“Lead generation.” That’s a fancy term you hear business marketers throw around like it’s common vernacular. They even shorten it to “lead gen,” ‘cause those last three syllables simply take too much time.

It’s a buzzword, for sure. But at the same time, the principle behind it is crucial for your nonprofit. Without lead generation, you run the risk of losing relevance and ultimately shutting down. And before that freaks you out, know this: It’s something you’re probably doing, just without using the lingo. Most nonprofits are engaged in lead generation, but they refer to it as outreach, raising awareness, looking for new donors or recruiting volunteers.

Before we get into the details, though, let’s have Marketo define it for us, so we’re all on the same page:

Lead generation: The marketing process of stimulating and capturing interest in a product or service for the purpose of developing a sales pipeline. It allows companies to nurture targets until they’re ready to buy.

Swap out “product or service” with “your mission” and “sales” for “donor,” and there you have it: Lead generation is the process of capturing the interest of potential donors. It’s what needs to happen before the actual conversion, where a donor hands you their hard-earned cash. Something or someone needs to pique their interest in your cause first.

What is a lead?

Any stranger or person that shows interest in a brand’s service or product—or in your case as a nonprofit, your cause, mission and the services you provide. By interest we mean some type of engagement on social media, like a comment on one of your posts, a visit to your website, a sign up for your emails or maybe an inquiry into your mission or cause.

Basically, a lead opens up a communication path—it’s an invitation to engage, or indication that someone’s interested, like they’re saying, “Tell me more.” This gives you an opportunity to reach out, and it won’t seem weird or off-putting because they initiated interest in your org first. Lead generation is less intrusive (and let’s face it, scary) than calling people who don’t know you or haven’t shown interest in any way—a term you might be familiar with called “cold calling.”

The beautiful thing about a lead is you can customize your content to address their interest. Maybe someone inquired about volunteer opportunities on a Facebook post. Or a website visitor checked a box to learn more about estate planning. Maybe someone commented on a particular blog post you shared on LinkedIn. In each situation, you can make educated assumptions about what these people are interested in and respond with relevant messaging—something that’s far more effective than just throwing a blanket message out there and hoping it lands on someone who’s interested.

A lead is only part of the bigger donor life cycle—but it’s an important part. It’s where the courting begins, and they determine if the two of you are a good fit.

Why is lead generation important for my organization?

Simply put, you are not going to grow if you only get donations (or volunteer hours) from the same people. As important as donor retention is, eventually all donors will move on in one way or another—so generating new leads should remain a top priority for any organization that wants to grow and remain relevant.

Let’s break it down like this: To understand why lead generation is so crucial to your org’s success, think L-E-A-D. As in, lead generation does these four things:

1. Legitimizes 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 efforts make people aware that you exist, but they also present evidence that you’re a solid, sound organization that people trust, whether you have a staff of five or 500.

2. Educates people.

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.

3. Adds to your 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 those lists robust, you want to be in the business of consistently adding.

4. Diversifies your prospects.

Even if your nonprofit is succeeding in some areas, you want to push for lead generation in others. You might 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.

PRO TIP: It’s important to think of lead generation as a constant and consistent initiative. Occasional lead generation isn’t enough—nonprofits don’t survive without outside help, and you want to be adding to your funnel on an ongoing basis, not once or twice a year.

How can I generate leads?

This is the million-dollar question. Now that you understand what lead generation is and how important it is to your org’s survival, how do you actually go about doing it?

Download our ebook about how to attract new donors and volunteers through lead generation. You’ll learn why customized content is king and ideas for what to create, six practical steps that’ll help you secure more leads, how your top supporters can be your best lead generators and more.


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