Bridge Conference Session Review: “A Deep Dive into Online Acquisition ROI”

July 17th, 2014 · Conferences

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RMI Direct’s Senior Vice President of Nonprofit Brokerage, Debbie McLain, attended The 9th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference in Maryland recently. Here’s a review of her favorite session on online acquisition ROI.

I attended a session entitled "A Deep Dive into Online Acquisition ROI" at the Bridge Conference last week and thought I'd share it with everyone. The speakers were Tatiana Marshall from, Vanessa Kritzer from League of Conservation Voters and Marc Ruben from M+R.

Vanessa from the League of Conservation Voters discussed how the organization grew their online subscriber file from 200M in 2006 to 1.1MM in 2014 using paid online acquisition through petitions, (like and, non-paid acquisition (by partnering with other organizations to send action e-mails), utilizing other websites (like Mother Jones and, and social media site, Facebook.

Here is how their efforts stacked up. started off very strong but online acquisition has fallen off for them more recently. On the flip side, started off weak, but has gained more momentum recently.

And Facebook? It started out with very poor results in the beginning but has seen big improvements in 2012 and 2013. So what are they doing to see these improvements for their online acquisition ROI? They are modeling lookalike donors. They use Facebook for current issues and hot topics; whereas they have more success with other paid online acquisition sources using animals, which is what their fundraising focuses on.

Fundraising Tip: Make sure you can supply your suppression files so you're not paying for names you already have.

She recommends analyzing ROI by source, timing, and petition/issue. Petitions that match your fundraising do better than hot topics and current issues (except on Facebook). The League of Conservation now gives credit to actions when calculating ROI since it takes so long to convert people to donors.

Fundraising Tip: Have a plan for what you're going to do with your newly acquired people. Develop an onboarding process.

Their best source for acquisition is e-mail cross promotions (where another organization sends an action request on your behalf to their e-mail list and you do the same for them). There is no cost and it is not a list swap.


How Email Cross Promotions Work:

  • You send their action request to your list.
  • They send your action request to their list.
  • The lists are deduped first so that you and they are only sending to unique names.
  • You do a small test first to see how many each organization needs to send for an even trade. If it’s still off, you can resend to more names to make it fair.
  • The names that are acquired thru this method donate at very high rates.
  • They have raised $1.3MM since 2007 on cross promotions.
  • They found that this did not offset the performance of their e-mail list (sometimes it even did better).
  • They suppress major donors and last 60 day subscribers.
  • Doesn't have to be the same size organizations.
  • They only use petitions/action requests, no asks.

Marc from M+R spoke next and he did a great job of keeping the audience involved at the last session of the last day of the conference on a Friday afternoon. Kudos to him. He had everyone playing their boxes of Nerds and singing a song about acquisition to the tune of "Cecilia." It was hysterical! 

He pointed out that online acquisition is not tried and true and that they are exploring various channels. Marc went on to say that they haven't cracked the code yet in display advertising, but that some large organizations are making it work.


Facebook Lookalike Modeling:

  • You can use as few as 200 matches for modeling but bigger lists build better models.
  • Facebook uses demographics, interests and many other variables (not just Facebook data). 
  • You can give them just e-mail addresses but they will soon be able to model on just name and address.
  • You can choose the specific demographics and criteria you are targeting if you're trying to reach a new/different audience.
  • Acquire prospects through call to action; doesn't have to be advocacy; can be other action items.
  • Use a simple action that lands them on a simple page requesting little info. Can do a post action donation landing page.
  • Results are not guaranteed but it is a low investment.

Tips to Improve Your Online Acquisition ROI:

  • Using a SIGN button did better than without.
  • A picture of the Capitol building did better than a picture of a cute kid.
  • General CPA = $1.30 to $1.80
  • Sidebar ads don't work for acquisition but do work for retargeting your donors.
  • Newsfeed does better for acquisition but costs more.

About Debbie McLain:
 Debbie is an RMI partner and leads our Nonprofit List Brokerage division. She works with large national and regional fundraisers, and nonprofit magazine and newsletter publishers, and is a master at direct mail planning, list and campaign analysis, and negotiating incredible pricing for her clients.