Hillsdale College’s Marketing Funnel Analysis

In the conservative nonprofit space, Hillsdale College is a behemoth. They’re routinely one of the highest spenders on Facebook, and their print newsletter, Imprimus, has something like 6 million subscribers. Hillsdale College’s marketing is the best. Because of this, I routinely check the Facebook Ad Library on what their campaigns and funnels look like.

In this post, we’ll look at a Hillsdale College list building and donation upsell funnel.

Hillsdale College’s Funnel Overview

If you look at the Facebook Ad Library for Hillsdale’s ads, the first thing you’ll notice is that they run many different ads. Their Facebook Ad Library account is a master class in different types of funnels and campaigns. There’s plenty to learn from Hillsdale.

Most of Hillsdale’s ads have a simple “join the list” style call to action. Hillsdale College’s marketing builds lists. I have not heard if they rent their lists out, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. Nonetheless, that’s their main goal with Facebook ads. Get a name and an email address so they can get you in their email funnel.

However, I want to focus on one funnel I came across because it was a little unique for Hillsdale College’s marketing.

This funnel still collects list data, but it does so using a survey. So the funnel looks like this. The ad asks people to give their opinion on a political controversy. They are taken to a landing page with a simple survey when they click on the ad. To complete the survey, they need to give their name and email. Once the user completes the survey, they are redirected to a donation upsell page.

This funnel allows Hillsdale College’s marketing to gather user data to build their list, solicit donations, and gather interesting data on their subscribers’ opinions that they can use in other marketing and sales copy.

Plus, there’s some interesting psychology at play that makes me think this survey produces more donations than most of their ads.

Facebook Ad

The Facebook Ad is solid. It looks like it roughly follows the AIDA copywriting framework, so that’s how we’ll break it down.

A Hillsdale College Facebook Ad


It starts with a controversial quote from Senator Elizabeth Warren.

This is a great start to an ad for two reasons. First, it’s controversial, so it gets people emotional. People make decisions with their emotions and then justify them after the fact with rationality. Second, Elizabeth Warren is somebody their audience despises. This allows them to add even more emotion to the ad. Also, this leads to a natural audience segmentation. If you don’t find this controversial or if you don’t know who Elizabeth Warren is, then you’re not going to engage with this ad. And that’s exactly what Hillsdale wants.


It builds on the attention by restating the quote simply.


The simple “Do you agree?” is a great way to build desire. It changes the focus of the ad from the quote and the controversy to the reader. Now it’s about what the reader wants.


And a polite call to action to give Hillsdale your opinion in their “National Survey.”

The ad aims to rile people up and give them an outlet to release their frustration. The image backs all of this up by restating everything in the text to just a question. If I had one critique of this ad, it would be the text in the image. That sentence is a little long and confusing. I think a simpler punchier sentence would be more effective.

Now let’s look at the survey page.

Survey Landing Page

You can see the survey landing page here. From looking at the code, it looks like they built the page using Unbounce.

This landing page follows all the standards and practices when it comes to landing pages.

The URL is a subdomain of Hillsdale, which builds authority and trust. There is no header. There is no menu at the top. The fonts are simple. There is only one thing to do on this page: fill out the survey. The only other link on this page is at the very bottom, and it’s to the Hillsdlae home page(and to the privacy policy).

They make the form look official by calling it a “National Survey,” which strikes me as a little mischievous. But it is a survey, and they are likely running the ad nationwide, so I can’t argue too much.

I’m not going to break down every question in the survey. But the survey offers an excellent opportunity to develop a “Yes Ladder.” By asking the questions they do, Hillsdale begins to position itself on the same side as the user AND get’s the user to agree with them. It builds “Yes” momentum. So that when you do make your big call to action, they’ll be more likely to say “Yes.”

The survey performs another role for Hillsdale. It educates the survey taker. Question #7 educates the user about all the great things Hillsdale does.

Question 7 from Hillsdale College's marketing survey

Yes, it’s a survey question, but it’s also selling the benefits. After reading this question, the survey taker is probably left impressed with all that Hillsdale does. Then the last question adds skin in the game.

Question 8 from Hillsdale College's marketing survey

Hillsdale takes no government money. This has been a Hillsdale selling point for years. It works on two levels. One, skin in the game. It proves Hillsdale stands by its belief in small government and some libertarian ideals. But also naturally flows to a conversation about donation since they don’t get money from the government.

Using a survey to build trust, establish a pattern of saying “Yes,” educate a user, and build your list is incredibly efficient. More nonprofits and other thought-based organizations should look into using surveys to educate potential users.

Donation Upsell

Once you complete the survey, you are taken to this thank you page. Where, you guessed it, they try to upsell you by giving a monthly small-dollar donation.

The thank you page again follows all the best design standards and practices.

The copy on this thank you page starts by explaining why the survey is so important. And then pivots to how Hillsdale is trying to fight back. They state the problem and how Hillsdale is the solution, so the bridge is for you to donate—very straightforward, solid copy.

The upsell landing page has great symmetry with the survey. In the survey, you learned about all the things Hillsdale does. And on the upsell page, you can now contribute to those exact projects Hillsdale works on.

Bullet points from Hillsdale colelge's donations landing page

Notice how question #7 from above perfectly mirrors the copy on the upsell page. The upsell copy, again, uses the line about not taking government funding. They state the benefit of it and why they won’t take government funding. And then smoothly transition to why YOU need to donate.

Hillsdale College's marketing copy for them not taking government funds

The upsell landing page ends with a built-in stripe form for you to donate.

It’s a relatively simple funnel. It’s a Facebook Ad to a survey landing page with a donation upsell after the survey. But as you can see, the ad, the survey, and the upsell are all working perfectly together to take a user down a journey. It tells a story succinctly and efficiently.

If you’re interested in developing a similar type of donation strategy for your organization, we can help.

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