Optimizing your website for search engines is a proven way of increasing traffic, putting your nonprofit on the radar by showing up in relevant search results. But can working on your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) help raise more money? If you’re wondering how to find donors online—and how donors will find you—SEO is a powerful and often overlooked piece of the puzzle.

SEO & Fundraising: What’s the Connection?

Raising money online requires a few essential elements:

And guess what? The work that you do to optimize a website for search relies on many of the same elements:

  • A credible website that offers comprehensive and trustworthy information
  • Traffic coming to your site that’s engaged and interested in your content
  • A seamless user experience: easy to navigate, responsive design, quick to load

In a nutshell, the steps to find donors online are also some of the same steps to making a website that’s primed to do well in search results. The overlap makes sense when you realize that the end goal of both efforts is the same: attract and cultivate relationships with people once they land on your website.

But the real power is what comes next. When you have a high-performing website that’s doing a good job bringing in visitors from search, you now have a consistent flow of traffic that can be transformed into donors. The process for raising money feeds off of SEO success, resulting in less work to reach and raise money from more people.

Get Started with SEO for Nonprofits

New to the world of SEO and how it works? Start at the beginning with recommended reading and tutorials for search engine optimization basics.

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How to Find Donors Online: 4 SEO Considerations

Now that we’ve covered how fundraising and SEO work together, let’s get into the specifics of how to find donors online using optimization fundamentals. You’ll see how to turn your SEO efforts for marketing into wins for your nonprofit’s fundraising, too.

1. Keyword phrase selection based on donor interests

A website that’s been optimized for search will have pages targeting specific keywords that are relevant to your nonprofit’s work, the location(s) where you provide programs, and the issues you address, like hunger, education, healthcare, wildlife, etc. Choosing keywords should be a process that leads to specific phrases that are likely to be used by your audience of donors.

Where we see organizations go off-course is by trying to optimize web pages for generic phrases like “donate now” and “ways to give” rather than “donate to [city name] food bank” or “how to support [location] refugees.” Instead of trying to compete for general keywords, which honestly isn’t going to get you anywhere as a small or mid-sized nonprofit, focus on the phrases that your ideal donors would search for based on what they care about. Get that donor persona ready and use it for your keyword brainstorm.

2. Optimized landing pages for campaigns and issues

One of the more challenging parts of using SEO for fundraising is that you’re likely to attract visitors to your website who don’t know you very well (or didn’t realize that your mission is related to whatever they searched for). This is where it can help to create comprehensive landing pages for your top issues and campaigns that are optimized for a target keyword your supporters care about.

Knowing that your audience is likely to need some education and inspiration before you ask them to contribute, you can craft a page that takes visitors on a journey from top to bottom. Engaging content will not only keep people clicking through your site but also signal to search engines that you offer quality, relevant and credible information.

(Added bonus: you’ll also end up with a perfect page to leverage with Google Ad Grants.) 

Action Against Hunger Example

For someone searching about the hunger crisis, the End World Hunger: Solutions To Save Lives landing page offers a compelling look at the issue through the experience and expertise of the organization, with lots of calls to action sprinkled throughout the content.

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Example

See how Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness created a page about sulfide mining that educates and calls for action, both pushing for advocacy and donations to support their clean water protection efforts.

International Rescue Committee Example

The IRC’s “How to help refugees in the United States: 10 ways to stand for welcome” article shows how even a blog post can do the heavy lifting of attracting new supporters and funneling them to take a next step. It’s a strategic welcome mat for a person interested in how to help refugees but not sure where to start.

Your website’s link profile is one of the many ways that search engines determine rankings. It’s not enough to publish great content—having other relevant and authoritative websites link to yours is an important signal of quality and credibility. Building links to your website can take many forms, but common approaches include links from partner organizations and funders, links in media coverage or guest blog posts, and making sure your organization is listed in online directories.

But let’s put on our fundraising hats and think about links from another perspective. When there’s a link to your website from a place where likely supporters hang out online, you’ve created a small funnel to drive donors to your cause. Each link is an opportunity to capture the attention of someone who’s already warmed up to the idea of your organization and send them to content (like a great landing page!) that furthers the virtual connection.

Lastly, as you think about the sites where it would be valuable to have links pointing to your organization, don’t neglect to build internal links that connect your pages. It’s a practice that contributes to a strong link profile and a better user experience.

4. User-friendly website that keeps visitors focused on the goal

Speaking of user experience…there’s no getting around the fact that you need a user-friendly website. Not necessarily super fancy or expensive, but inviting and well-constructed. When web design follows best practices for usability, it becomes easier to find fundraising and SEO success. That’s because both search engines and supporters appreciate similar things:

  • Simple and intuitive website structure that makes it easy to get around in your site
  • Pages that load quickly, especially on mobile devices
  • Well-formatted web pages that provide information in ways that are digestible and engaging
  • Responsive design that displays properly on any screen size, including pages where you want people to take action (like online forms)
  • Thoughtful meta descriptions for each page to encourage clicks and set accurate expectations for what people will find there.

Of all of the SEO considerations I’ve mentioned, this one is likely to have the biggest impact—but it’s also the biggest lift in terms of time and investment. Even if you don’t have the capacity to build a new site, consider the ways you might make the most of your existing design. Streamlining your website structure is a good place to start, and we have a guide that can help you rethink your page organization.

Determining Your Return on SEO Investment

Outside of the costs of web design and maintenance, search engine optimization is mostly an expenditure of time. And for busy nonprofit marketers, that’s definitely a valuable commodity. To assess whether or not SEO work leads to fundraising income, here are a few things to consider as you evaluate your efforts:

  • Give yourself time for tactics to pay off. Generally speaking, it can take up to 6 months for search engines to respond to things like a newly optimized web page.
  • Monitor visitor engagement. The first step in turning website visitors into donors is keeping them on your site. Consider metrics like the bounce rate and pages per session of people arriving from search engines. If folks aren’t sticking around, consider if your top landing pages need a makeover or if the phrases they are searching for are relevant to your cause.
  • Track the website conversion rate. If you have conversion tracking set up for your website, like in Google Analytics, you’ll be able to measure how often search traffic is taking action on your site, like making a donation. As search traffic increases over time, you’ll want to see that your conversion rate also continues to improve. (Going the other direction with website conversion rates is an indication that you’re attracting visitors who aren’t a good match for your mission.)
  • Don’t forget about referral sources. As you build your link profile with other websites, be sure to check in on referral traffic to see which sites are driving the most traffic, the more engaged visitors, and the people that are most likely to complete an action like donating. You’ll learn about the types of sites and links to go after in future link-building efforts.

Solving the problem of how to find donors online isn’t a quick fix, but search engine optimization can be part of a long-term, ongoing solution for your organization. Best of all, the work you do to make search engines love your nonprofit can have ripple effects across your organizational goals: raising more awareness, growing your email list and building your reputation.

Has your nonprofit made the connection between SEO and fundraising? Are there search engine optimization projects on the horizon for your fundraising campaigns? Or are you on the fence about the value of SEO work and raising money online? Let’s discuss how to find donors online in the comments.