and helped recruit legions more to the cause.

Right Mix Marketing