donor acquisition program

So you want to start up (or restart) a donor acquisition program. First of all, congratulations! The reality is, whether you are trying to grow a new file or stop attrition on your existing file, there’s no better way to obtain and keep new donors than with a well-executed donor acquisition program.

But where do you start? 

Tip #1: Identify 

The first thing you need to do is understand who your target donor is. There are several ways to do this.

1. Look 

Really look at your best donors (or ask your analyst to) and determine what they all have in common—then write those things down. For example: Do they all give to the same offer? What specific demographic information do they have in common (gender, age, location, income level, etc.)? Be as thorough as you can.

2. Speculate

Who do you think would really resonate with the mission and vision of your organization? What attributes do those people have? For example: Do they share a passion for a specific cause, religious affiliation, or prefer local vs. international causes? Write those down too.

3. Compare

Do your current donors and prospective donors share commonalities? If so, write those down. Then look at the unique attributes from each list. This will give you a picture of where there is overlap with your current and prospective donors and show you specific places where your new donors may be unique.

Once you’ve done this, it’s time to prioritize your list and rank the things you think are most important. Your list could include: age range, income range, religious affiliation, making donations to other charities, having school-age children, etc.  

The goal is to walk away from this stage with a clear picture of who you are trying to reach. Think of this as your sketch artist’s drawing. Now that you have a clear picture of who these people are, it’s time to become an “acquisition detective” and find the people who match your “sketch.” 

Tip #2: Locate

Now that you know who you are looking for, you can actually go looking! This is the step where you determine which channel you will use to acquire donors. While some advice may suggest starting with determining a channel, the reality is, if you want the best results, you need to know who your audience is FIRST—and let that drive your decision about which channel you think they will respond to. 

Options could include:

  1. Direct mail
  2. Email
  3. Peer-to-peer fundraisers
  4. Events (live or remote)

Peer-to-peer fundraisers and events are a bit more hands on, but they are still very viable channels for acquiring new donors. Once you have their first gift, make sure you work extra hard to bond them to your organization—otherwise retention can be a problem moving forward.

Note: If your budget is a major factor in your channel selection, don’t panic. While money does control a lot of our decisions, you really want to use the channel or channels where your target audience is located as often as possible. Otherwise, you aren’t spending your money well, and you won’t get the results you want. So, take the time to fundraise or ask a major donor for some help if you need additional funds to afford the channel you need.

Tip #3: Plus One

Thinking that you can just send out one email one time to someone and they will instantly become a donor is a little naïve. The truth is that most people will need to see multiple messages from you before they donate. Also, almost all new donors will go to your website BEFORE they decide to donate to you. So, add on to your acquisition plan by using free or low-cost channels to help get those multiple messages across. 

Think about it like this: Your social channels + your website + acquisition channel.

This does several things to help your acquisition plan:

  1. It gives you frequency of messaging without costing you an arm and a leg.
  2. It keeps messaging consistent, which is also really important for potential donors.
  3. It shows that this is a concerted effort on the part of the organization and not just a spam email or junk mail.

To do this well, make sure you tie in the same story or at least the same photos or graphics that you used in acquisition on your website (especially the donation page) and on all of your social channels. Try to time the social posts or ads with the estimated in-home date of the acquisition appeal.

Keep in mind that your website donation page may be your primary response channel, but that doesn’t mean it is your number one acquisition channel. You drove people to your website using the push channels (direct mail, email, etc.), which means your push channels are working and doing what they were designed to do.

Final Tip: Don’t get too caught up in attribution at the channel level in these early stages of your donor acquisition program. The goal, especially with your first few campaigns (or with a new campaign), will be to find some directional learning that you can build on over time.

When done well, a donor acquisition program can be the thing that grows your organization to new levels. And we are here to help if you get stuck along the way!

donor love and loyalty

Jackie Smith
Jackie Smith is a leading new donor acquisition strategist with over 20 years of agency experience. She has worked on behalf of some of the largest nonprofits in the country and improved acquisition results for every client that she has taken on. As a co-founder of The Nonprofit Consulting Shop, Jackie gets to help nonprofits of all sizes with their acquisition plans and donor communications—and she can’t wait to connect with you!