Successful businesses use the concept of ‘sales funnel’ to plan their operational processes and communication to support new customer acquisition and customer retention. This funnel presents the steps to customership. How could charities use this model to improve the number of donors/volunteers signed in, the frequency of donations and donor loyalty?

In its simplest form, the sales funnel consists of three phases: Attract, Engage, Convert. As an only small part of the people being attracted end up actually converting into paying customers – in your case donors – it is very important to try to reach as many potential people as possible. When your engagement activities are embedded into your operations, there are natural touch points for people to gain trust and learn what you do – and eventually move to towards the bottom of the funnel.


People need to be obviously aware of your charity and have some kind of a memory point to link to your name. Neuromarketing studies show that people need to hear, see and experience a brand approximately ten times before ‘buying’. Some studies say the number is close to 20 as the development of social media has exponentially increased the number of messages we are exposed to and gaining attention is much harder than before.

The first thing to do is to evaluate whether your charity’s work is communicated with well-defined, inspirational and memorable messaging. People are more likely to join movements and missions in which they can experience the sense of accomplishment, i.e. easily understand the difference they are making with you.

When people are giving money, time or products to a charity, they need to establish some level of trust on the chosen organisation. Raising awareness is already part of the process of building trust in the minds of a donor: Three-quarters of the public agree that they trust charities more if they have heard of them (Charity Commission, 2016). Although a charity might be larger and operate nationwide (or globally), promoting local operations is very important as it too increases the level of trust (Charity Commission, 2016).

Your beneficiaries, volunteers, donors and peer charities are in a very important role in taking your message to places and to people you would not have had access to otherwise. Try to define ways for them to share stories and incentify them to pass on the message. Collect and share testimonials through digital channels for a larger audience to see. Peer to peer recommendations play a vital role in local giving as 1/3 people cannot name a single local charity (TSB, 2016) and 92% of people in general trust friend´s recommendation over adverts or paid marketing messages. Especially in peer to peer fundraising and with smaller donations, a request or recommendation from a friend can take your potential donor right from the awareness point to conversion (=donation). 

The important second step is to invest in SEO optimisation of your website and content, so you can be found better. Charity platforms are a good way to increase awareness and the number of times the potential donor sees your brand and learns from you. However, the information on your site and platforms needs to be clear and updated in order to lead to engagement.

Thirdly, when you plan your website, your social media content and email marketing, plan the donor journey from attraction to conversion. When a potential donor is ready to engage with you (= react to your message or contact you), it should be crystal clear as to where to find more information, how to sign up to a newsletter, who or where to call or email, etc.

And last but not least. Use your brand, slogan and key messages whereever you can: staff and volunteer clothing, cars, buildings, events – and make sure people can instantly see/find the information about HOW & WHERE to engage with you. The most valuable and loyal donors are engaged through multiple channels and donate both online and offline (Charity Digital News, 2018).


Engagement in this context means that a potential donor is voluntarily acting upon your charity. This might mean anything from following you on Twitter to calling you to ask about volunteering opportunities.

As you now have an opportunity to communicate with this person directly, a few pointers to consider:

1) Share information of your speciality, the impact of your work and how your organisation delivers it (=how the money is spent and how you work). Remember, you have lots of insight to share – you are the specialist! Apply this insight to your website, social media, email and other communication. Find events, webinars, seminars to speak at. Using a story telling method in your communication, your can combine ‘heart and head’ to make your charity memorable and trustworthy. 

Donors think that charities underperform in areas related to the availability of evidence on impact and information on the use of donations. £665m in increased annual giving and £1,740m of switchable donations could be tapped into by UK charities that perform better with regards to this evidence and communication (NPC, Money For Good, 2013). As mentioned earlier, testimonials and stories are very powerful – not only facts and figures

2) Be clear on what kind of time, money, goods or service donations you are looking for and what you are not (if applicable). It is time-consuming for individuals and companies to look for charities that match their ability to help. Your website should cover all the resource categories and have clear instructions on how to take things further = how to help. Staff and volunteers answering emails, phone or meeting people should have this knowledge as well. When you serve a potential donor well, they will come back another time even if you were not a match first time round.

