The Science of Nonprofit Marketing and New Donor Acquisition

A modern marketing geek, crossfitter, Michigan State alum and tex-mex obsessed. Marketing Manager at Blackbaud – follow Clare @clareinatx


Math and science were my least favorite subjects in school. After college, I was determined to find a career that would help me avoid numbers, measurements and calculations at all cost. I decided Marketing was the way to go – it was artistic, content-driven and right up my alley – and I could avoid math. Instead, when I landed my first Demand Generation Marketing role, my career took an unexpected turn back toward math and science…

I quickly learned that marketing was unmistakably a science – it’s the science of discovering what people love about your mission, product or services and creating that love connection if it isn’t there already.

And nonprofit marketing isn’t the warm, fuzzy, “discipline” it once was. If you’re in the business of encouraging donors to hand over dollars to support a mission, you likely get it. Today, your job is much more focused on the percentage point in converting potential supporters into long term donors than being focused on the color of the new logo or the catchy headline.

Successful nonprofit marketing, especially new donor acquisition, must be targeted, tested and measured to generate a positive return on dollars invested:

1. Target

It’s imperative that you understand the “ideal”  donor you’re trying to appeal to.

  • What’s their persona today and how is it evolving?
  • How do they consume information?
  • Is that a smart phone or direct mail piece tucked in their pocket?
  • Are they tweeting or yelping or blogging or reading magazines?

Make sure to get out there and talk to or survey your current and prospective donors to understand exactly how they think and like to be communicated to. Then, build your communications to suit.

2. Test 

Make sure testing is part of your day-to-day process.

It doesn’t have to be super complicated – it can simply be A/B testing of subject lines, using graphics or not, or even trying sends on different days of the week to your constituency database. Over time you will begin to see the variable that makes the most impact on your campaigns.

3. Measure

It is important to have a system that enables you to accurately track and measure data. Having tangible metrics vs. assumptions enables you to optimize your campaign efforts. 

And once you have the data – make sure to use it! 

If you are testing what variables work most effectively, use those results to inform your next campaign.

Do some science.  Understand your variables, then test, measure and document results.  It may not be the marketing job you thought it was, but it’s just as fun and fascinating as ever – and your return on your investment means a huge return to your cause.