How To Run A NonProfit Donations Machine Just Like Presidential Campaigns Do

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Regardless of politics, anyone who has taken on the mission of helping to drive donations for a nonprofit or charitable organization has to be in awe of what the Obama campaign managed to accomplish with their fundraising efforts. They were able to raise large sums of money while putting a previously unheard of emphasis on small donations from individuals and expertly tailored their “ask” based on previous behavior like,

  • Has this individual donated before?
  • If they have donated before, how much did they give?
  • How interested are they in our message?
  • How do they respond to calls to donate specific, small amounts?

In this post I’m going to show you — step by step — how a nonprofit can easily create a simple, scaled down version of this type of behavior-based donation machine. 


Step 1: Hit the White Board

Draw out your plan of attack — what you want to accomplish, who you want to target and how you’d like to react to the actions of your potential donors. Here’s a sample that I will be following in this tutorial:




Step 2: Build Your Toolbox

In order to set up this campaign, you will need the following:

  • A WordPress website (version 3.5+)
  • A paid MailChimp account (you will need the ability to send autoresponders and this is NOT included in the free version — but good news, MailChimp extends a 15% discount to nonprofits)
  • An ORBTR account (note the discount available for nonprofits)
  • A account (the free account may be sufficient but if you’d like to try one of their paid accounts, note that they have a 14 day trial)
  • Gravity Forms for the payment (you will need a developer license, $199/yr to make this work but note that if your web developer uses Gravity Forms and has the appropriate license, they can set this up for you under their account provided that they do all the work)

No, the tools I’ve listed here are not free… But they all come at an outstanding value, and taken as a monthly average these tools will cost less than $125/month — a drop in the bucket compared to what you could bring your organization in donation revenue if you are successful. Note also that none of these services require a long-term commitment except for Gravity Forms, where you will pay for your 1-year license up front.


Step 3: Create a Landing Page

A landing page is essentially a dedicated place to send traffic for a specific campaign. If you need to better understand the whys and hows of landing pages we have a few tips here and, if you need a landing page template, ORBTR comes with one.

The main call to action on this landing page should be to complete an online donation of a specific amount ($25 in my example) and you will create a Gravity Form to accomplish this. The Gravity Forms developer’s license comes with integrations for, PayPal Payments, PayPal Payments Pro and PayPal Pro — all of which are easy to set up.

When you create your form, make sure that you have activated ORBTR integration in the form settings:


Be sure also to create a specific “Thank You” page for this campaign — it doesn’t need to say much more than Thank you for donating! and configure it as the confirmation page for your form under Form Settings > Confirmations in Gravity Forms.

NOTE: ALWAYS test your forms before your campaign goes live!


Step 4: Create Your Lists in MailChimp

In order to accomplish everything in my map, you’re going to need 3 email lists which I have named:

  • Donor Call
  • Abandon
  • $25 Donor

You don’t need to use my names, of course — use whatever nomenclature works best for your plan and is easy to remember.

Just log into your MailChimp account, click “LISTS” in the sidebar navigation and then “Create List” in the upper right-hand corner. You may get a nag asking you if you intended to do this, but proceed with creating your list.


Create all three lists and upload the subscribers you wish to target into the Donor Call list.


Step 5: Create Your Emails

Depending on your preference, you can create all of your messages using the MailChimp interface, or you can create your email messages and autoresponders in WordPress using ORBTR. Either way, you will need four messages to handle the first phase of this campaign and they not need to be fancy — plain text/html emails that look like regular, personal emails work just fine for this application and oftentimes have better conversion rates than more stylized/graphic email newsletter templates.

Each email does not need to take more than 5-15 minutes to create.

Email 1: This is the first email in the sequence and should discuss not only the importance of contributions to your organization but also why you’re asking for donations now. Be concise, engaging and specific. Consider also using a simple but eye-catching button as a call to action that links to your landing page:


Also be sure you insert the ORBTR tracking code into the button and any links that appear in the email. Specific instructions on how to do this are included in the ORBTR documentation and in this blog post (scroll down to the section called “Tracking Leads from Email Clicks” for guidance). Schedule this email to send tomorrow to the “Donor Call” list.

Email 2: This message will essentially be a reminder or restatement of the first. The call to action should still be very prominent. Schedule this email to send one week from tomorrow to the “Donor Call” list. If you follow the chain of events in the map graphic, this email will ONLY be sent to those subscribers who did not donate in the first 7 days of the campaign.

Email 3 (Autoresponder): This message should be an impassioned plea from the director of your nonprofit discussing why you would so appreciate the recipient’s $25 donation. This will be sent to subscribers who visit the landing page but who do not successfully complete their donation to your organization. Schedule this email to send 1 day after subscribers are added to the “Abandon” list.

Email 4: (Autoresponder): This message will be sent as a thank you to individuals who do complete their donation. It should be personalized and designed to make the individual feel wonderful about their gift. Remember that for many people who donate to nonprofits, the monetary gift is less important than how giving makes them feel — we’re going to want to ask them for more in the future so we need to make sure they get that nice feeling. Schedule this email to send 1 day after subscribers are added to the “$25 Donor” list.

There are two other emails on our map, but we are going to ignore them for now.


Step 6: Set Up Your Automation Logic with ORBTR and Zapier

We’re almost done! Only a couple of steps and a few more minutes of time investment separate you from a live campaign!

Under the ORBTR menu in your WordPress admin area, select New Orbit. We will create two Orbits to segment our visitors in this campaign. The first one should detect individuals who click through to the landing page but then fail to complete the transaction (online marketers call this “Abandonment”). Set this up just as depicted below, where the page urls correspond to the landing page and thank you URLs for your campaign:


Then repeat the process with the following settings to detect successful donations:


Next, log into Zapier and create a new Zap (Zapier’s term for an automated process) as follows:


Choose ORBTR from the column on the left with the selection “New Orbit Action” underneath and choose MailChimp on the right with the “Add Subscriber” option selected. Then Continue.

Next, you will select your ORBTR and MailChimp accounts — or connect them if you have not done so previously. When you get to Zapier’s Step 4, filter your Orbit actions as I have done below:


In the next step, create your MailChimp subscriber and add them to the Abandon list you created earlier. The fields with the ORBTR planet icon next to them can be populated with data from ORBTR.

Once this Zap is live, repeat the steps to create zaps that:

  • Add subscribers to the  $25 Donor list when added to the donor orbit, and
  • Removes subscribers from the Donor Call list when added to the donor orbit.

Once this step is complete you have everything you need to launch this campaign!


Step 7: One Week Later

You have some time to address this portion, but essentially at the end of the first week after the first email goes out, we are left with two main segments: those who gave us money and those who did not. You are going to want to create two more versions of this campaign for them.

In a few weeks to a month, you are going to want to target the Donor Call list again (remember, we created a Zap to remove subscribers who donated) with an email and a landing page inviting them to to donate at a lower price point, perhaps $10 or $15. They didn’t bite on the $25 offer so perhaps it was too steep for them. And that will kick off a process similar to the first six steps outlined here.

Similarly in 6-8 weeks, we are going to want to  reach out to the $25 Donor list with a new campaign, this time asking for a larger donation, maybe $35 or $40. And once again, this will start a process by which we ask for contributions, ask again if we were unsuccessful the first time and then ultimately adjust our ask to the folks who do not respond.


Need Help?

Have questions about how to make all this work? Shoot us a note or stop by our virtual office hours every Wednesday at 1PM EST.




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