nonprofit marketing

How to Use Nonprofit Marketing to Craft a Reliable Supporter Pipeline 

(You may want to suggest this post to your Marketing Director!) 

Your organization can leverage best practices in nonprofit marketing to consistently cultivate supporters and willing volunteers. We hope this information helps you create the kind of momentum needed to recruit and engage your very own loyal crew. 

Marketing is all about communication. It’s educating, asking, and listening.  

Perhaps you’ve heard of the ‘marketing funnel,’ where people who know little or nothing about your organization are floating around the top of the funnel. . Through a magical mix of social media, free events, whitepapers, annual reports, and so on those people become recipients of your services, donors, and volunteers.  

How Does a Funnel Work?

The ‘funnel’ is an excellent analogy when looking at the big picture and analyzing the journey that people take to know, like, and trust you over time. 

We know, though, as boots-on-the-ground participants, that there’s a LOT going on between the top of the funnel and when people arrive at the bottom as engaged participants.  

Hidden inside that funnel are a series of gears and waterwheels that keep things moving. And people don’t just fall out the bottom and stay! We need to nurture and engage them further by steering them back into the funnel, making it a continuous loop. 

Those in need of volunteers and donors must take responsibility for keeping this uninterrupted flywheel effect happening. They must be sure that a full cycle of volunteer information is included in their organization’s communication with stakeholders and follow some marketing basics to get the most bang for their efforts.  

These might include: pictures of smiling faces from the most recent event, information on where and how to sign up in the newsletter, a download of your annual report, etc. Nonprofit marketers should treat every occasion as an opportunity to educate, inform, and inspire. They are also chances to show off outcomes and opportunities for participation. 

While many have pushed the pause button on engaging volunteers, we believe there are compelling reasons why you should continue to keep volunteers in the loop and also engage new supporters. 

6 Tips for a Perfect Nonprofit Marketing Funnel 

So, how do you build and make the most of a nonprofit marketing funnel that works? Below are six steps we recommend. 

Tip #1: Do Your Nonprofit Marketing Research 

Begin by gathering intel on who your most active supporters are currently.  

What days and times work best for their continued participation? What inspires them to serve? What do they find most compelling about your cause?  

If you’re not sure, ask! This can be done directly, with a survey, or indirectly, by keeping count or using volunteer tracking reporting data. The most effective way is to have live conversations. That way you can read facial expressions and body language and follow up with deeper questions. 

Listening to your team provides great insight as to WHY your volunteer opportunities work best for your biggest fans.  

Develop Volunteer Personas as You Explore Their Big “Why? 

crystal ball seer

Sometimes the “why” provided offers your next path to successful recruitment. For example, you may learn that potential volunteers are most active right after school drop-off, there may be an ample supply of interested volunteers at the school each morning. Now you know where to hand out those flyers to connect with busy parents. 

Knowing the source(s) of current supporters can show you where to find future helpers. Learning what motivates them to serve will show you how to draw them in.  

With this information, you can develop specific personas of optimal candidates. You can envision their age, employment status, hobbies, what shows they watch, music they listen to, etc. Now, you can communicate with them through the correct channels, with messages that appeal to them. 

For more on building a volunteer persona, see our post on it here HERE. 

Tip #2: Know Their Stage 

In marketing, there are basic customer stages: Awareness, Consideration, Evaluation, and Commitment that determine what communication is important to get a potential customer to the next stage. Your potential volunteer participants have very similar stages.  

Using the Nonprofit Marketing Funnel to Build a Volunteer Pipeline 

nonprofit marketing funnel

The Awareness stage will require the most communication, since you’re teaching someone something new. Each subsequent stage should take less.  

Remember, as you’re guiding prospects along through the stages, that what is common knowledge to you may be brand new to them. Have patience and know that it takes seven or more instances of seeing something to actually retain it. 

Use the personas you’ve developed to speak directly to where they are in each of the stages. Do you need to develop awareness of your need for volunteers, or begin even more basic, with the services you provide and how volunteers play a role? Speak to what your potential supporters need or want to know. 

Another marketing term is the “Call-to-Action” or “CTA”. A CTA can be as subtle as “read more here” and as blatant as the BUY button on a sales page.  

1,000 visitors a day to a website wouldn’t move a business forward without the customer taking an action. People might take the initiative if their interest and desire is very high. Most of the time, though, they need to be told what the next step is.  

As you’re cultivating your team of active supporters, make the next step in the process easy for them. Give them a clear call to action and specific next steps to join. But keep it simple. Confusion is the enemy of action.  

Tip #3: Speak to their “Why?” 

With the market research you’ve done on your ideal volunteer, you should know the reasons they want to participate with your organization. For some, it will be about supporting your cause. For others, it will be about how serving others makes them feel, or how their status in the community is perceived.  

Whatever their reasons are, those feelings will be what inspires them to action and commitment. So, the communication you’re putting out at all stages of the funnel should appeal to those feelings.  

This can get tricky, as you probably have a long list of whys from your people. This can quickly become overwhelming. So, you’re not going to hit every prospect with each message.  

