Fundraising Strategy: Acquire, Cultivate, Convert, Acknowledge


Ceres is a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy. Through powerful networks and advocacy, Ceres tackles the world’s biggest sustainability challenges, including climate change, water scarcity and pollution, and inequitable workplaces.

They have a goal to grow digital individual giving program; specifically by upgrading donors to their Ceres 1,000 donor community as well as acquiring new donors to commit to their mission.

The Outcome

Overall, year-end fundraising was a great success for Ceres—helping them drive a 61% increase in YoY revenue during November and December 2019. We saw an increase in the number of gifts and the average gift size.


Increase in # of gifts


Increase in average gift


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The Challenge

Multiple challenges face all nonprofits as they try and mature their digital fundraising strategy. In Ceres’ case their challenges were similarly multi-fold:

  • Acclimating their existing email file into participating philanthropically in Ceres’ mission while also not overburdening their networks with appeal emails.
  • Explaining how Ceres’ long-term vision of creating a sustainable future leads to deliberate actions by investors, companies, governments, and other key stakeholders actually moves the needle.
  • Competition within the environmental vertical from organizations that are responding in real-time to massive environmental disasters such as wildfires, both domestically and abroad, increasingly powerful hurricanes and tropical storms; all with devastating and immediate consequences for people, environments and communities everywhere.

Strategic Volume & Timeliness

Increased email volume during key moments of the giving calendar, when every email list will be competing for the top of inboxes, and it’s vital to stay top of mind. For each send, we employed strategic suppressions to remove recent donors, or those who should not receive a given ask. We developed an email framework that had flexibility. It’s crucial to plan ahead and make your own moments, but when political news breaks that affect the work fighting climate change, or storms strike, or there is a natural moment to weigh in, we take these opportunities.

“Always On” Themes and Ideas

Ceres’ Strategic Plan is oriented around four key global challenges: climate change, water scarcity and pollution, inequitable workplaces and outdated capital market systems. As such, the messaging around that subject permeated through all of the messaging in some form or another; ranging from a one-click engagement to longer-form programmatic cultivations that goes into more detail on the issues stated above. Similarly, appeal content relied heavily upon Ceres’ Strategic Plan with the expectation that our increased volume; a diverse, tactical approach to storytelling; and tailored treatment plans will ultimately drive increases in digital revenue in the short and long term.

Smart Segmentation

Understanding performance across key donor life-cycle based segments allowed us to refine and improve tactics that were working and abandon tactics that were underwhelming. Additionally, dynamic, activity-based segmentation provided us with opportunities to get the very most out of warm prospective donor segments. With a blend of grabbing creative and tried-and-true tactics. We started with meaningful cultivations, showing the impact Ceres had made for the planet and the climate, careful to tie this success with donor support. We seized the Thanksgiving moment to express deep gratitude to Ceres supporters, before a pivot to time-bound matching gift promotions.

Activity-based and Life-cycle based Segmentation + Targeting

Year-end fundraising is marked with an increased volume of email, especially solicitations. But we were careful that not every member of Ceres’ audience received the same messages, taking care to target specific segments with carefully calibrated ask language, tailored for mid-level donors, lapsed donors, leads, and recent donors. We also pushed this strategy one step further, developing emails customized only specific audiences, with their unique needs in front of mind, including a limited cadence for highly generous mid-level donors. Finally, we let the data guide us. Following a strong response on Giving Tuesday and 12/31, we launched transactional kickers to maximize return — a decision that paid high dividend.

Flexible and Topical Messaging Frame

To achieve year-end success, we laid the groundwork early, working to activate a relatively uninitiated email list with engaging cultivations and acclimating them to taking action via email — whatever that action may be. Further, we leveraged current events to underscore the tremendous stakes of Ceres’ work, and remind our audience they had the power to affect real and substantial change.


Come year-end, we harnessed the power of the year-end calendar, promoting our most urgent, lucrative asks on key days including Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, 12/30 and 12/31. Outside these tentpole moments — which we used to their maximum potential — we invested time and effort in cultivating the audience, expressing deep thanks for their partnership. What’s more, we ensured Ceres’ email list received a timely reminder of the importance of their work ahead of being approached for fundraising.

Multi-channel Alignment

It’s tempting to evaluate your fundraising efforts in silos, but the real story is much more complex than last-click attribution suggests. Web assets, social media posts, and emails work in tandem to build an echo chamber of complementary messaging. While a gift may be completed on email, it’s possible a person learned of a matching gift on social media, priming them to take action. A gift may seem “organic” — but it’s quite possible a donor found their inspiration to give on Twitter.

That’s why we created a careful echo chamber, utilizing a lightbox and robust email cadence, with a social media schedule to match. It’s no wonder that more than half of online gifts were processed outside specific year-end donation pages. A strong fundraising presence raises all channels, as it did for Ceres, with its 61% increase in revenue and 22% increase in donors, YoY.

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