Grow Your Fanbase: Nonprofit Lead Generation Tips & Examples

In the nonprofit sector, we’re constantly buzzing about email marketing best practices, and SMS is entering the conversation more and more, but we don’t talk nearly enough about how to grow your organization’s contact list with the right people to email or text. Collecting new contacts is one of the most effective ways to stay relevant, raise more money, and grow your social impact.

So let’s talk about proven tactics for nonprofit lead generation. If you’re more of a visual or audio learner, you can check out our webinar recording on this topic.

What is lead generation, really?

Simply put, any marketing effort designed to collect people’s contact information is lead generation. This could be through organic social sharing, search engine optimization, or paid digital ads. 

Lead generation is also an opportunity to form a bond with prospective supporters. Think of lead generation as a first date with someone who cares about your cause. It’s a chance to give them something they want, build trust, and see if there’s real chemistry there. By activating Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion like reciprocity, authority, scarcity, and social proof, you can make a meaningful first impression that leaves them wanting more. 

How much do leads cost for nonprofits? 

According to the 2023 M+R Benchmarks, the average cost per lead for nonprofits last year was $4.39 using Meta ads, $9.45 using Google and Youtube ads, and $12.60 using TikTok ads. I’ve found that a nonprofit’s cost per lead using digital ads can vary widely based on their cause area, the time of year, and how compelling their offer or request is. With some all-star campaigns, I’ve helped clients generate leads for as little as 60 cents! 

Here are some of the most effective nonprofit lead generation tactics:

People love learning more about themselves and the causes they care about. We’ve all taken an insane number of quizzes because they’re fun! (If you’re wondering what kind of potato I am, it was always going to be the french fry.) Check out these nonprofit quiz examples from The Adventure Project and Feeding America for two completely different approaches that are both successful. 

Educational content
memoryfox storytelling black history monthCreating educational resources like ebooks, guides, and videos is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and provide value to people. I love this example from charity:water as well as The National Breast Cancer Foundation’s robust resource library.

Advocacy campaigns
Asking people to sign a petition, share a message, or display a sticker for your cause can be an easy way to turn interest into action and bond with people who care about your mission. Successful examples include the ubiquitous Human Rights Watch equality sticker and this petition campaign I ran for Humanity & Inclusion.

Direct ask
Simply inviting people to join your list is the easiest lead generation tactic there is. If you want to try this, it’s essential to back that ask up with consistent, enjoyable email content. Here’s an in-depth walkthrough of how I approached this with Meta Ads for The Antarctic & Southern Ocean Coalition.

Tips for success:

To generate high-quality leads at a low cost and guide your new contacts to become true fans… 

  • Run lead generation ads on the platforms where your target supporters hang out the most. 
  • Create a valuable lead magnet that solves a user need and shows off your organization’s brand personality—like these MemoryFox Canva templates!
  • In a welcome email and/or text, clearly communicate what people can expect now that they’re on your list. 
  • Automate a thoughtful email welcome series (ideally 4-6 emails) so you’re not ghosting after a great first date. 
  • Ask new leads for more information about their preferences right away by sending them a poll or a brief survey, then use this information to personalize their experience moving forward. 
  • Tag leads acquired from the same campaign as a Cohort in Google Analytics 4 so you can track their engagement and donations over time. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t share a lead magnet of my own. You can download my free digital campaign planning workbook for a step-by-step guide to designing a nonprofit lead generation campaign with a clearly defined audience, budget, and goal. 

Now, go grow that fanbase! 

About the Author

Caroline Griffin
Marketer on a Mission

Caroline helps nonprofits grow their fans and funds online. At the start of her career, Caroline led the marketing and communications department at a statewide public health nonprofit in Texas, helping the organization double in size. Next, she joined Mighty Citizen as their first marketing strategist, where she developed digital strategies for nonprofit, higher education, association, and government clients. Since 2020, Caroline has teamed up with dozens of nonprofits across a range of cause areas to conduct research, refine messaging, improve supporter journeys, and generate leads and donations online. You can catch Caroline’s tips by connecting on LinkedIn and signing up for her monthly newsletter, The Good Stuff.