The Art of Upselling Donors With Lightboxes


How can an upsell lightbox help your sustainer program? And how do you launch one? Upselling people is a marketing or sales tactic designed to persuade a customer to buy more. This tactic has been applied to nonprofit organizations for years in the form of lightboxes on the homepage or in other locations. Keep reading to learn all about lightboxes and how an ‘upsell’ can help grow your revenue.

What’s a lightbox?

So what’s a lightbox? You see these all the time. A lightbox is a tactic for marketers to get your attention and ideally convert you in some way. You’ll see them in the form of full-page takeovers, sidebars, or the most common version – the centered box with the page faded out. In fact, I encountered many of these while researching for this blog (imagine that).

Here’s a perfect example from our Accredited Partner M+R’s website – I’ll reference that blog more specifically later.

m+r lightbox

What are upsell lightboxes?

As I mentioned before, an upsell is when you (as the marketer/fundraiser) makes an offer to the customer/donor that seems very appealing but ultimately results in more revenue for your cause. An upsell normally takes place at the end of, or during the transaction process.

Typically an upsell lightbox intercepts one-time donors as they’re hitting ‘submit’ and asks them if they want to become a monthly donor. The ‘offer’ typically looks very appealing because it’s an initial donation of less money. For example, ‘Kathy, do you want to change your $100 gift today to $25 a month and be part of our elite partners?’

How do you deploy an upsell lightbox? Many eCRMS or digital engagement platforms offer this functionality out of the box. You simply need to do the set-up. If your digital engagement platform doesn’t offer this, in most cases you can work with an agency to deploy one.

How upsell lightboxes work on Engaging Networks

Using shared components is a great way to reduce staff production time! You only have to create a component once and can use it in as many locations as you like.

Engaging Networks offers upsell lightbox functionality out of the box as part of our fundraising tools. You can configure your upsell lightbox while building a donation form OR set up as many as you like in our shared components library to be used across multiple pages. 

A good upsell lightbox will allow you to configure how the amounts are calculated and rendered for both one-time to recurring upsell and recurring amount upsell. 

custom lightbox

You can customize the lightbox with images and change the buttons (or remove them) to render it how you like.


And lastly, you can track the success of your upsell lightbox performance across multiple avenues in Engaging Networks. You can read the full documentation on our Supportal.

Now that you know a bit about lightboxes, let’s get on to why you should try them…

The benefits of upselling donors

In the aforementioned article, tests run by M+R they saw success of 2.5% – 9% of one-time donors converting to monthly when using a donation upsell lightbox. This correlates with Sumo’s study of nearly 2 million pop-up lightboxes (generally speaking so not just upsells) which found the average conversion rate to be 3.09%.

Do some basic math then. You have an average of XX donations per year, err on the side of caution and multiply that by 3%. Now that you have your conversion rate, take a look at your average monthly donation and the average time span you retain a monthly donor and multiply that. Then multiply the two together. That could look something like this:

  • 1,000 one-time donors with a 3% conversion to monthly = 30 new monthly donors
  • Your average sustiaining gift is $25 and they stay roughly 11 months = $275 per donor lifetime
  • $275 x 30 = $8,250 in lifetime revenue

Even if those 30 individuals had given single donations of $100 each, you’ve far surpassed the revenue you would have raised in one-time gifts. It’s the long game.

There are other benefits to converting one-time donors to sustainers. If your program is established, likely you know this, but sustainers can be some of your best advocates. Many organizations deeply cultivate sustainers because they’re good feeder programs for major or legacy giving (surprising, right?). By setting up a program that incentivizes them to stay and support your cause – you’re building a deep long-lasting relationship. Here are some ideas you can implement to build a program for sustainers:

  • Name it: They’re part of a club so give them a name that builds affinity.
  • Communicate: Set up a stead stream of specialized communications just for them that speaks to their dedication to the cause.
  • Incentivize: You don’t have to overdo this but make them feel special now and then, maybe send them an annual calendar.
  • Limit asks: You’ll find they’ll often give one-time gifts in addition to their monthly gifts but be respectful and don’t ask too often.
  • Show gratitude: Sustainers are often overlooked after the initial ‘thanks for signing up’. Find ways throughout the year to thank them for sticking with your cause.

Be sure your digital engagement tools offer a way to easily target sustainers for messaging. Tools like Marketing Automation or a Supporter HUB are very useful in setting up ongoing outreach and offering self-service to sustainers.

Best practices for upsell lightboxes

You may have a lot of questions about setting up an upsell lightbox and what you need to know to get started. Here are some considerations that can guide you on your journey.

  • Be clear: Keep your upsell clear and concise to reduce friction, so keep options and content short and to the point.
  • Offer context: Stay within the context of the original message. For example, if a donor is giving on a polar bear donation form, don’t show them an upsell lightbox with cheetahs. Continue the experience through the upsell.
  • Offer value or impact: Whenever possible, show or imply the impact of a monthly gift. Does their support help with long-term planning? Can you quantify a metric like ‘Every dollar of your monthly gift helps us remove 10 plastic bottles from the ocean’. Think of what the donor may want to see in order to convert to giving every month – not just this once.
  • Personality: Give your upsell personality (when appropriate). That polar bear donation page could have an upsell with two polar bear cubs doing something fun. Then tie that to the ask of ‘Your monthly gift helps us protect MORE polar bears’.
  • Follow through: If you promise they’ll be added to or receive something special, be sure to follow through with that promise or you run the risk of losing your new sustainer.

Testing is also an important best practice. Thoughtfully design tests with the same focus – garnering more monthly donors. You could begin with something as simple as:

  • Your normal form with its regular monthly checkbox – this is your control or status quo
  • A form with an emphasized monthly check box
  • A form with the regular monthly checkbox and the upsell lightbox

In Engaging Networks, form testing is baked in and easy to deploy. You can even configure the ‘winner’ to override other forms in the test based on your parameters.

Additional considerations for donation upsell lightboxes

Much of this was gleaned from M+R’s blog, albeit a bit dated, but these are relevant considerations. We suggestion you check out their blog to learn more about how they measured these – you’ll be surprised!

Monthly checkbox versus upsell lightbox

Why should I add an upsell lightbox instead of the standard monthly checkbox? M+R found that the upsell lightbox far outweighed the checkbox in conversion to monthly donors. So, is your goal to grow your monthly program? If yes, its a tactic worth trying.

Will people be annoyed by the upsell?

Will the lightbox annoy donors and make them leave? Some people will find it annoying. You can’t please everyone. The good news is – at least with the Engaging Networks upsell lightbox – if they close it, the original donation is automatically processed and the donor sent to the confirmation page. So their original intent is respected even if they close the lightbox to leave.

Some great examples of upsell lightboxes

Humane Society International

Why we like this one: It came from a dog meat trade donation form and kept the message in keeping with the origin. It also makes a very clear ask for a recommended monthly gift – only one option to be precise.

hsi lightbox example

Black Lives Matter

Why we like this one: The use of compelling imagery is moving and the terminology of ‘fund a sustainable movement’ feels like that recurring gift will help keep the movement alive.

black lives matter lightbox example

No Kid Hungry

Why we like this one: They asked me to join their team! And, as part of the Hunger Core, I’ll be helping feed kids all year long. I will say there’s no gift amount which I’d recommend but the ask is worth noting and very compelling.

no kid hungry lightbox

Looking to learn more?
Join one of our upcoming events like and Engaging Networks Community Conference, where you’ll hear great product tutorials and case studies. Or, reach out to our team of experts to discuss how Engaging Networks can help you increase sustainer – and other – revenue for your cause.

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