Whenever I am working with a nonprofit looking to increase their fundraising revenue, I get asked, “How do I get new people to give to my nonprofit? Where do I find new donors?” Good questions. The answers lie in your focus on mission, your planning, taking advantage of all your community connections, the integration of your fundraising and communications activities, your level of engagement with your donors, and your follow up. The more your message is about mission, not money; comprehensively you plan; capitalize on your existing community connections; engage your community; and follow up with people who respond to you, the more successful you will be in acquiring new donors.
Donor Acquisition Step One: Stay Mission Focused
Be a mission maven. Individual donors are looking to impact an issue, not fix a budget. They are much more interested in hearing about your agency’s impact on people’s lives than how much money you need. As we discussed in Successful Nonprofit Fundraising: It's Not About the Money, the ultimate goal of fundraising is not to how many dollars you want to get. It’s about how many resources you need to make a make a positive impact. It is mission, not money, that motivates people to give.
Same is true with foundations. Foundations give don’t give money to nonprofits to make them financially whole, they give nonprofits to make an impact. As we saw in Building Donor Relationships: Foundations, when you look to acquire new foundation donors, look to match your agency’s mission with theirs. Be selective. Being selective will save you time in not preparing and submitting proposals that have no chance of funding. Your time is limited. Apply only to those foundations that are interested in your organization’s mission.
A strong mission-oriented identity will also help you attract and be successful in garnering new corporate donors. In Building Donor Relationships: Corporations, we talked about how a strong mission focus improves your organizational brand, something extremely important to the for-profit community. If you want to appeal to the business community and get top dollar, know your brand as expressed through your mission. And articulate your organization’s financial and market positions while staying tightly mission-focused.
Donor Acquisition Step Two: Engage in Comprehensive Planning
What gets measured gets done. As you are creating your annual fundraising goals and objectives, don’t only formulate financial and participation goals, also include donor acquisition and retention goals. In addition to the activities you plan, write down the set number of new individual, foundation sand corporate donors you plan to acquire through each fundraising endeavor. That way you can easily assess the effectiveness of your donor acquisition efforts when the time comes to do so.
As we saw in Developing a Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy that Optimizes Fundraising Performance, on average it costs six times more to acquire a new donor than retain one. Donor retention is far cheaper than donor acquisition. It costs far less to raise $1 through a repeat donor than a new donor. Yes, you need to acquire new donors. You will always realize some donor attrition and need to replace them. But don’t acquire new donors at the expense of your current donors. The average first-time donor retention is an atrociously low 23 percent. That means, on average, for every 100 new donors nonprofits acquire, 77 of them will not give again. If you’re going to use all those resources to recruit new donors, it’s in your best interest to retain them. The more you do to increase your donor retention rate, the more you will realize in overall revenue. Just because your costs are decreasing. So, have a donor retention plan in place before you acquire that new donor.
To retain donors, you engage them. In Creating Donor Communications that Work, we talked about how to engage donors by developing a two-way relationship. Survey you donors to find out why they give. Design you donor retention activities around the feedback you get. Survey your ex-donors and find out why they don’t give. And fix whatever the problems are. And, as we discussed in Bringing in the Money: The Importance of Thanking Your Donors in Achieving Fundraising Success, always, always, always thank your donors for their contributions, whatever their contributions are.
Donor Acquisition Step Three: Look at Your Organization’s Existing Connections
A donor needs three things to be able to give to your organization: they need to physically connect with your nonprofit, be it through a website, social media, email or in-person; they need the ability to give; and they need to be invested in your agency in some way.
Look at your physical connections first. Is your website easy to find and navigate? Is your website interactive? Is your mailing list clean? How often do you post to social media? Do people have a way to easily respond to you? Make sure your communication vehicles work and potential donors are not frustrated using them.
