NGOS: How to develop a marketing strategy to nurture existing donors


April 13, 2019

 Customer relationship management for nonprofits is not easy. Their lead nurturing strategy, rather than a funnel, is a continuous engagement cycle.   

You may be familiar already with the steps of the Inbound Marketing methodology.


In a funnel of attraction, conversion, closing and delight centered on the client rather than the product, you can turn strangers into visitors, leads customers and -finally- create promoters of your brand, with a series of engaging and remarkable content offers.

In our experience, many companies feel just comfortable reaching the Closing stage, where their leads turn into customers, overlooking the delight stage of their customer relationship management and marketing strategies. 

If there is an area where failing to nurture existing customers can backfire, it’s nonprofits.

According to HubSpot,

“Just because someone has already written you a check doesn’t mean you can forget about them! Inbound companies continue to engage with, delight, and (hopefully) upsell their current customer base into happy promoters of the organizations and products they love.”

We may have driven awareness and conversion, and successfully managed to end our summer fundraising campaign.  We may have attracted more website traffic and grown your database, converting prospects and visitors. Do we go back to square one? Some NGOs focus so much on raising funds and awareness for one particular campaign, and they inadvertently kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.

How to develop a marketing strategy and optimize donor relationships

Angus Jenkinson, Branko Sain, and Kevin Bishop, from the Center for Integrated Marketing at the UK's Luton Business School, have studied how to optimize communications for charity brand management. They have found significant performance gaps from NGOs regarding:

  • Coherence between promise and delivery.
  • Consistency and coherence across contact points and organizational units.
  • Quality databases and data.
  • Effective tools for communication-mix planning and lean marketing processes.

 As a consequence, foundations face:

  • Fragmented or contradictory customer/ donor experience,  between advertisement and service delivery, from campaign to campaign or across the organization.
  • Marketing professionals in communication discipline silos.
  • Professional training fragmented into discipline fields. 

To optimize communications, they suggest:

  1. Adopting an open tool that uses a single framework for all communication.
  2. A team partnership and shared mission between all internal and external agencies.
  3. A process of working together that enables the best solution mix to be developed rather than initially prescribed.

 Not just a nurturing a database, but a relationship fundraising tool

 A good way to streamline the conversion and delight of future and existing donors is Inbound Marketing. Its methodfocused on demand generation and lead nurturing, can provide automation at the same time that it empowers foundations to develop a quality relationship with all stakeholders.

Fundraising consultant and bestselling author Ken Burnett coined the term Relationship Fundraising as

 “An approach to the marketing of a cause which centers not around raising money but on developing to its full potential the unique and special relationship that exists between a charity and its supporter."

 Developing this potential shouldn't focus just on a database. Laura Weir and Hibbert Sally, from the Department of Marketing of the University of Strathclyde, has also studied customer relationships for NGOs. They concluded that using a database “is not enough, by and of itself, to improve effectiveness in building donor loyalty.”

 “As in commercial situations, to succeed, charities need a relationship with the donor that extends beyond the traditional, one-way, impersonal one.”

In fact, they found that those fundraising departments in which marketing, relationship marketing and database marketing were adopted "had witnessed much better effectiveness gains since the purchase of their database than those departments where various marketing principles had not been taken on board.”

Inbound for nonprofits

Emily Logan, Director of Acquisition and Retention at Care2, and HubSpot blogger has extensively used inbound for their programs. She reflects that:

“Converting donors is less about persuasion and more about relationship building—much like dating,” she says. “You’re at the get-to-know-you stage, where you’re both learning about who the other is and whether you want to take further steps.”

  For nonprofits, Emily Logan suggests that “rather than asking for money right away, create other methods of engagement or conversations that give supporters a chance to get to know your organization and build an emotional attachment to your work and mission. Then, by the time you’re asking for cash, it isn’t such a hard sell.”

With Inbound Marketing, then, nonprofits can focus on both the close and delight stage, to:

  • Inspire advocacy.
  • Generate donations.
  • Grow membership bases.
  • Use personal data and onsite behavior to segment databases.
  • Develop targeted email nurturing campaigns.
  • Create compelling digital experiences.

Juliana Nicholson, Marketing Manager for HubSpot, reflects on HubSpot's Crash Course on Inbound Marketing eBook that:

"The best supporters of your nonprofit are the individuals who already know and support your work. If you’ve taken the time to build your audience base, recruit members, and collect donations, the last thing you want to do is let these already-strong relationships fall through the cracks."

"Inbound marketing, at the end of the day, is a means of building long-term relationships. Great options for continued retention include implementing referral programs, educational pieces for current members, segmenting newsletters, opportunities for networking or even a kit that shows them how to launch their own donations campaign—the list goes on."

In fact, the Inbound Methodology’s Delight Stage has a series of tools that can prove especially valuable  for nonprofits:

  • Surveys: to figure out what beneficiaries and donors want to know and desire, and revise whether or not you’re providing stakeholders the information they’re looking for.
  • Smart Calls-to-Action: to present users with offers that change based on buyer persona and lifecycle stages. (Imagine delivering the same value offer to a reluctant donor prospect, and a lifetime fundraiser. That would be tragic). 
  • Smart Text: to provide existing customers with remarkable content, tailored to their interests and challenges.
  • Social Monitoring: to keep track of the social conversations that matter to you most, listen out for your customers’ questions, comments, likes, and dislikes – and reach out to them with relevant content.

How does your organization approach its relationship with your existing donors/customers? 

Related Reads

Learn how to utilize every tool inside of your HubSpot.

Prepare your teams to take ownership of HubSpot and make the most out of your investment.
Start your onboarding

Subscribe to our blog

The best information about inbound marketing, sales, guides and migrations.

Related Reads

4 Tips to Diversify Your Content Strategy

Content marketing is an exciting strategy for those who need to inform, provide orientation and raise awareness to their prospective ...

June 15, 2019
Why Use Content Clusters

If you think your content strategy has what it takes to capture more leads, then think again. You’re probably applying the wrong ...

November 06, 2017
Paid ads vs organic traffic

What can one say that hasn’t been already saying in the good ol’ paid ads vs. organic traffic debate?

October 25, 2017
Demand generation GO with inbound - Leads aren't Pokemon to seek out

GOOD NEWS! … leads exist, they are really out there, but there's no need to go walk onto a highway and get hit by a car to actually find ...

July 09, 2017