At its simplest, lead generation is “attracting new customers to your products or services”—or in the case of nonprofits, attracting new donors to your cause and mission. It’s the first step in the process of acquiring new constituents, when you make that all-important first impression and they begin to explore if the two of you are a good fit.

And while “lead generation” isn’t a term you hear much in the nonprofit space, it’s no less crucial for nonprofits than it is for businesses and for-profits. Without lead gen, not many businesses or organizations would continue to grow, or even exist. It’s an ongoing challenge that requires consistent efforts.

To understand why lead generation is so crucial to your org’s success, think L.E.A.D. With the right approach, lead generation can do these four important things for your nonprofit:

1. Legitimize your org.

“We have a cause. Constituents. A website. People who support us. Social platforms. Original content. Thought leadership in our space. Experts in our field.” Lead generation makes people aware that you exist, yes, but it also presents evidence that you’re a solid, sound organization that people trust, whether you have a staff of five or 500. That thing I mentioned about making a good first impression? Lead gen is all about that. When you’re trying to pique people’s interest in your organization, you want to tug on their heartstrings, yes—to ignite a passion for what you do and who you serve. But you also want to reassure potential supporters that you’re established, trustworthy, and, well, legit enough to support. A good lead gen plan can establish you as a solid and support-worthy org without going to great lengths to prove it.

2. Educate people about your cause.

Lead gen says, “This is who we are, what we do, and why you should care.” You might get tired of hearing it, but to draw in new constituents, have a quick elevator pitch down rote and on repeat so that you’re consistently educating potential donors about your cause. If you can develop a succinct but powerful one-liner that sums up your org’s mission in a way that’s easy to get, bravo! Then post that thing everywhere—on your website, in your emails, on your brochures, business cards and everything that touches the public.

Half the battle sometimes is figuring out how to explain what you do in a way that the general public can understand, sans lingo and industry terms. How many mission statements have you read that left you scratching your head wondering exactly what they mean once you strip out all the jargon? Developing a compelling one-liner is an important part of your lead gen efforts—you want people to get what you do at a glance.

3. Add to your prospect list.

Obviously, when you generate leads, you’re adding to your potential donor list, part of which will eventually become your actual donor list. To keep both those lists robust, get in the business of consistently adding. One mistake that both nonprofits and for-profits alike make is to consider lead gen a “now and then” type of activity. “I’ll run a lead gen campaign in the spring, and then another during the holidays.” But if you’re only trying to reach new donors a few times a year, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities in between!

Think of lead gen as a part of your marketing plan that’s consistent and ongoing—it doesn’t have starts and stops; it’s continuous. If you have a blog, you’re adding to it regularly. You’re always creating relevant content. You’re putting prospects into a welcome email series, so they get timely messages from you. You invite them to connect with you on social, so you have regular opportunities to engage. You always want to be asking, “What can we do to attract and engage with new people?” As important as retaining your current donors is, don’t forget about attracting new ones and filling the top of that funnel.

4. Diversify your prospects.

Even if your nonprofit is succeeding in some areas, you might want to push for lead generation in others. You may have enough volunteers, but need new donors. Or you may have a good pool of recurring monthly donors, but want to draw in larger donors who can afford to give when it’s time for a big ask. On the flip side, you might want to attract a younger but less affluent crowd that’s willing to donate over time and on a consistent basis, which can help your budget planning.

Your lead gen efforts can be what you want and need them to be, customized for the type of audience you want to attract. This is an important thing to remember: Before you can successfully draw in the type of people you want on your list, you need to define exactly who those people are—and that will help you develop the right kind of content and lead generators to attract the right bunch, however you define that. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll likely appeal to no one.

Are you wondering how this all applies to your specific organization? We can help answer that. If you’d like more customized guidance on the topic of lead generation, our nonprofit marketing strategists would love to help. Simply sign up for a free “chat and strat” session, and they’ll talk with you about how to attract the target audience you’re after.

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