Running a successful nonprofit requires attracting people to your cause and pulling in resources to keep your operations moving. There are a lot of ways to do this, like hosting events, fundraisers, crowdfunding campaigns, and more, but most nonprofit organizations are ignoring a method that much of the business community is already working to perfect: online funnel marketing.

The concept behind the type of funnel marketing I’m referring to is actually very simple. It’s all about turning people who visit your website into supporters and evangelists for your cause! 

Most nonprofits have websites by now, and many of them are very good – they’re attractive, they outline the issues and solutions succinctly, and they have a clear call to action – but they’re missing a key ingredient to spark action from their visitors at the top of the funnel.

Let me back up for a second and explain what a donor funnel is. A donor funnel is a system that takes your web visitors and converts them into active members of your community – whether it’s as donors, volunteers, members, or even online evangelists for your organization.

I break down the steps of the donor funnel in this video:

Here’s are the 4 basic steps of the online donor funnel:

  • Capture: Get web visitors into your system.
  • Nurture: Communicate with new followers let them know why you’re great and why they should get involved.
  • Convert: Ask for donations, volunteers, new members, whatever your organization’s goals are.
  • Partner: The ultimate goal is new activists for your nonprofit!

The Missing Piece for Most Nonprofits

That missing piece is actually offering something that visitors would find valuable enough to part with their name and email. I mean think about it, why would you just donate or sign up for ‘action alerts’ after a quick look at a website? Sure, people do it, but you have to give most people a reason to raise their hand and offer up their closely guarded email address.

You need to offer them something in return.

But what would that be? What are your visitors looking for when they visit your website? You should be able to safely assume that most people have an interest in your cause, or they wouldn’t have chosen to check out your organization. 

Let me use an example.

Let’s say you’re a nonprofit that works to reverse the effects of climate change. First ask yourself what your visitors would be interested in learning more about.

The chances are good that a short PDF or video like “5 Ways to Battle Climate Change on a Local Level” would resonate enough for the typical web visitor to part with their email to get what you’re offering. 

When they do, viola! They’ve acquired something that they see value in, and you’ve made a more personal connection with someone. Not only do they now know a bit more about your organization; now you can turn that simple email signup into so much more!

For example, now you can:

  • Send them an automated sequence of emails about key topics.
  • Send email newsletters or daily updates on what’s happening in your organization.
  • Keep them updated on upcoming events.
  • Ask them to donate or volunteer.

This is the simple concept that so many MAJOR players in the nonprofit world have ignored for far too long. I’ve looked at literally hundreds of nonprofits websites, including the many of the biggest nonprofit organizations, and NONE of them are doing this. It’s a huge missed opportunity! 

It’s actually really baffling that nonprofits haven’t caught on, because this is exactly what savvy businesses do to start a dialog with potential customers. 

Businesses understand that not every website visitor is ready to buy, so many offer an incentive to make a connection. Once they have that connection, they now have an email they can send newsletters, offers and email nurture sequences to, they can channel that visitor to specific sales pages or a membership site, they can remarket to them (those ads that follow you everywhere!) and much more. 

Nonprofits can do the same exact thing. 

Most website visitors will bounce away and never return again, but the visitor who signed up to watch your sustainability video, ‘5 Ways to Live More Sustainably at Home’ will be more likely to remember you because you provided so much insight and value to their life. Plus, you now have a forum to present your ideas essentially one-on-one, and you’ll be much more likely to have their ear when it comes time to call on their participation or donation.

This is what is described by Kivi Leroux Miller as a ‘benefits exchange’. In business, you offer a product in exchange for money. In the nonprofit world, the relationship between you and donors is actually very similar:

“We must also consider what’s called the ‘benefits exchange.’ What does the nonprofit get out of it, and what does the participant get out of it? Where is the real value to both parties? Nonprofits often get one step closer to achieving their mission, whether it’s reducing domestic violence or beautifying a neighborhood. Participants, on the other hand, often get some kind of emotional payback, such as feeling physically safer or knowing they’ve made their community a better place for their children.”

The donor funnel system I’m describing essentially kick-starts this relationship by initiated and initial exchange – a lead magnet of some sort for the participant’s contact information.


  • Think About Each Step in YOUR Donor Funnel: Look over your website. Are you offering an incentive to join your email list? Is there a compelling call to action? How are you following up with contacts?
  • Develop a ‘Donor Magnet’: If you’re not offering an incentive to join your email list or contact you, think of something to offer that your web visitors would be interested in. 
  • ‘Nurture’ Your New Contacts: How are you following up with people who currently sign up for your email list? Work on a 3-5 step series of emails that would automatically be released over a couple weeks. These emails should tell stories about your nonprofit to nurture this budding romance.


Most nonprofits want donors and other supports, but don’t necessarily consider how their donor funnel works. Just thinking about your web presence in terms of this funnel that channels people toward membership and donations is key. 

For more on the donor funnel and nonprofit marketing just contact me at and sign up for my free email course on attracting people to your nonprofit: