[Podcast] Mark Santiago on Facebook Advertising for Nonprofits


We had the pleasure of speaking to Mark Santiago, entrepreneur and founder of Converge Digital, about Facebook advertising for nonprofits. He explained the best advertising strategies for your organization, how to leverage micro-conversions to improve generosity, and the importance of donor funnels. 

Key Takeaways

Here are some of the key takeaways from Mark’s episode. 

  1. Facebook advertising requires dedicated, comprehensive strategies including organic, digital ads and support from email marketing and landing pages. 
  2. Creating donor funnels helps cultivate micro-yeses that build affection, trust and loyalty from potential donors. 
  3. Testing quickly helps improve your message, your cost per lead and your overall donor relationship. 

Full Transcript

Gabe Cooper: Hey everybody. Today I’m so excited to have Mark Santiago on the podcast. Mark’s a good friend. We get to hang out at conferences quite a little bit, and he works here in Phoenix. He’s actually the founder and CEO of Converge Digital. His focus and their focus at Converge is helping nonprofits grow their donor base by building donor acquisition funnels with Facebook advertising. So Mark, welcome to the podcast.

Mark Santiago: Thanks for having me.

GC: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m shocked that you haven’t been on here before. We’ve talked about this for a few years now,

MS: I fully concur with that.I’ve been waiting for years for my invite and here I am. I’m super honored.

GC: Yeah, that’s great. So I know your story, but I know a lot of our listeners would love to hear too how you got into nonprofit fundraising initially. What brought you to this point?

MS: Holy cow. So yeah, several years ago I was kind of twiddling my thumbs going, what do I want to do as a career? And I stumbled upon a really unique opportunity at a Phoenix-based nonprofit. They’re a sort of a national or global nonprofit, so they had a lot of influence throughout the world. And I got hired over there to do email marketing. I was like, “Wow, this is really cool.” There was so much untapped potential. And as I got into it, I started really understanding the fundraising side of it and just kind of got good at it and just really started enjoying it, started going to conferences, and really understanding the power of what we can do for nonprofits when we help them get more funds creating more impact.

GC: That’s great. I’m familiar with that organization. You guys were doing great work there and then, you know, I don’t know, gosh, it’s been more than a year now that you, you know better than I do, but you made the daring decision to take a leap and start your own agency based on everything you learned or maybe better said, you know, technology company called Converge. So tell me about the Genesis of converge. How’d you guys get started and what’s your focus?

MS: Yeah. So while I was at that organization, really started playing with Facebook and email funnels, and started really figuring out there’s got to be a way to get new donors through Facebook that are more cost-effective and have a higher lifetime value than direct mail and some of the other channels. And I’m just very competitive. So I said, you know, I don’t want to just put an end to direct mail, but I definitely want to put a nail in that coffin, and I want to figure out what’s the best way to do this. And through other organizations that have training and through different groups and people I talked to, I took what I knew from the for profit world and applied it to the nonprofit world.

And so I started developing out those funnels, started developing out for that organization and really, really grew the budget, really, really grew the numbers to the point where it was really doing a good job keeping up with, if not doing better than what they were seeing in other channels, especially direct mail.

So once that kind of, sort of… I started seeing success there and I’m like, “Wow, there’s got to be other organizations that want to do this.” And the entrepreneur bug had always been in me and I had been, you know, I had my own companies before. Said, “You know what? I bet there’s multiple nonprofits that really could use this help.” So I want to do this for others. So I set out and did that almost two years ago and it has not been easy, but it’s been a journey and a fun ride. We’ve developed a process more and more and more. And so, yeah, so that’s how we started.

GC: That’s amazing. And I know you guys are doing amazing work. It’s so great to see a more cutting-edge approach to fundraising, particularly around social. So there’s a few words in there that you use. I just want to give a little more meat and definition for our listeners, but one is funnels. So in the software kind of customer acquisition world, funnels is a very common term, or click funnels, or however people think about them. But can you kind of tell our listeners what you mean by funnels?

