How To Use Growth Funnels To Grow Your Audience and Revenue

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By Jen Newmeyer

For many fundraising professionals, there is an intense focus on the annual gift solicitation. We aim to design the perfect email, craft the most inspirational letter and carefully select imagery that best represents our campaign. We thoroughly evaluate timing and audience segments. We obsessively report on open rates and the cost to raise a dollar. We work to optimize for the best conversions.

All of this is tremendously valuable to improve the effectiveness of a campaign. But what is happening before the ask? And what are we doing after the ask? How are we acquiring new donors and how are we retaining them?

About eight years ago, I was pondering a next step concept. Once someone signed up for our newsletter, attended an event or made an online donation, what was the next step? How could I get them more involved in our activities and better aligned with our mission? I started to incorporate additional steps and intentional calls-to-actions in our communications. But my concepts were not solidified until a marketing colleague presented the growth funnel model. It so clearly demonstrated my intentions that I immediately adopted it into the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.

The Growth Funnel Explained

The growth funnel is a framework with a defined set of stages to guide users along a journey utilizing intentional touch points to enhance and strengthen relationships. Ultimately, a growth funnel works to convert prospects into partners.

There are various stages or levels that can be used when creating a growth funnel model for an organization. Some of them can be as simple as a three-step process — such as attract, engage and convert. But I have found a six-step framework to be the most effective:

  1. Introduction
  2. Cultivation
  3. Acquisition
  4. Value exchange
  5. Stewardship
  6. Ambassador/partner.

When evaluating our efforts before the solicitation (the value exchange level), we focus on activities that introduce our mission to new audiences and cultivate them to acquire a piece of information, such as an email address, mailing address or phone number. These are the prospecting and acquisition stages. After the solicitation, we transition to efforts of stewardship and work to convert our audiences into ambassadors, advocates or partners.

Prospecting and Acquisition Stages

Let’s consider a year-end campaign. We will likely send a number of solicitations on Giving Tuesday and continue a steady stream of communications through Dec. 31. But what activities might we use to attract new audiences and reinvigorate lapsed donors before the avalanche of gift requests?

In some of my former campaigns, I would start circulating recipes and how-to videos for the holiday season, along with surveys and trivia related to holiday topics by email and on social. As the weeks progressed and we incorporated our solicitations, we continued this type of cultivation strategy with testimonials from other donors and holiday greetings from staff members.

Other pre-campaign activities could include contests or giveaways. You could post fast facts, host scavenger hunts or offer networking opportunities through creative community events. Consider offering downloadable holiday tips, a collection of stories or other content related to your mission. Utilize a Google Ad Grant to increase traffic to your website or invest in paid search.

Stewardship and Partner Stages

Moving to the latter end of the funnel, after the donation is complete, we focus on deepening the relationship with our donors through stewardship and developing partners and advocates. My post-campaign activities included special thank-you emails and social media posts that reported on our final results. I utilized social media ambassadors to share the success of the campaign. We followed up with stories of impact and hosted special recognition events early in the New Year.

Additional stewardship activities can include personal notes from the CEO, open-house tours, or discounts to community partners and retailers. Consider further cultivating these long-term and dedicated supporters by creating an ambassadors program or club that not only offers exclusivity to the members but also provides additional influencer support to increase awareness of your efforts. Of course, consistent communication is key to retaining these donors.

With your next campaign, incorporate a prospecting element and take a closer look at your stewardship activities. Make a habit of this additional evaluation. As you work through your annual campaign calendar, establish templates from which you can build and expand your future initiatives.

Once you start thinking about acquisition and cultivation toward the beginning of the funnel and stewardship at the end, you will naturally move into crafting a fully comprehensive annual giving campaign. This type of effort will meet the needs of all audiences along the funnel from casual observer to enthusiastic partner. Your initiatives will not only become more successful, they will flourish.

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