How to convert online supporters to donors

publication date: Dec 18, 2012
author/source: Corinne Berman
Online communities represent a huge untapped pool of potential donors.  With the increasing cost of acquiring new donors through traditional channels, more and more nonprofits are looking at their online supporters as potential new donors.  Stratcom has been converting online supporters to donors for several years and we have identified some key success factors as well as pitfalls. Corinne Berman

Who do you want? 

The first step is to identify the target audience you want to reach online.  Whether you decide to use a petition, pledge, survey, newsletter, registration or event to acquire online supporters, the key is to make it simple and easy for them, ideally with one issue linked to one action. 

From the start, you should segment your online supporters as much as possible. This will ensure you are able to determine which online communities represent the best opportunities for conversion.  

And above all, you need to test

What do you want to know? 

The single most common error is not capturing enough information to be able to communicate offline with online supporters.  Most organizations only collect email addresses and postal codes.  We recommend that you capture street addresses and ideally phone numbers, and include a comprehensive opt-in clause.    

If you are worried that asking for too much information will decrease participation in your campaign, develop a two-screen landing page model that captures basic information on the first page and more detailed but optional information on a second screen. 

As the Next Generation of Canadian Giving Report demonstrated, just because someone engaged with your organization online does not mean that is the only way you should communicate with them.  Supporters want to communicate in multiple channels, so you should reach out to them online and offline as well through phone and direct mail.  

How do you build relationships? 

To move supporters from participating to giving, you need to build a relationship first.  We recommend implementing an e-welcome series of four to eight communications that starts with a thank-you and includes electronic versions of recent direct mail packages, e-newsletters, subsequent calls to action, and ultimately a soft ask.  If possible, you should coordinate your online conversion campaign around a direct mail campaign so that you can include online supporters in the mailing.   Then, to get the highest conversion and even obtain monthly donors, you need to phone them. 

What influences response rate? 

Response rates can vary significantly from campaign to campaign.  However, there are actions you can take to maximize the response.  
  • Firstly, you should steward supporters as much as possible and then immediately call them to become a donor - ideally within 3 months of their taking action.  
  • The more active the participation (i.e., petition vs. registration), the higher the response.  
  • The urgency of your appeal and strength of the call-to action will also influence your results.   
  • Finally, the more engaged the supporters are with your organization and cause (i.e., how many actions have they taken), the more likely they are to become donors. 
You won't really know what works until you try.  However, we do know that the majority of online conversion campaigns we've implemented have been successful.  The potential for a new and sustainable revenue stream definitely outweighs the small risk of a test. 

To download a copy of our AFP Congress Presentation about converting online supporters to donors, go to 

Corinne Berman is Director, Marketing & Sales at Strategic Communications Inc. (Stratcom). She has over 20 years experience designing and implementing unique customer strategies, focusing on customer relationship management and strategic planning for small and large nonprofit and for-profit organizations.  Corinne also taught economics at the college level. She holds an Honours and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario (Ivey).

Contact her at 416-537-6100 x 68,

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