Lookalike Audiences Target Online Donors

Having the dollars to invest in a Mad Men-style advertising campaign would be a dream-come-true for many nonprofits. Instead, they must take a more selective and strategic approach to reach new donors. The ability to target audiences with a strong probability of taking action similar to your best donors offers a much sounder investment of your time and money — Don Draper would no doubt approve.

One powerful acquisition method for nonprofits is the use of “lookalike audiences.” Launched by Facebook in 2013, and later adopted by the majority of social media platforms, lookalike audiences use proprietary targeting algorithms to pinpoint individuals who share similar attributes to your ideal supporters. The algorithm looks at a combination of demographic data, as well as the interests and behaviors of your audience and then serves up a custom audience of individuals that look and behave in a similar fashion. You don’t get a list of these individuals, but the benefit to you is the ability to target them with contextually relevant advertisements, ensuring that you are maximizing the return on your marketing investment. Think of it this way: you can follow the twists and turns on the treasure map by using traditional targeting options or you can go straight to the target “as the crow flies” using lookalike audiences.

How It Works

There are four main methods to create a lookalike audience, although different social media platforms may have slightly different options:

  • Lookalike Constituents

For the most effective lookalike audience, your organization needs to identify its high-value donors, fundraisers or event participants. You can have as many groups as you like — you only need 100 individuals, per audience, to get started.

  • Lookalike Site Visitors

The ability to target individuals who visit your website or even specific pages or sections within your website.

  • Lookalike Conversions

The ability to target users similar to those who have taken a specific action on your site (event registration, donation, volunteer sign-up, advocate action, etc.).

  • Lookalike Fans

The ability to create a lookalike audience from your social media community (from pages or sites you manage) that targets users similar to your own fans.

A well-targeted lookalike audience can generate a nearly four times higher return on advertising spend than other display advertising channels.

Let’s look at Facebook as an example. Facebook is a powerhouse for a reason—virtually everyone is on it. In fact, Facebook lookalike audiences generate a 60 percent higher click-through rate than other display media. Macmillan Cancer Support, in the U.K., used Facebook to raise $3.5 million, in the fall of 2014, the first year of its Go Sober for October campaign, with 31,000 people signing up as Sober Heroes.

How to Take Action

While nonprofits might want to just jump right in and get started—if Macmillan can do it, so can we, right?—there are a few important steps to take first:

  1. Make sure your organization’s privacy policy allows you to use your constituent data in this way.
  2. Set your program or event goals to determine your advertising budget.
  3. Think about who you want to target to create your custom audience(s).
  4. Develop amazing—and relevant—content that will engage and encourage action.
  5. Set-up tracking and analytics so you can measure the effectiveness of your creative and campaign.

With those pieces in place, it’s time to create your custom and lookalike audiences and set up your ad campaign. What did your analytics reveal? By optimizing your campaign based on your findings, your organization will be well on its way to discovering plenty of new fundraising treasure.