Developing a marketing strategy for nonprofits that speaks to distinct donor needs

Don’t you hate when you’re talking to someone and it doesn’t feel like they’re even listening? Well in regards to your donors, it’s not because they’re mean or don’t like you, it’s often because you’re not saying what they need to hear in that moment.

We hate to be the bearers of harsh news, but the truth is, if you’re not strategically speaking to your donors at several points in the donation process, you’re very likely to lose them. And we know just how much work you put into getting in contact with them in the first place. It’s time we develop a marketing strategy that specifically targets donors at several stages of their journey.

First, what does a “buying cycle” look like in nonprofit terms?

In order to understand how to effectively speak to your donors, you have to consider how their path to donating works. In generic marketing, this is called the buying cycle. It tracks the psychological state of the buyer from initial contact, to purchase, all the way through your follow up. Once you understand this, you can create a targeted marketing strategy as you can predict what your buyer needs to hear at each stage.

The same can be done for a nonprofit.

What does a buying cycle look like for nonprofit donors? What should you do with this information?

There is a pretty predictable flow each donor goes through from start to finish. Again, this is a general marketing strategy, but we can help you apply it to your unique situation as a nonprofit.

1. Awareness

This is before any action has been taken. It’s when the donor first realizes there is a need for donations and feels a pull to help. This is also when they almost need your nonprofit to come in and tell them they matter; they can contribute.

Ex. After Hurricane Harvey, several ads were posted to get people to contribute to those affected. Donors everywhere became aware there is a way they could contribute and assist in this tragedy through ads across the digital sphere.

Content that speaks to this stage:

2. Consideration

Now that your donor sees the need, they consider how they will help. It’s when the donor is starting to make moves and you need to be there with a clear message of how your nonprofit works when they come.

Ex. Donor starts actively searching on Google or social media feeds on how they can help donate to a cause. 

Content that speaks to this stage:

  • Infographics, charts, videos: Donors are not committed by any means – this means in terms of time as well. They aren’t going to take a lot of time to assess your nonprofit. You need to get your messages across quickly, in bite-size intervals. One of the best ways to do this is through visuals and numbers.
  • Highly searchable content: This is also known as “Hygiene” content or rather the blog posts and website copy, “aimed at drawing in consistent new consumers from search engines” (read more in this 3-part marketing strategy on video). When thinking through topic ideas to cover this content, think about questions your audience would type into a search and answer them directly. “How can I donate to __ cause?” Your answer: “Donate to __ cause by texting __ number” etc.

3. Preference/Intent

Time for your donor to get pickier. They are getting close to taking and action and are in full decision mode. This could mean your nonprofit is one of two or three places they are deciding between.

Ex. Donor has decided to donate, but they can’t decide between donating to a specific nonprofit or just to their church’s donation efforts

*Caveat: Obviously, it would be wonderful that this donor is donating to ANY nonprofit. It’s not really a competition. What you want to think about here is how you can show how your cause helps in a specific way whereas others may not. It doesn’t mean the other nonprofits’ causes aren’t as good as yours, but yours may be a better fit for how that specific donor wants to help.

Content that speaks to this stage:

  • Highlight how others have made an impact through your nonprofit. If someone is this close to making a decision, they need to have confidence in their transaction. This could be done through blog posts written on donors, social media ambassadors and testimonials.
  • This is the stage where the donor is most curious about specific facts about your nonprofit. Make sure this information is easy to find and an interesting read. This includes your about page, Q&A pages and maybe even a longer video from your founder or a person you helped.
  • Include a quick infographic or about page on how donations work from start to finish. Here’s how charity: water does it on their page “Why Water.” Or take a look at World Vision’s infographic:

    Infographic source: World Vision

4. Purchase

You put all the work in on getting your donor here, now make it easy for them to follow through to the end. Unfortunately often due to a lack of budget, this is where many nonprofits lose people.

Ex. Donor writes a check out to your nonprofit but needs to know where to send it and how it will be processed.

Content that speaks to this stage:

  • Be sure to test your forms and donation pages often and from different browsers
  • Make your contact information very clear and be sure to respond to inquiries right away. This is money were talking about here. They don’t want to hand it over to people who don’t even tell them what’s going on. Learn more on this from Classy in, “Improve Donor Stewardship with Amazing Customer Service.”

5. Repurchase

This is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle. Most nonprofits lose a lot of money here as they fail to effectively follow up with donors.

Ex. Donor was happy to help their cause, but they’re wondering if their donation was received and what specifically it did. Now they’re wondering if they should help again in the future. 

Content that speaks to this stage:

  • Follow-up emails are key here. Or even a handwritten note or phone call, when you have the time or support staff. Simply put, people want to be thanked.
  • Reports are also key for several folks. If you can send an update highlighting how your budget works and what donations do, people will have specific evidence of how they helped or even a person to visualize when they consider helping again. Some nonprofits set up donors with a specific child they sponsor so they can better see the relationship between their continuous dollars and the real-life person they support.

Concluding thoughts…

Don’t just write posts for the sake of writing. There are so many ways to really capitalize on your efforts. So how can you actually follow through on this? Our favorite resource is FREE and we even talk you through setting it up in “A simple guide to content marketing for nonprofits.”