MS: Yeah, so I think of everything from a psychological sequence, right? It’s if somebody doesn’t know your brand, they don’t know who you are, they don’t trust you, they don’t like you. And so we want to use these tools called digital marketing, whether it’s Facebook or email or social in general. And we want to find ways to connect with people to communicate with them and cultivate them. I call it the three Cs. And essentially what we’re doing with funnels is using these tools to set up a sequence of events that move somebody from not knowing you, liking you, trusting you, to a point where they’re ready to take out their credit card and give you a gift.

GC: That’s great. And I know there’s a lot of the folks that we’ve talked to talk about in getting just a lot of little yeses along the way. And that’s such an important piece. We’ll talk about that more in a minute. But for a lot of people listening to this, they might think, “Man, that’s a… You have a freakishly narrow focus.” Funnels for Facebook for nonprofits. Talk us through a little bit around like why Facebook? Why does Facebook matter? Why should nonprofits care about Facebook? Why is it so important?

MS: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of interesting conversation cause as soon as you say you do Facebook, immediately people think organic posting or boosting posts. And while that is extremely important and every organization should be doing that, what most organizations don’t know how to do is leverage the ad platform. What we have before us is what I call the 1990s Google ads revolution, and that is where Google ads used to be so cheap that anybody could put a buck on there and make a return immediately or make a return pretty quickly. Now, although Facebook is not that inexpensive where you’re going to always make a return right away when you’re especially doing new donor acquisition, it’s cost-effective enough to where when you compare it to other channels, it has a very good effect on bringing that return. If you look at from whether it’s a cost per donor perspective or a cost per new name, if you’re trying to do lead generation, or even just building up your sort of social engagement, it has really good costs.

Next to that, the ad platform itself, how we can target people is just ridiculous. The fact that we can take an audience like your current donors or your sustainer or somebody that engaged with one of your fan pages and start creating crafted messages just that’s to those people, or taking those people on saying, “Hey Facebook, give me a mirrored audience, and audience that looks just like my best donors so that I can put ads in front of them to get them to give a gift.” That now exponentiates, it grows, or exponentiates. It grows what I’m potentially able to do as a marketer. I can be sitting in my office in Fresno, California or Washington, DC, and I can reach people all over the country, not just from a reach perspective, but people that I know are very highly likely going to give to our organization. That has never been done before.

GC: Yeah. So put a little meat on that bone because I think… I grew up in a world of fundraising where you buy a list, you buy the Harley Davidson list and you’d send mail to everybody, kind of spray and pray and hope people had an affinity for your organization. So a lot of times when people think about targeting, they think about targeting in that way. But give us some examples because Facebook’s audience targeting stuff is just amazing. Give us some examples of how granular you can get when you target folks on Facebook.

MS: Yeah, I mean really it comes back to, what we look for is low hanging fruit. Where are those best donors? And if we say we want to create lookalikes. A recent case is where we’re taking people who have given two times in a year, and we’re saying to Facebook, “Hey, find us more people that look just like this,” because they look differently from people that give once or people that maybe haven’t given, “And go find us those people.” So it creates what’s called a lookalike audience. From that, we then expanded to a greater percentage to go from 1% to now a 5%, what’s called 5% look alike. And so now we’re able to take that original group who was just people that gave multiple times, go out and find two million more people once that two million people works, we can go to five million or 10 million people that look just like those people and it works.

And from there you can get into all kinds of great stuff like do I want to just target males or females in there or do I want to just target people who are part of that audience but also have an affinity or an interest towards clean water or towards politics or towards whatever. Besides that, I can target people who are just on their iPad or just on their iPhone or just on their computer or their desktop. A lot of times organizations will say, “We’re targeting everything were all over the place.” But I say, “Well, if you’re running donor ads, sometimes you might want to test does desktop only work better than mobile? Some organizations mobile only works better.” So it gives you a myriad of options and opportunities to test and to try… And I think that’s why I like it so much is because there’s just a never-ending supply of things we can optimize and test for to make sure that we hone in on the right place, right message, right time to do it.

If you look at President Trump, whether you agree with his politics or not, part of the reason he won was because he spent a lot of money on Facebook. They figured out a way to target people in certain areas using not just demographics, but really diving into the messaging and cutting things up very specifically. And that helped him win. And a lot of organizations could be leveraging that.

