Case Study

The Advancement Project: Turning One-time Supporters into Long-term Allies for Justice

The Advancement Project is a civil rights organization that supports national and local grassroots organizing movements for racial justice. After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, people across the world flooded organizations working on racial justice – including the Advancement Project – with first-time donations. This created fresh momentum for the nonprofit and its mission. However, in order to fully take advantage of the opportunity, the organization realized they needed to quickly adapt their strategy, systems, and infrastructure to sustain these supporters’ engagement.

PTKO provided pro-bono consulting services to the Advancement Project in summer 2020, facilitating strategic workshops that helped stakeholders develop a shared understanding of supporter journeys and engagement. This work empowered the organization to take immediate steps to build on its recent success—resulting in an end-of-year campaign that saw a 284% increase over 2019 and closed at 140% of the 2020 year-end fundraising goal. Additionally, we saw that 15% of our 2020 year-end donors were first-time donors from the summer uptick who returned to send a second gift. This gives us a good indication that the retention of our donors will continue to be strong in 2021.

The Challenge

A dramatic, unexpected upswing in the number of donors

The Advancement Project had been seeking to diversify its funding, supplementing its foundation and major donor support with more individual giving. Yet this shift happened on a timeline no one could have expected: driven by external events, the organization’s donor list swelled from several hundred to 100,000+ within months.


Lack of familiarity with the organization among many supporters

Many new donors gave to the Advancement Project at the behest of celebrities, media channels, or viral campaigns, and a large portion of these donations came through aggregate campaigns targeting multiple organizations. While these new donors shared a desire to support the Black Lives Matter movement, many were new to issues of racial justice, and they may have contributed without even knowing the names of the organizations they were giving to. 

A need to think holistically across departments

The Advancement Project faced a challenge that is widespread in the nonprofit sector: aligning the work of fundraising and communications teams around a shared understanding of how supporters engage with the organization. Prior to this new donor surge, lists of donors and email subscribers were maintained separately. The urgent need to engage a high volume of new supporters required a more holistic approach to outreach.

Challenges with new donor data

New donors came from a multitude of sources and pathways. Many of these external platforms, like Tiltify and ActBlue, are great drivers of new donors, but leave receiving organizations little control over how the campaign and associated data are managed. As a result, the contact information for new donors was inconsistent and misaligned with the organization’s existing systems.

Image is snapshot of a written client quote from Andi Ryder, Managing Director of Development at the Advancement Project. Quote reads as follows: "We received a wave of new interest in 2020 and it happened overnight, an inflection point that brought us from around 250 individual donors to over 120k in the span of a few weeks. We were not set up for that influx and didn't even know where to start. ParsonsTKO came in and gave us permission to press pause so that we could be intentional and strategic about what our new individual giving program meant to the organization. Now we aren't overwhelmed trying to do everything at once and have been able to implement the tracking and engagement structure that we need to bring our new donors into community with us. We're already seeing high engagement levels and early arrivals."

Our Approach

PTKO partnered with the Advancement Project over a high-touch, three-week engagement that included: 

Facilitated workshops with internal stakeholders

PTKO led a series of four workshops that brought together team members from across all relevant departments to diagnose the organization’s Engagement Architecture, assess the state of its data on donors and stakeholders, and detail the needs and journeys of its supporters.

Analysis of supporter data

PTKO analyzed data on donors and newsletter subscribers, developing data-driven insights to inform donor segmentation and recommended outreach tactics.

The Solution

Practical recommendations for sustaining supporter engagement

PTKO helped the Advancement Project evolve into a more holistic approach to supporter engagement by championing an organization-wide outreach strategy based on a unified supporter model. 

A staged, three-year roadmap for evolving outreach capabilities

PTKO identified concrete action steps for the organization to take in a six-month time frame to seize the opportunity offered by the influx of new donors—with a special focus on the development of an effective series of automated welcome emails, and the successful tagging of new donors in its fundraising system. Additional roadmap items were identified across 18-month and 3-year time horizons to sustain the organization’s momentum and scale its capabilities in support of a donor base that had rapidly grown by multiple orders of magnitude.

Segmentation and prioritization of new donors

With many new donors lacking awareness of the Advancement Project and it’s programs, quick outreach to engage them in the work and sustain their support was critical. Based on an analysis of data on new donors, PTKO identified key donor segments to prioritize through phone calls and/or custom welcome email series.

The Results

A brand-new campaign that doubled its fundraising goal

After implementing numerous actions recommended by PTKO—most notably a welcome email series for new supporters and a focus on list segmentation strategies — the Advancement Project launched a new fundraising campaign that outperformed its goal by more than 140%, exceeding the prior year’s campaign by a factor of four. The nonprofit successfully reengaged many first-time donors, while also increasing year-over-year support from longer-term supporters.

Improved email performance

Through enhanced segmentation and extensive message testing, the organization achieved significant improvements in email open and click-through rates. The year-end campaign as a series had open rates of around 38%, and each program helped to shape an email and an infographic about their work that helped to educate and engage donors.

A common language for thinking and talking about supporters

Before the PTKO partnership, different teams at the organization had somewhat different languages, mental models, and goals with regard to audience engagement. The project helped move the organization toward a single conceptual model for Advancement Project supporters, define the highest value conversions for the organization, and lay groundwork for increased coordination between teams.

Image is snapshot of a written client quote from Andi Ryder, Managing Director of Development at the Advancement Project. Quote reads as follows: "Most important was that our work with PTKO helped us know HOW to talk to other internal folks about the opportunities to engage supporters. It gave us the language and approach to go to other teams to lay out the scale of opportunity for thinking of donors as people who do more than give money. Because of that, many programs now proactively reach out to us with ideas and opportunities to email our donors with analysis or political education, or to invite donors to program/campaign activities."