Next, look at the people who are already invested in your organization. If they are invested in some way, they are a potential donor. Look at board members, staff and volunteers who are already doing the work of your agency. Look at vendors and business partners who will benefit as you grow. Look at the business and professional associations you pay dues to. Look at all of your existing partners and ask them to contribute financially if they aren’t already. Since they are already supporting your agency or the people you serve in non-financial ways, it is perfectly fine to extend the invitation to also contribute financially. They already have skin in the game. They already want you to succeed. Go ahead and tell them how you can be even more successful and make a bigger impact. They have skin in the game - you being stronger will pay off for them. Make no mistake. Donors get something out of making a donation. Know what those benefits are and talk about them when recruiting new donors.
Are all the people in the above groups already donors? Then look at their connections. Their friends, family and colleagues may not be invested in your nonprofit, but they are invested in the relationship with that donor. Ask your current donors to forward your email newsletters to their friends, family and colleagues who may be interested in your nonprofit’s mission. Ask them to share posts with their personal and professional networks. Have them re-tweet your Twitter messages. When you do this, don’t always be trolling for financial donations. Use these vehicles as a way to engage more people in your mission. Once there is some level of engagement, ask them to give financially. Build the relationship first.
Donor Acquisition Step Four: Attract People Interested in Your Cause
After you have recruited potential donors that have some connection with your nonprofit or its existing donors, then turn to recruiting potential donors who don’t have any connection to your agency but are interested in your cause. This involves spreading awareness of your nonprofit to groups of people with an inclination towards your mission. You don’t just try and connect with anyone. You try and connect with those people who will take the time to notice you. And for them to notice you, you need to be of some interest to them. This is why integrating fundraising and communication efforts are so important. Because to catch their attention you must talk mission, not money. Yes, you need to make your appeals. But only after you have built some sort of relationship. And the beginning of a relationship starts with you getting their attention.
There are many methods to attract attention to your cause and position your nonprofit as a major player in the field. Your website and search engine rankings are one tool. Social media posts are another. Press releases are still yet another. So are speaking engagements. As well as coordinating or sponsoring a community event. Agency ambassadors are also common.
Agency ambassadors don’t talk about making a donation, they spread the word about your nonprofit’s mission and your agency’s success in meeting it. Your board members and staff are agency ambassadors anytime they represent your organization in public. You can teach existing donors and current or former clients to be agency ambassadors. You can hire a celebrity to be an agency ambassador. Anyone who can garner attention and speak to your mission can be an agency ambassador.
To really make an impact, your message must repeated over and over. Marketing research shows a message must be heard 7-10 times to be remembered. This means that your messages need to be consistent over time, across communication vehicles and across people delivering the message. This is where providing an elevator speech to all your agency representatives helps. As well as speaking tips and answers to frequently asked questions. Don’t just train others on using these messages, use them yourself. Use those messages in your grants and appeals as well as your website, newsletters and social media posts. Consistency, consistency, consistency. And remember the message is about mission and impact as opposed to your agency and its programs.
Place your messages where people who are interested in your cause will see it. And use the vehicles they are most likely to respond to. Target your audiences. Go where your potential donors are. Use your resources where they are most likely going to have the greatest impact.
Donor Acquisition Step Five: Follow up, Follow up, Follow up
Follow up is so important. When people ask questions, answer them. If you don’t know the answer, find out and get back to them. Collect contact information so you can follow up. Return phone calls within 48 hours. Give them answers to surveys they have taken. Tell them what happened to that petition you asked them to sign on to. Send them that financial report they wanted. And then engage them in dialogue. Get their feedback. Say your message again. Impress on them the urgency of your organization’s mission. And thank them for responding, whether their contribution is financial or not. Build a relationship. Once they’re invested in your agency, ask for a financial donation. And you will acquire new donors.
Donor Acquisition: Wrapping It All Up
- Talk about mission, not money.
- Plan your strategy and measure your results.
- Recruit among your existing organizational connections.
- To spread awareness, use consistent messaging and target your audiences.
- Prompt follow up is important.