GC: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yes, I mean, it’s great insights, and the lookalike audiences are just massively powerful. So I’m glad you talked about that a little bit too.

I know a big thing with Facebook lately has been video and there’s a ton of other video platforms. I know you guys are thinking, are moving into YouTube a little bit as a platform. Why is video so important as we think about advertising and content as a nonprofit?

MS: Well, if you’re like me and you grew up in an age where television ads were all the rage and they drove things. I remember as a kid watching whether it was Tonka commercials or commercials for the latest toy, and we’d watched that, we’d want to go out and buy it. There’s something about the power of video that’s just very interesting. And obviously when the internet first came out, static images and static websites were the thing. But then as DSL, as broadband, as all of those things got faster, video became more of a thing. YouTube came out, whatever, 2006, 2007, and really over the last few years, it’s blown up tremendously. And part of the reason I think that is is because people don’t want to be confined to their living room to watch television. They want to watch TV, whatever they are, they have this mobile device and they can watch whatever they want.

I’ve got a 12-year-old, who, the only thing he does on his iPad is watch YouTube videos of other people playing video games. I mean, I remember being that kid sitting in the room with other kids, watching them play StreetFighter or whatever, but I mean to think that you could actually watch a video of somebody across the world doing that. And he would sit there, he could sit there for hours and watch that video because it’s engaging, it’s educational, it’s entertainment to him. All those things.

Nonprofits should be leveraging video because you can do all of those things. You can capture attention like nothing else. An image can speak. They say an image says a thousand words. I think a video can speak a million words and it doesn’t even have to be you actually saying all those words, it’s just that motion, that graphic. It captivates you, the story. You can be immersed in the story, it lights you up. It makes you want to be a part of what’s going on. And so whether you’re using b-roll footage of people trying to get clean water or if you’re working with homeless people and shelters, or if you have a talking head like you’re president or a director who’s talking about some of the issues that are happening, it’s much more effective. It’s much more cost-effective and it’s driving results. So we’re starting to see that shift or that shift has been happening in the for-profit space forever. But as we always know, the nonprofit space, usually it takes a little bit to catch up. It’s here, it’s now. Video is the thing. So we should be investing in it.

GC: And see I couldn’t agree more, especially for storytelling because so much of of great fundraising is about storytelling, and implicating your donors into your story, and videos is often the very best way to do that. I love it.

MS: Yeah, I mean, where else can you go to spend, you know, a couple thousand bucks and get a million views? And not just views of like a two second view, but of people actually engaging with your content, you just can’t, you just can’t find that anywhere. You go to television and you’re going to spend a lot of money just to get airtime. Whereas on this you can test messaging quickly. You can do what you need to do as quickly as possible.

GC: Yeah, completely agree. And by the way, I walked in the other day and my kids were watching Ninja, who’s a famous Fortnite player, stream of Fortnite thing, and it’s not even, it’s not even Ninja talking. It’s like somebody else providing editorial on top of somebody’s streaming playing Fortnite. And I walk in and I’m like, “This is the most weird meta thing I’ve ever seen in my own life.”

I grew up playing Super Mario Brothers, and this has gone so far beyond Super Mario Brothers.

MS: Yeah.

GC: So yeah, it’s a weird deal, but it’s a pointer to the fact that that video’s not going anywhere. Our rate of consumption and minutes of consumption are just going up. And as a nonprofit, unless you can, unless you can play in that space in order to change people’s hearts and minds, you’re going to get left behind.

MS: Yep, exactly.

GC: Okay. You’ve been doing this for a while, you’ve helped several nonprofits. You see what other orgs are doing. Some people are doing it well, some not so well. What are kind of the most common problems you see when you look at how nonprofits are using social and specifically Facebook?

