Do you feel like you’re going in circles trying to get people to engage with your nonprofit? Well, it turns out that for your engagement strategy to work, a circle is the right path to be on.

Funnel failure

The marketing funnel has long inspired companies and nonprofits alike to create multiple touch points that will lead people along a linear path from knowing your organization exists to taking some sort of action.

But, the marketing funnel is a 100+ year old idea that’s showing its age. With the many, many ways we now have to reach and engage audiences, the linear funnel doesn’t work for companies selling a product, and it sure isn’t working for nonprofits trying to get people to take action on a cause they care about.

Sensing funnel failure, the smart folks at McKinsey & Company designed a new model called the consumer decision journey. Instead of the funnel’s linear path, the decision journey is a circular process. Though more complicated, the consumer decision journey emphasizes relationship building and is more relevant in the age of social media.

Commenting on a recent Beth Kanter blog post, I suggested that it would be interesting to see the “valid metrics matrix” for measuring nonprofit social media applied against the consumer decision journey model, rather than the funnel.

But, translating for-profit business models to the nonprofit sector is always a bit precarious. How can the consumer decision journey work for do-gooders?

The supporter decision journey

What happens when the trigger is the impulse to care? We can turn the new circular model into the “supporter decision journey.”


Catalyzed by the trigger, your audience will first consider, discovering that your organization is working on the issue they care about. Then, they will evaluate whether your organization is moving the needle on the issue and is financially sound by reaching out to their peers, doing online research, reading your website, and more. Then, having been convinced that you’re doing good work, through a moment of action they’ll tell you, “I want in!”

Once they’ve taken action, you can create an even deeper connection, which will generate a loyalty loop. You’ll help them enjoy supporting your organization, bond with you and your community, and advocate, spreading the word about the issue and your organization. And, while you’re at it, you’ll help them bond some more.

(Props to CauseVox who has also noodled on this subject.)

Inspiring action and loyalty

For nonprofits, the driving goal isn’t selling a product, it is inspiring individual action that, when combined with actions of others, can make change happen. Certainly, a desired action is sometimes financial, like making a donation. More often, the actions nonprofits want to inspire are intangible, like educating people on the issues or exposing them to new solutions.

One action isn’t the end-all for nonprofits, it’s just the beginning of a relationship that extends and deepens over time. Applying the supporter decision journey, you could (and should) try to turn some of your Facebook “likes” into volunteers, volunteers into donors, and donors into supporters who champion your cause and spread the word about your organization.

If your organization is diligent about communicating and engaging with your audiences during the supporter decision journey, you can create a virtuous cycle of caring. The people you engage will be loyal because they’ll know that your organization can and does make a difference in the world.

What do you think of the supporter decision journey? How can it inform your strategies for your organization’s branding, messaging, and communications?

. . .
Lauren Girardin is LightBox Collaborative’s tactical curator. She’s looking forward to applying the supporter decision journey to social media strategy and measurement.