best donors

Think fast: do you know where you get your best donors?

Ask any fundraiser if they want more donors and you’ll get a resounding “YES” but ask what source yielded them their very BEST donors and you might see some puzzled faces.  

Before you rush out to find new donors you’re wise to consider where you’ve found your best donors. Referrals from board members? Your membership? Open house events where current donors invited their peers?  

I recently asked 100 fundraisers this question and almost half said they recruited their absolute best donors from prospecting with board members, staff, volunteers and stakeholders. Truthfully, I was a little surprised so I asked if they had a dedicated budget to spend on donor recruitment. A whopping 85% of them don’t have any budget for acquisition.  

If you don’t have any money to spend on acquisition it makes sense you’d put your efforts into getting your inner circle to help you identify donor prospects since that is 100% free.  

How can you measure where you get your best donors?

The average customer at Starbucks will spend over $14,000 with them over in their lifetime. Having a customer lifetime value of $14,000 means Starbucks can feel confident spending $1,000 to acquire a new customer.  

What if you could do the same? Having the lifetime value of a donor at your fingertips helps you confidently justify spending money to acquire new ones, especially if you can crack donor value by channel.  

How to calculate donor lifetime value 

Avg. # of years on file  x  Avg. # of gifts per year  x  Avg. gift amount  =  Lifetime Value

Example: If your average donor has been on file for 5 years, gives an average of 3 gifts per year, with an average gift amount of $25 then their lifetime value is $375.  [5 x 3 = 15 x $25 = $375 Lifetime Value]. 

Where should I start? 7 questions to ask yourself before investing in acquisition 

No fundraising is free. Even ‘doing it all’ yourself isn’t free – you are paid a salary and health insurance plus any time you spend on acquisition represents an opportunity cost for how that time could have been spent elsewhere.

Before you invest in acquiring more donors, make sure you’re doing everything you can to maximize your current donors. Ask yourself:

  • Do we properly welcome first-time donors? 
  • Are we thanking and reporting back to current donors using a well-organized stewardship plan? What is our supporter journey? 
  • Do we have a monthly giving program in place to upgrade donors? 
  • Do we have a cultivation plan and revenue goal for our major gift donors? 
  • Do we invite donors to name us in their will or estate?
  • How good is our overall retention?
  • How many first-time donors do we convert to make a second gift? 

5 acquisition strategies for smaller shops 

A wise fundraiser once said “Finding new donors is like going fishing. You need to have bait and a good place to fish.” 

How’s your bait? Truthfully there is a lot of content many prospects might gladly give you their email (or mailing) address to get that you are giving away for free right now. Ask yourself…what content on my site am I currently giving away for free that is valuable that someone would give me their email to get it?  

1. Convert more impressions

Use this strategy to convert visitors from your website, on social media or traditional ads into a name on your email (or direct mail) house file. What item of value can you give to these audiences that would inspire them to give up their anonymity and give you their name and email (or mailing address). Expand your inner circle with an attractively packaged offer.  

2. Look at similar organizations 

People who give, give. Donors give to multiple organizations. The number one predictor of someone contributing to your organization is that he or she already gives to others. Whenever you are handed a program think of it as inspiration. Are the listed sponsors and donors people who could be helping your organization? Do they spark your imagination to think about others?

3. Maximize your ‘inner circle’ and consider recruitment events or a small, targeted mailing 

Invite your board, staff, volunteers, and key stakeholders to suggest prospects. Then play a ‘6 degrees of separation’ game with them to get their help in introducing you to prospects you want to meet. Some may be major gift prospects you want to meet with personally or invite to a recruitment or open house event. If you get enough names you could experiment with a small, targeted personalized mailing.

4. Mine media sources to get “in” with movers & shakers 

Have staff members, volunteers or board members monitor media sources – i.e., new businesses, personnel promotions, new hires, growth/expansion of companies to identify new prospects. Reach out personally to congratulate the person being recognized. Leverage their good news as a way to open the door, introduce yourself and your organization.

5. Consider digital “engage then ask” 2-step acquisition campaign

Have you ever signed an online petition and then later been asked for a gift? In a 2-step digital acquisition process the first step is an initial offer, such as a petition, pledge, quiz, virtual event, or downloadable resource.  The best offers give people something they want, entertain them, help them or solve a problem. Once you’ve acquired them with a compelling offer the next step is the ask.

Converting your prospect to make a gift is only the beginning!

You worked hard to get those new donors, make the most of your investment by making them to stay with a thoughtful donor journey. Need some help? Grab this stewardship plan and virtual guide loaded with digital tips to build a great donor journey.  

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Rachel Muir
Rachel Muir, CFRE transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers. When she was 26 years old, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. Several years later she had raised over 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show.
Rachel Muir