MS: Yeah, I would say the first part, the first place is really a lack of strategy. Unfortunately, a lot of times the social media manager isn’t, is usually like maybe they’re on staff, or maybe they’re a volunteer, or maybe they’re, you know, an outsource freelancer a lot of times. And there’ll be tasked with doing both the organic stuff and the paid stuff. And paid social is a completely different strategy than organic. I am very passionate about organic. And when I say organic, I mean the non-paid, posting on your Facebook feed three times a day, four times a day, your Instagram, like you need to be doing that because you’ll offset what I call the Facebook penalty. And that is that if you’re not doing organic, your paid is going to suffer because Facebook doesn’t get you the engagement that you want. And essentially the more engagement your page has, the cheaper costs you’re going to pay for clicks, for likes, for all those things. So you want to be doing an organic strategy.

But lack of a strategy is huge on the paid side. Many people just go, “Hey, we’ve got this need, or we’ve got a Giving Tuesday coming up. And so we’re just going to throw up an ad that says give to our nonprofit.” And you’re starting to see that right now where I’m seeing some of our local nonprofits here just throw up these ads and say, “Hey, for a buck a day you could support us.” And that’s great. Right? I mean that that offer is not necessarily bad, but to someone who doesn’t know you, like you, trust you, to someone who doesn’t really care, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just, you’re just begging me for money. You’re just asking me for money.

Where with paid social, we can leverage the organic stuff and we can leverage things like video, we can leverage other messaging and other objectives to grow audiences that care and create what I call intent-based marketing. And so that intent helps you actually drive conversion at a much cheaper rate. And it actually works. Where I’ve had a lot of nonprofits, we’ll talk to them, and say, “Oh, we tried Facebook. Oh we tried this.” And I’ll say, “Well tell me what was your strategy?” And they’ll lay out exactly… “Well, we did boost the posts, we tried a conversion campaign and nothing happened.” So okay, but there was no micro-conversion, there was no micro-yeses to get people to that donation. And that’s the biggest issue.

GC: Well, give us an example because I think this really helps open up people’s imagination for how they could be using Facebook. But give us an example of what you call a micro-conversion. What does that look like functionally for nonprofits?

MS: Yeah, most of the time for us it’s a, a some sort of giveaway, something, whether it’s education or a physical product or something like that. Perfect example, we had a smaller organization based in DC, and they didn’t have a ton of Facebook ad budget. So we said, “Okay, let’s go through our process.” We have a very streamlined process for value proposition, creating an offer that converts, and then moving people through that funnel. And so we did that with them. We created this offer and for them, their offer was a free product that they had in storage. They had like thousands of these little pieces of whatever branded things. And I think it was a wristband of some sort. And so, it might have been logo or might have something on it. And, and so they said, “Let’s give these away for free, not asking for money. Let’s give these away for free.”

And when they gave them away for free, after they gave away for free, we then went and said, “Hey, thanks for doing this. We want to get these out to as many people as possible. If you partner with us by giving a gift today, we can do that and get the message out of what we’re doing.” And then, their particular thing was around social justice issues and so it was promoting that. So before we even turn on Facebook ads, we tested that with their email list, got an immediate return, took those same dollars, turned around and put them on Facebook and started acquiring donors at almost a one to one rate, which I told them was unheard of because that funnel worked so well.

So essentially we went to new people, because we tested the message, we tested the funnel, went to new people and said, “Here’s a free gift from us. We want to just give it to you. No strings attached.” Afterwards we asked for a donation so that way we’re not doing it out of sequence. A lot of times we’re going out of sequence and when you do that, you’re not going to get the amount of gifts that you want or the gifts at the average gift amount you want either.

GC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s a great concept, and it’s so important, and organizations do have to think more creatively, right? About how to… You can’t just say, “Give us a gift.” You really have to think about giving to your donors first. Right? So it’s like you’re a dog rescue, you know, just saying, “Give money to our dog rescue,” isn’t that effective. But sometimes, an ebook about the five steps to help get your house ready for a new adopted pet, that’s a really valuable thing. And so how do I think creatively about giving to the donor first to set the table to create trust. And so that funnels are a great way to do that. That micro-yes is great to do that.

So another, we’ve talked about this a lot before. It’s the idea of testing on Facebook and how Facebook can be a way cheaper, better place to test messaging. Tell me a little bit about some options for testing or where you’ve seen testing be effective for understanding what my messaging should be even more broadly for the organization.