What this does do is give you a variety of ways to appeal to prospective supporters even as you’re repeating your core message. This means your recruitment social media posts can address different aspects of the experience, eventually hitting on the one or two that inspire someone to action. (And the person creating your content will be glad their calendar is filled with ideas!) 

Based on the outcomes your current successful volunteers derive from their experience, show prospective supporters that they too could enjoy — camaraderie, a sense of purpose, contributing their skills, community recognition, etc.. You’ll want to put this message out, both subtly and overtly, on a regular basis to catch the attention of people at various levels within the funnel. 

Tip #4: Be Specific 

Would you buy the product that ‘gets your house clean’? Or would you rather have the ‘economical, naturally-sourced cleanser that disinfects and leaves a fresh, clean scent’? 


Above we talked about creating specific persona(s) for your ideal volunteer candidates. Now, let’s get specific about a few other things.  

A candidate with a great desire to serve your mission still needs to know what opportunities there are. Even the most altruistic among us would hesitate at ‘sign up to volunteer’ without knowing if this committed us to being indoors or outside, for two hours a month or all day on Saturday.  

In each communication, you’ll want to be specific about what volunteers are doing. The posting of an open volunteer opportunity is just as much a marketing piece as the volunteer spotlight section of the newsletter. Both should speak to the hours and expectations of the role.  

So, when you’re showing a picture of Raquelle, who is celebrating 10 years of volunteering with your organization, use the platform to tell any prospective volunteers who might be reading that she “… started out giving an hour each Thursday afternoon answering calls and found that her skillset could be better used cooking three dinners a week. After four years, she transitioned to a part-time administrative role, managing our four community kitchens, where she has found meaning in work after retirement, keeping the freezers stocked and the equipment up to date ever since!”  

Now, that’s a story that sells!  

Setting expectations from the start is important in your communication as well is in your relationships with supporters. Make sure neither side is disappointed to find that the basic requirements can’t be met. Use specific, descriptive language that is compelling and informative. 

For more on storytelling and messaging, check out our post HERE. 

Tip #5: Inspire Loyalty 

The gears keep turning, even once a volunteer is in the funnel.  

You know you need to keep them engaged and involved. After all, they’re not only getting the organization’s mission accomplished, but they’re also your best source of future supporters.  

This is where the flywheel comes into play. One success leads to another, leads to another and we get this funnel working like a well-oiled machine! 

Communication here is key. Maybe it means a newsletter targeted only to volunteers. Maybe you have periodic training sessions. Keep your active supporters aware and engaged through consistent communication.  

Marketers use tools like the hook and upselling to develop repeat customers. You have similar tools. These can be incentive programs or a step up or down in engagement levels.  

Levels of Volunteer Engagement 

volunteer levels of engagement

Make sure your team knows that there are options for doing a bit less or a bit more, rather than fading out altogether. Let them know what the organization’s future plans are, so they anticipate with you and plan their path.  

As with customers, ask for input along the way, whether it’s working on a special project or giving feedback to inform necessary changes. This helps people feel like members of a community. 

For more on building out a full digital marketing plan, see our post HERE. 

Tip #6: Cultivate Ambassadors 

Happy community members can become your best ambassadors and word-of-mouth is still some of the most powerful marketing available.  

When you have successfully marketed community service and volunteerism at your organization, your team becomes a tool that helps feed the funnel.  

As you can imagine, this takes some of the work out of the early stages of the funnel process for staff, and healthy word of mouth marketing by happy volunteers can help save you time.  

Instead of doing all of the Awareness marketing yourself, your loyal community can be getting the word out about your organization’s needs and benefits. 

Positive testimonials from your core team serve as excellent marketing to fuel Calls-to-Action for the next cycle.  

Nonprofit Marketing Funnels: Give Them a Try! 

As you think about building a pipeline of supporters for your next volunteer recruitment drive, think about ways you can communicate to potential supporters at every step of the funnel. 

If you don’t like the term “funnel,” consider this process a “volunteer journey.”   

Brainstorm ideas for content and activities you might use to build a volunteer recruitment funnel at your agency. Consider what you think might meet your volunteer’s informational and emotional needs at each step. Also, consider what you already have on hand and what you may need to create. 

By becoming more purposeful in your nonprofit marketing to volunteers, you will be able to build a fully staffed volunteer effort in no time! 

Deepen Your Volunteer Marketing Skills with a VolunteerPro Premium Membership 

volunteerpro premium membership

The doors are open, but only for a limited time.  

Top nonprofits are seizing the current moment to set up their volunteer marketing and re-engagement strategies so that they are fully prepared to staff up quickly once the COVID pandemic has passed.  

If you’re wondering what steps you need to take to be volunteer-ready, we can help. 

VolunteerPro Premium Membership is the only implementation system of its kind that not only shows you how to build an effective “what’s working now” volunteer strategy – but also how to tap the power of technology to expand your visibility and diversify your base of support. The time is now to set the stage for high-impact volunteer talent for your good cause. 


Doors close February 17 at 2pm Eastern.