3) Use a CRM system – no matter what size or type your charity is. If you have a chance to get contact details of a potential donor, ALWAYS use that opportunity. Be GDPR compliant! Invest in a CRM system relevant to your needs (there are free ones as well!) so that you can properly manage the communication and responses…..and follow the people in the sales funnel.


There is always a balance in how much one should ‘push’ the donors and volunteers without irritating them. You know your donors better when it comes to their preferences and style of communication (varies within different donor types), but do not be too wary! When a donor is convinced you are the right charity to donate to or volunteer with, things should proceed very smoothly. 

Many of your current/former beneficiaries and their families and colleagues would be happy support you if they knew an easy way to get involved. If you do not communicate that your work is dependent on voluntary income, how could they know? Good examples are for instance Citizens Advice Bureaus, which most people think are funded fully by the government. Or many mental health services are thought to be part of NHS services. Even Wikipedia is run by a charity seeking voluntary income!

Communicating skills-based volunteering opportunities and special projects you need help with can attract those who think they are not a right volunteer profile for your beneficiary work. IT support, marketing assistance, strategic help, finance and legal support are just few examples of skills that can be obtained. Make it easy to come along for a shorter commitment.

Peer to peer fundraisers are valuable for many charities. They deliver a larger donation at one go. One could, however, think ways to turn these one-time donations into longer-term donor relations. A recent study shows, that in peer to peer fundraising only half of the people remember which cause they supported (The future of online giving, 2018). They rather support their friend, not really your charity – and therefore will probably not donate again as your charity has no memory point. This can be changed by choosing fundraising solutions that give space for your charity to tell your story and which allow access to communicate with donors directly (if they prefer).

The last and probably the most important thing is the thank you. This again leads to the importance of having donors and volunteers in your database but also making sure your organisation acknowledges also the one time donors and volunteers. Future collaboration opportunities can be presented at the same time. In business, it is five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one – surely this applies to charity donors and volunteers as well. So, honouring the ones you have onboard, making their donor and volunteer experience excellent and giving them easy to use tools and messages to take your message further to their networks is probably the most efficient way of gaining new donations.


whatCharity team


If your charity does not yet have a profile on, you can activate one by sending your charity name and registration number HERE. We combine Charity Commission data, testimonials, information on your charitable work – and how individuals and companies can help: time, skills, money, goods and services. whatCharity puts your charity on the map.

We at whatCharity collaborate with charities, individual donors and companies to improve our service. This donor story was shared with us just recently and inspired us to write this blog:

“I had quite a time-consuming project to find a home to a ‘preloved’, but originally expensive BRIO train track set of over 150 pieces, some LEGOs and 30 children´s books. There are several charity shops in my home town, which I frequently donate clothes and books, but this time I really wanted to give the high-value toys to either a family with financial strains or to a place where lots of children could play with them. Oh boy, how difficult this was! I really did not know any other local charities by name, than those with shops and started using Google. I found few charities working with families and children, but their websites did not have information whether they took used product donations or the listed items they accepted did not include train sets or similar. I called three places of which two I left a voice message only to found out they were not interested in the products when they got back to me (one of them 2 weeks later!). The third charity advised me to contact another charity, but due to the holiday season, they were closed. I thought to wait they opened (and had items in boxes in my home office for 1.5 weeks), but ended up losing the note where their name and contact details were – and could not remember their name anymore! So the journey continued. I physically went to a shelter for homeless and asked their advice. They recommended me to contact the local Salvation Army, which organises parent-child clubs at their location. Suddenly I remembered seeing their sign on a building downtown, but never visited the house or got to know their work. I photographed my items and sent them an email and left a voice message to their machine, and they returned in less than 24h saying they’d love to have my things. It was a great moment to take the goods to their clubhouse where I could see how they worked. They were so nice and thankful for the products that it really touched my heart. Next time when I see a Salvation Army donation pot and officers in the street, I will not walk past for sure! And I have already recommended them to several of my friends. “