MS: Yeah, we’d like to look at testing from a couple of different angles. Obviously depending upon the size of budget we have for testing and what our objective is. If our objective is to get donors immediately, then we need to spend a little bit more money, we need to get very sort of broad with our audiences, we need to try many different copy angles. We’d like to try at least three to five different copy angles, at least five to 10 different images per ad set per campaign. That helps us as we’re narrowing these objectives. But then when it comes to just the practicality of it, simple things like putting a video up and, and watching people’s responses. What is the cost per view at 10 seconds? How many people engage with video? That’ll tell you right now is are people engaged with this message number one?

And number two, then you can go back and show that video again and say, “This time, let’s not just show the video. Let’s not do a video view campaign, but let’s do a traffic campaign. Let’s see do people click through? Do we give them a call to action where they can click through?” And then again, we can do the same thing with a conversion campaign.

GC: Yep.

MS: We had this example of another smaller nonprofit where they were essentially working with child slavery in foreign countries and they were using messaging and terminology on their website that I found to be a bit confusing, to be honest. But I said, “well, let’s test it. Let’s use it. Let’s use their… the ebook they had is a giveaway and let’s, let’s see what happens.”

And so we started with an ebook, and we put it out there, and it absolutely flopped. The cost per lead was around $20 a lead.

GC: Okay.

MS: That was way high for what we normally pay. We have what we call a strength of offer continuum, and essentially at the lead level we want to be $2 or less. And then we get to the landing page level and we look at a 30% conversion rate, and we say, “Okay, that’s our bare minimum. We should be at least 30%.” well this was converting around 18% with this messaging. So we did three iterations of the landing page. We did several iterations of the ad. I finally felt like I pinned down what exactly was stopping people from… It was just causing friction essentially is what it came down to. So we changed the messaging, we simplified exactly what… We just stripped it out bare bones. What do we want people to do? What is the point of this? Right?

Sometimes we get over complicated. We try to be too clever. I say you have to write ads at a fifth grade level. You have to write it very simple to people. And so we said, “Stop doing this or help us stop this.” And it just simplified everything. The cost per lead went from $20 to 71 cents per lead.

GC: Oh gosh.

MS: The landing page was converting 18%, jumped to 44%. And then we were able to then turn on the donor campaigns, which then started getting, immediately started getting donors for less than what our KPIs on donors. It’s very effective. And we did all that for less than a thousand dollars. That was the coolest thing. And some of you might go, “Well, we only have a thousand dollars,” but you can test with a thousand dollars. You can try things, you can dabble, you can run a $5-a-day campaign and see what the response is. It does take you longer. You’re not going to have always the 95% confidence interval. You’re not always going to have that, but you’re going to at least get some ideas. You’re going to have a thought of, “Hey, this worked. Can we go back and get more budget from the board or whoever to keep moving with it?”

GC: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. I love the experimental nature. I love… And it’s really the only channel where you can start at something that small and test your way into success rather than committing huge dollars in huge amounts of time, which I think it’s critical for nonprofits to even think that way.

MS: Yep.

GC: Okay. Real quick, a lot of what we’ve talked about is I click an ad on Facebook, but then I go some… So you talk about conversion or micro-conversions. A lot of people don’t even know where to start sort of on the web side. Right? So on a click the Facebook ad, I leave Facebook and I go somewhere. And so what are kind of your favorite tools for being able to create landing pages for these Facebook campaigns or create forms to track conversion or the name information of the potential donors?

MS: The first one is LeadPages. I believe it’s the That software, I think you can get unlimited pages for like 37 bucks a month. It’s really simple. Drag and drop. You connect it with Mailchimp. You can connect it with just about any email software provider. That’s the place where you can create your landing page so that after somebody clicks an ad and let’s say you’re giving away an ebook or some digital product or even a physical product, you essentially can write copy, drop it on there, move buttons around, and it’s really simple. Another one would be Click Funnels. That one’s I think $99 a month is where they start at. That has a little bit more with a split testing so you can have multiple variations of a landing page. So if you’re going to spend more money that might be a good option to start with because of the multiple option nature.

