Quality Engagement to Drive Online Fundraising Growth


Ceres is a sustainability nonprofit organization working across sectors to build leadership and drive climate 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.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored how interconnected we are to each other while exposing a number of cracks in the underlying foundation of our society. This was an opportunity for Ceres to demonstrate the value of its programming. It was also a challenge as competition increased for shares-of-donor-wallet.


The Outcome

We worked with Ceres to build on recent growth in online fundraising with an increase in email volume, an emphasis on donor retention, and a new focus on lead generation — all of which drove a 30% YoY increase in revenue.




YoY increase in new donor average gift

decrease in cost per lead

YoY increase in average gift through website

The Challenge

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

  • Building upon the previous year’s fundraising gains to deepen existing and new relationships.
  • Explaining how the sometimes slow, yet always deliberate actions that Ceres takes to lead companies, governments, and other key stakeholders toward sustainability moves the needle seismically in the right direction. This requires presenting detail and providing a significant measure of context —all during a global pandemic in which the audience’s attention is divided.
  • Increasing donor lifetime value while also increasing the number of donors on file. This meant improving average gift and retention rates, while introducing more donors new to file. Typically the more new donors are acquired, the lower the nonprofit’s retention rate and new donor average gift become.

The Strategy

Generating new leads: To support Ceres’ list growth goals, we ran a two-and-a-half-month paid media flight on three platforms. We began using gated content to collect highly qualified leads on Facebook and LinkedIn and expanded to paid search on Bing, where we saw exceptional performance. The result was 1,349 new leads in this short time, who were poised to understand and react to Ceres’ content.

A refurbished onboarding: With new investments in lead generation, it was important to welcome new Ceres supporters in a way that helped them understand a complex mission and feel immediately drawn to it. The new series breaks down recent reports, Ceres-related news, and positions the reader as a potential partner in the work as it ends with a warm solicitation. 

Strategic Volume: We worked with the calendar to dial up fundraising volume when it would make the most impact and maximize fundraising. This most notably coincided with Ceres’ end of fiscal year (Oct. 31), year-end fundraising, and Earth Day. In the intervening time between these fundraising arcs, we didn’t stop emailing: We worked with Ceres to develop thoughtful cultivations and meaningful ways to engage, including surveys and quizzes. Not only did these touches yield passive donations through “daisy chain” fundraising, they built affinity and kept the audience primed to give generously. 

Cultivations that count: We broke down complex climate solutions — in this case the Ceres Roadmap 2030 report — through a series of three quizzes, breaking down the highly technical document across questions and answers that showcased Ceres’ rubber-hits-the-road solutions to cutting corporate pollution and waste.

Breadth & depth: There are many environmental groups, but none with Ceres’ model of working across sectors to cut waste from corporations and investors. With a more receptive ear now in the White House, this work expanded to advocacy both domestically and at the highest levels of international governance, including COP26: The U.N. climate summit in Glasgow. Outbound showed this depth and breadth, setting Ceres apart from the countless U.S. environmental groups running ads and sending email.

Smart Segmentation: Dynamic, activity-based segmentation provided us with opportunities to get the very most out of warm prospective donor segments. Media Cause helped identify high-impact segments to tailor messaging effectively and efficiently.

The Implementation

For this year’s lead generation efforts, we built on the learnings from 2020 to strengthen our campaigns not just for Ceres’ long-term lead gen campaign, but also for their Accelerator program and the U.C.—Berkeley ESG Course promotion partnership. 

Using 2020 campaign data as our starting point, we were able to launch the monthly paid media activity quickly with an already optimized strategy allowing us to make further more robust enhancements, including the introduction of new vendors such as Bing Search. This, in turn, helped us to develop strategies and execute effective Accelerator campaigns (promoting various reports and webinars) and effectively target potential candidates for the UCB ESG Course.

To achieve fundraising success, we chose our moments and laid the groundwork early. When we weren’t fundraising, we were heaping gratitude onto the audience and demonstrating the impact they have when they donate to Ceres.

Consider two examples, fine-tuned to the correct moments:

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 fundraising asks.

We separately seized the summer and fall, knowing that fiscal year-end and year-end fundraising loomed large on the horizon. To ensure the audience was engaged, and possessed a high-fidelity understanding of the work, we developed three quizzes to launch in fundraising lulls. Each broke down The Ceres Roadmap 2030: a new report breaking down a 10-year action plan for corporations and investors to dramatically slash pollution and waste in the next decade. Not only did the audience take the first quiz in droves, but they spent upwards of 10 minutes engaging with the five questions — learning more, seeing impact, and drawing closer to the mission.

Sometimes, the calendar does the heavy lifting for you — and when it does, it’s important to own the moment. One such occasion for Ceres is Earth Day. 

For two years running, Ceres staked its claim on Earth Day with a matching gift challenge positioning itself as a leader in the climate space, with a unique and urgent mission. In 2021, following a strong showing the previous year, Ceres brought a news-hook into the messaging: with a new President and Congress just getting started, the opportunity for climate-forward policies and legislation was more promising than in the last decade. Year-over-year, the number of gifts increased 61%, a strong signal that it’s in Ceres’ interest to continue owning this moment.

The same could be said for Giving Tuesday (Now), 11 months before Earth Day, 2021 in May, 2020.

This occasion came in the first weeks of the pandemic, as a moment to enhance nonprofit fundraising, when donations were running scarce. While Ceres elected not to fundraise on this day, they nevertheless used this blockbuster occasion to reach their list, request feedback through a survey, and give them a chance to donate in the “daisy chain” (meaning the donate page a user redirects to following an action). In the end, the 2020 Earth Day x Giving Tuesday (Now) cadence yielded a timely — and effective — cadence.