iMission Institute Talks Nonprofit Advocacy and Donor Acquisition

When it comes to digital fundraising for a nonprofit, iMission Institute doesn’t merely count its success in dollars. Their specialty is nonprofit fundraising, advocacy, and marketing, especially on the digital front.

iMission recently completed a few months’ work with an environmental group that focused on the hazards of fracking, which is a controversial method of harvesting gas from the earth. Rob Leighton, iMission’s Founder and Executive Director, recalls that, at the start, the environmental group’s website was usable as little more than an “online Yellow Pages.” Leighton has found that many nonprofits—especially startups—use their web presence mostly as a platform on which to share their contact information and other basics that would have been suitable for a brochure. Though many people across the country are concerned with the hazards of fracking, this nonprofit was struggling reach those people and engage them online.

Utilizing the Google Grant was the quick fix to the issue of low website traffic, bringing the site from 800 visitors per month to 6400 in the matter of a couple weeks. Because fracking is such a relevant topic, it’s a fairly frequent Google search. Now, the environmental group was coming up in the search.

Secondly, iMission introduced the group to “no-cost action items,” which Leighton defines as calls-to-action that are “not asking for a donation, but giving people the opportunity to engage in some sort of learning or some sort of advocacy associated with the issue.” In the case of this nonprofit, this meant bringing people to online petitions and educational resources. It was largely through the use of these no-cost action items that iMission engaged the increasing website traffic, converted them to donor prospects, and ultimately converted a percentage of these to donors. It was in this way that iMission’s success was twofold: not only did they secure donations, but they also provided education and drove people to advocacy.

This process is a good example of iMission’s general strategy for the different nonprofits with which they work. iMission generally connects 3 to 15% of the people that they reach with a clear campaign appeal. This appeal drives people to take action, become educated, or give monetarily. To achieve this, Leighton emphasizes that the use of email campaigns, Google ads, and social promotions all play a role. In terms of initial acquisition, organizing, and community-building, Google ads and social ads are both especially helpful.

“List building is the first and foremost thing you try to do,” says Leighton. “With the online world—with Google Grants, Google paid, or Facebook—you are engaged. You know you’re engaging with people who are interested in what you’re doing…It gives you a list which is much more highly qualified than any you could buy.”

Then, once the list has been developed, a good email campaign is key.

“Not a single email—but campaigns that engage these folks over time, where you can see who’s engaging and make proper appeals both online and offline,” says Leighton.

Sarah Prager, iMission’s Digital Advocacy, Fundraising, and Engagement Associate, emphasizes the importance of low-cost action items throughout this process.

“Advertising a webinar, petition, or ebook over email and social is something that we’ve seen a lot of success with,” says Prager. “Sometimes it’s not a failure to spend more money than you get back.” There is value in action taken or education received.

Advertising “at” someone rather than engaging them is a crucial mistake, she concludes. Engagement often results from the process of advertising an educational resource, then getting an email address, and then making an appeal for donations. It takes more steps, but it leads to a better list of donor prospects. That list includes people who chose to opt in because they were interested.

Many of these engagement-seeking advertisements take place on social media. iMission will sometimes boost posts, but social media is also an apt place to nurture organic growth. iMission seeks to create “amplification committees,” or groups of people that amplify a post’s reach by liking, sharing, and commenting. When people engage with content, social media algorithms will bring the post up for more people and, ultimately, make more impressions.

Building community is not just about extracting dollars. It’s about engagement, advocacy, and organizing groups of passionate supporters, too. Whether they respond with generosity or by taking action, iMission’s advice is simple: find the people who care.