On the donation form side, we honestly use whatever the nonprofit has. We’ve used several different ones. A lot of times the in-house team has their own way of doing it. And so so we’ll work with the those. We’re pretty, we call it agnostic when it comes to all this. We don’t have a specific tool in particular that we recommend over any others just because we have to really be able to work with everybody. But landing page wise there, I don’t know of any other big ones in the nonprofit space, but those are the two that we use.

GC: Yeah, LeadPages is great. The Click Funnels and click funnels process is great. We use a little bit of Unbounce here, which is good too. And so there’s options. I think the big headline here that I want all of our listeners to hear, if you’re doing marketing or fundraising at a nonprofit and you’re having to call someone in IT to create a webpage for you, you’re doing something wrong. There are great tools out there for quickly being able to create landing pages, to create forms, to collect names. And so yes, have agencies like Converge that can help you come up with a strategy and execute that. But if you’re in a system where you have to call IT to get a new page added to convert somebody, it’s time to get your head up and look around a little bit and think about other options because there are great tools out there to Do that.

Let’s end here. So much good stuff. There’s actually about 12 more things and I want to ask you, because I think so much of this is so valuable for our listeners. But let’s move into our quick fire round we typically do here at the end. So I’m just going to rattle off a couple of questions for you real quick that we ask everybody. Is that okay?

MS: Yep.

GC: Okay. So first one, super fun, super easy. What are the podcasts or books or even streaming TV shows that you’re really into right now?

MS: Let’s see. Books wise, I’ve been reading a couple of different ones. Traction, it’s an older book, it’s for operations and then also Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. That’s a really good one, especially for fundraisers. It’s really about how to pitch what you do to people. It’s a sales book, but essentially it can be applied to fundraising.

On the streaming side. I just finished bingeing season three of Daredevil and my wife and I liked the show Castle. So we’re finishing up a binging that on Prime. So there you go.

GC: That’s perfect. That’s perfect. Yeah. I know the first part of so many of those streaming shows because my wife is a night owl, and she’ll start streaming them and I’ll get, you know, I saw the first three episodes of Man in a High Castle. I saw the first three… I’ve seen the first three episodes of like 800 shows. The one about the The Crown. I saw the first three episodes. So I can sleep through streaming TV like nobody’s business. It’s amazing.

As an entrepreneur, I know the last couple of years has been crazy for you. You guys are growing like crazy. You’re having a ton of success, but you’re also running a million miles an hour. What do you do to kind of stay sane as an entrepreneur?

MS: I have seven kids. We’re in the process of adopting three kids and so we just have a full house. I try to just shut down when I leave here and just try to focus on family. We do a lot of going out of town. We try to sometimes head over to LA or San Diego on the weekends and just anything I can do with family that usually centers me. I’m also a person of faith, and so going to church and being a part of a life group and being a part of that also really centers me, and my relationship with God is just, that is the thing. I could not do what I do without it. I don’t know. I mean, personally I just don’t know how people don’t, but that’s me. That’s what keeps me sane and centered in a focus of I know what I’m doing is for a higher purpose.

GC: That’s great. That’s amazing. I love that you’re doing all that you’re doing with with seven kids, that’s… We have five and so you’re winning. But sometimes I feel in the thick of it like nobody’s winning. It’s just pure chaos.

MS: Yeah, exactly.

GC: And so I’m impressed that you’re keeping up. That’s great.

MS: Thank you.

GC: Well, Mark it’s been great to have you. Just kind of and parting here, I know you guys have a new ebook out that could be really valuable for our customers or our listeners, but I’d love for you to tell our listeners a little bit about that and just where they can find more about Converge in general.

MS: Yeah, so we’ve got a, what we call the Facebook Fundraising Blueprint. It’s a really great PDF map of how we do what we do and how we sort of break down the different funnels. And then it’s also got a training video attached to that. So if you go to, you can get that right there. I’ve just made that for you guys specially. Or if you go to in general, that’s where you can find a little bit more about us. But definitely if you get in there, want to have a chat, send me an email or whatever market, we got a full team here that would love to talk with you about what you do and see if we can help point you in direction.

GC: That’s great. Well, Mark, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been a joy talking with you. So many of these insights are helpful for our listeners, so I really appreciate it.

MS: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

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