Shortly after hitting “End Meeting,” I opened up Slack and was greeted by a message:
"Hey Frankie—Have you seen our organic growth?”
I had just finished 5 hours of back-to-back Zoom meetings and made a mental note about the message and opened Outlook.
Before I could dive into my inbox, Christina caught my attention with this screenshot:
It was the heat of COVID-19 and I was so focused on making sure that every client was running a successful fundraising campaign that I hadn’t been monitoring trends outside of our current campaigns.
One of our clients was experiencing record organic growth—and it was outside of the current fundraising campaign that we were running.
I closed Outlook and immediately called my teammate and we dove into the data.
After a quick investigation, we discovered that two of our evergreen content resources had quickly started to rank on the first page of Google’s organic search results and were now generating a significant amount of traffic.
Over the years, we have found success in creating prayer-based, digital devotionals for faith-based nonprofits and in this context, we had just created a new Lenten Prayer Devotional for our client, Missionhurst, and had slightly updated their Easter Devotional.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the growth that we were experiencing was the start of an SEO inflection point—the moment you finally start to see an uptick in organic growth from your content efforts.
(Below is a screenshot of our client’s ranking keywords on google search in the past year. As you can see, there is a clear “inflection point” where their keywords increase.)
Connecting Organic Traffic To Our Fundraising Efforts
All this free growth was exciting, but we wanted to find a way to use this to acquire new donors.
Each of our ranking evergreen content resources was gated by a form in which the user downloads the resource in exchange for providing their contact information and opting in to future communications.
To connect these new prospects to our child sponsorship campaign for our client's MercyWorks initiative, we decided to leverage HubSpot’s marketing automation tools and create a simple email series. These emails introduced all new users sourced from these evergreen resources to our current fundraising campaign.
You know what happened?
These new visitors from organic search ended up becoming new donors.
Transforming Anonymous Website Visitors Into Donors
Especially in the nonprofit industry, I find it is difficult for organizations to comprehend what a content foundation can look like for their nonprofit and how it would nurture their prospective donors into supporting their specific missions. This becomes even more challenging when development directors are trying to convince board members of its importance.
To help explain, here is a visual story of how an actual donor named Matt found one of our clients (via Google Search), consumed their content, and then decided to change the life of a child in the Philippines by becoming a child sponsor—the goal of our client’s fundraising campaign.
Step #1 — Optimize Content For Google Search and SEO
Every time you create a landing page or blog post, you should have a specific set of keywords that you are targeting and strategically using in specific locations on your webpage, such as H1 Tags, Image Alt Tags, etc. When done well (and taking into account other variables like external links, user time on webpage, etc), your Google Search rankings will improve.
Matt began his digital donor journey when he searched on Google for “Via Lucis Easter.” Because our team spends time optimizing our landing pages and blog posts, one of our client’s blog posts was ranked on the first page of Matt’s Google search query results. This post highlighted our client's Via Lucis Easter Devotional Digital Resource — a prayer-based guide that we crafted knowing that this would resonate with their specific audience.
Step #2 — Leverage Gated Content For Donor Acquisition
Once a user arrives to your website from organic search, you need to provide them with something to do or with something of value. For many of our clients, we craft custom digital resources that prospective donors find relevant and compelling—so compelling that they voluntarily submit their contact information and agree to receive future communications from the nonprofit.
When Matt landed on the blog post, he discovered that there was a digital resource entirely dedicated to the Via Lucis, the prayer topic he was interested in. Matt gave our nonprofit his first & last name and email and received the digital resource.
Step #3 — Enroll Prospective Donors Into Welcome Email Series (with more content offers)
Depending on the channel from where a new contact comes from, we generally recommend nonprofits enroll a prospective donor into a specific welcome email series that is made up of similar, related content offers.
In this example, Matt has an affinity for prayer resources, so we sent him an email thanking him for downloading the Via Lucis prayer devotional and then sent him an email with even more prayer resources in case he was interested.
Step #4 — Nurture Prospective Donors with a Campaign-Specific Workflow
If you were to analyze Matt’s behavior over the next two weeks, you would find that it was anything but linear.
After we sent Matt the aforementioned email, he browsed the prayer resources and would periodically visit other pages on our client’s website, both opening emails and reading content — but never clicking on a link.
However, once we sent Matt a campaign-specific email, he decided to take a bigger step in his support of our client’s campaign fundraising initiative by clicking on the email’s main CTA: “Sponsor a Child.”
Step #5 — Have a Fundraising Landing Page With a Clear “Ask”
On the same day that we sent the campaign-specific email, Matt clicked the email CTA, read the landing page, and sponsored a child’s healing from sexual and physical abuse in the Philippines.
