The integrated marketing journey from advocate to donor | npENGAGE

From Advocate to Donor in 4 Steps

By on Mar 7, 2013


An essential part of many nonprofits’ missions is to advocate for public policy at the state and federal level.

A tool to influence elected officials’ opinions has been the petition, initially door-to-door, and then in direct mail packages, and now online. As part of the petition’s expansion has been the growth of commercial sites such as, and

So for arguments sake let’s posit that you have from 100 to 100,000+ petition signers. What is the best path for cultivation of your relationship with this activist?

Quick questions: do you know what issue they responded to and do you know when they responded and in what channel?

Before we answer those questions and start campaign planning, we need to assume the following predicates:

  • Your organization has a database that allows you to track which issue the supporter cares about,
  • Your organization can track and report on how many actions a given supporter took, what period of time was and in what channel the actions occurred.
  • Your organization has an effective communications plan to supporters who do take an “action” so they understand wins/losses/ties.

Now if any of the above is seriously deficient, then skip the rest of the blog and address your strategic or systematic challenges for the next 3 to 6 months then come back and re-read the remaining 400 words.

There are three channels that work well for converting advocates to donors: email, direct mail and telemarketing. And all three channels have a place in the integrated marketing paradigm to convert advocates to donors. We will focus on email and telemarketing conversion as an integrated solution.

So you ask, Dennis, where do I find advocates? We are not like the Humane Society, or the N.R.A or Bread for the World. How do we get started?

There are two general paths to follow for asking for people to advocate for your organization; organic and non-organic harvesting of advocates. Again for this blog I will presume organic acquisition of petition signers.

1. Start the Advocate Relationship

Organic harvesting often includes petitions you place on your web site about a critical issue that you and your supporters are passionate about. The better the story and the visual/video the more people will join your petition drive. (Tip: have a forward function to the petition can be forwarded to a friend of your new advocates.)

What should you ask for in the petition response form, you ask? At a minimum you need an email address and a postal or zip code so you can direct the petition to the proper elected official. You’d next like their name and address. And remember the more you ask a stranger the more likely they are to abandon the petition. Same rules here as for donation form optimization – KISS and ask a little; you can append the other data later.

2. Cultivate the Relationship

So they filled out the petition, what do you do next, you wonder!

First craft a welcome communication series; by issue, and by source (web site, commercial site). You’ll need this for messaging, reporting and testing.

What follows assumes they are new advocates to your organization, as an existing supporter/advocate will have a different treatment strategy.

Now as you learned in kindergarten or your mother told you – quickly and politely send them a thank you for their action. Do create an email that is reasonably tailored to their issues, a standard bounce back email is a waste of email. Then on a periodic basis email them updates to the issue; yes even if you lost or there was a deadlock. This speaks to the beginnings of a relationship between you and them.

And as part of the welcome series, email them the day after they took their action (do test timing) with a welcome email telling them about your organization and why they (your supporter) are important. Tip: Test asking for additional information such as issue interest or if they wish to be a volunteer; just one or two pieces of information for you to append to the constituent record of your database.

3. Convert to Donor

Now in no more than three days later, push an email asking them to become a monthly donor. Include a brief but very strong case for support that maps their donation to impact on your organization, and consider leveraging video to ignite a passion for the supporter about your organization. In the donation form test ask strings and accept credit card only. Remember the higher your “ask” the lower the response rate.

A day later send them an update to your last email reminding them of the important of their advocacy and their financial support. You need both!
Taking this multi-step approach you can expect a .3-.7% response rate with the average gift depending on what money you asked for in the donation form.

4. Add Another Channel

Fair results but not great! Combine channels for an integrated approach and do even better.

Build and launch a telemarketing campaign that is to your welcome series non-respondents. This should be a separate campaign with segments mapped to the issue they responded to, and ideally with number of actions the supporter has taken, their gender and age. Ask the supporter again for a monthly gift with only credit card contributions.

The result will be a response rate by combining channels will span from 3 to 8%, again ten times higher than email alone. The linking of email to telemarketing boosts response rates and your success.


Lastly, sign on to Slideshare and search under converting advocates; there are some great decks in there to leverage for best practices. Also reach out to the members of IMAB for ideas on how to address the challenge of correct channel to the correct supporter at the correct time.

Til next time keep testing and sharing new ideas! And email or comment on the blog with thoughts and questions.


Dennis McCarthy, Director of Enterprise Sales at Target Analytics a Blackbaud company, has been serving nonprofits for more than 30 years in the design and implementation of integrated marketing solutions; and building and managing technology solutions for some of America’s largest and most complex nonprofit organizations. Prior to joining the Blackbaud team, Dennis managed Convio’s strategic services practice, comprised of consultants in business analytics, design and information architecture, Deployment Services and Agency Services. Prior to Convio, he worked at Epsilon as a general manager and deployed a successful custom CRM solution for a national health care organization with over 50 affiliates. He is married and has a great son who is a senior in college.

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