The copy on our landing page not only matched the email copy, but it was also very clear about what the need was and how his donation would impact the children who’ve suffered from abuse.
4 Ways You Can Start Building and Leveraging a Content Foundation
Matt’s entire digital journey from discovery to financial support took about 2.5 weeks.
This nurturing process can and should look different for each of your supporters depending on their digital habits. You need to be able to meet donors where they are at.
The question is: do you have a marketing system that is flexible enough to adjust to people's digital preferences that also enables you to pivot and connect your campaigns to various trends as you discover them?
It should be mentioned that throughout the 2.5 weeks, our team did not have to do any additional work to drive Matt to donate.
Everything was preprogrammed, automated, and specifically planned to work based on the individual user's behavior.
Imagine the same thing happening, but instead of one person donating, 100 people donating. Imagine what you could do by scaling this nonprofit marketing effort.
Creating this system takes time and there are several steps to building the foundation. However, there are four principles or lessons to keep in mind if you want to develop a process that allows you to quickly pivot and automate the nurturing of prospective donors into lifelong advocates.
Lesson #1 — Build A Content Foundation With Nonprofit Storytelling
At the heart of each brand is a good story and it is your nonprofit’s job to make sure that you’re inviting your constituents into that story.
Most of our donor acquisition campaign strategies focus on building quality content that leverages storytelling and devotional-based resources.
In order to start generating the next generation of donors, you need to think about two things:
#1—What are your best stories? (and what’s the best medium through which to tell them?)
#2—What resources should your nonprofit create to delight prospective and current donors?
It is imperative to think about the kinds of content you can create to get your constituents to fall in love with your brand over and over again — whether it’s the first time that they are hearing about your nonprofit or their 30th donation.
Lesson #2 — Reduce Friction and Audit Your Content Pathways
You should think about your website as a revenue accelerator.
If your organization’s website is not providing you with a solid stream of revenue, you need to answer why and where.
Most likely (as it is the case for many nonprofits), you have many points of friction on your website that reduce your ability to generate new contacts and donations.
You can think of friction as anything negative to the user experience.
For example, dead links, low resolution/very pixelated photos, bad design or obnoxious branding, a navigation menu that doesn’t make sense, etc — these are all areas that slow down revenue generation for your nonprofit.
If you were to focus on improving the user experience and making it very easy for a user to navigate your website, you will find that it is much more likely you’ll drive users to do what you want them to do—subscribe to your newsletter, download a prayer resource, or even donate.
A practical way you can approach this is by listing out all the actions that you want a user to take and then working backwards to see how you can lead a user to take that specific action.
For example, if you want your users to download a devotional resource, you should identify the different ways a user can access the page that this resource is housed on. If you were promoting a landing page, a user could access that page through an email promotion, a social media post, through your homepage, or maybe through a blog post. It’s crucial that you audit your content pathways and make sure that there is a clear avenue for your user to find your content piece and that all possible points of friction are removed.
One thing that we always like to stress — if it doesn’t make sense to you, the owner of the website, it’s not going to make sense to your users.
Creating a frictionless experience also relies on providing the user with the necessary information when they are most interested (before they even ask for it!). If you build a content foundation on a powerful marketing platform like HubSpot, you can automate communications in a way that is both scalable and personal, which will make your nonprofit fundraising a lot easier.
Lesson #3 — Constantly Monitor Your Website Trends and Organic Traffic
As you can probably guess, after this experience, I started spending the beginning and end of each week looking at my client’s latest website trends, keeping my eyes peeled for anything that I could leverage for more donations or conversions.
From a practical level, you should know your own website’s top landing pages and which channels are generating the most organic traffic to these pages.
Not only are you then able to figure out how to connect that traffic to your current or evergreen campaigns, but you're also able to constantly see what is working and what is not.
Chances are you have 2 to 3 sources that are providing the greatest share of your ROI while 3 or 4 other channels are taking up most of your time without providing much revenue. If you’re able to recognize these areas, you’ll be able to focus your energy on what matters for the bottom line and transform your website into a revenue accelerator rather than a friction-filled digital space.
Differentiate Your Nonprofit
To close, I think it is important to mention that in the nonprofit space, there are many different organizations that are doing very similar work (at least to prospective donors). It’s come to the point where it can be difficult to distinguish one nonprofit’s mission from another’s.
As more and more nonprofits are starting to have a stronger digital presence, the ones that are able to create solid content foundations with amazing branding are going to be best positioned to capture the donor market. In the next few years, it’s going to be essential that nonprofits learn how to differentiate themselves while also taking the time to develop strategies for marketing automation that allow them to scale.
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