3 Strategies to Get Creative With Donor Acquisition

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By Claire Axelrad

So, where do new nonprofit donors come from? From putting yourself out there!

Stop saying, “If people only knew about us, they’d support us.” Waiting passively for folks to be attracted to you is a losing proposition. Your job is to proactively attract them.

This means the equivalent of creating an attractive online dating profile, having friends set up blind dates for you and following up with casual acquaintances with the potential to become more.

The easiest way to find them is to create them by connecting with folks who already support you and folks inclined to support you because of how they’re already connected to you.

What do you do? I like three strategies:

  1. Dress for success.
  2. Know where your party is.
  3. Stay in touch with friends you made.

You’ll find these strategies significantly more productive than passively hoping donors will find your website, renting cold mailing lists, trusting your social media followers will suddenly become donors or assuming folks who make a one-time gift as a favor to a friend will stick with you as ongoing donors.

Ready to get creative with donor acquisition?

When I say “creative,” I don’t necessarily mean “clever.” Merriam-Webster defines create as “to bring into existence.” You don’t need to hire an advertising agency to bring new donors into existence. You’ll do much better if you engage tried-and-true donor-creation strategies. I’ve tried and tested all three of these – and they work.

1. Dress for Success Communications Audit

Are your communications dressed to impress? What vibe are you creating? Will it appeal to folks you want to attract? The best first step in determining if what you’re “wearing” is likely to attract those you hope to meet is to conduct a formal or informal communications audit.

Get together some focus groups of folks not already in your database; ask them what they think about you based on your communications. Together, take a close look at the following to see the impression they create:

  • Website. Does your mission jump off the page via quickly-understood stories and photos? Is navigation intuitive? Is information current so your work appears dynamic?
  • Website landing pages. Is it easy to find emotional stories, with appealing visuals, demonstrating the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • Website sign-up page. Is it easy to find; does it entice people to sign up?
  • Newsletters and/or blogs. Do they reflect a brand personality likely to resonate with folks you hope to attract?
  • Social media. Is your presence consistent; are you on channels frequented by people you’d like to attract?

2. Know Where Your Party Is: ‘Let Your Friends Be Our Friends’ Campaign

Once you’re dressed to impress, where will you go; who will you seek out? Clearly set intentions around who, and how, you’re most likely to meet potential friends. You might strategize similarly if you were going to a networking event where you’d be meeting lots of people. You can’t connect with everyone, so you prioritize.

To meet new donors, the best strategy is asking current stakeholders who they know. Begin with insiders: board, staff, donors, volunteers and community leaders. Rather than simply asking for names, get creative and turn this into a fun game.

  • Send a cute invitation. You’re invited to play “Let Your Friends Be Our Friends!” Let insiders know you appreciate their love. Wouldn’t they like to share that love with a friend, furthering your mission even more?
  • Enter players into a prize raffle. For every new contact (name, mailing address) shared you will receive one raffle entry. Prize ideas: donated get-away; dinner, or performance; once-in-a-lifetime or behind-the-scenes experience with the executive director, a local celebrity or other VIP; basket of logo swag, chocolate or other gift items. Better prizes and/or more prizes will entice more people to play.
  • Offer bonus prizes to active players. Players agreeing to make phone calls or write personal notes on appeals get extra prizes. Swag. More raffle chances. A promised surprise. You can also give special prizes to players who share the most new contacts, or agree to make the most personal appeals.

3. Stay in Touch with Friends You Made: Convert Third-Party Donors to True Friends

All organizations have a subset of “supporters lite” who are not quite true friends, yet. These “third-party donors” come to you through a variety of indirect portals. These “donors” tend not to renew because they don’t really identify as donors. They see themselves as something else:

  • Guests of event ticket buyers
  • Buyers of auction items
  • Friends who gave to friends’ peer-to-peer fundraising pages
  • Friends who gave to crowdfunding campaigns sent via a friend
  • Mourners or celebrants who made tribute gifts in honor or memory of loved ones

To turn them into donors, you need a wooing campaign. Your friend set you up, but if you want a lasting relationship you’ll have to forge that on your own. Be prepared to follow up promptly, personally and passionately. Send a proper welcome package. Make them feel special with a phone call or handwritten note. Tell a story revealing something they don’t yet know about you. Use visually descriptive, emotionally evocative language. Give a link to a compelling video where they can learn more. Offer free opportunities to engage.

If you’re out of sight you’ll be out of mind. So make a plan to send between three and seven non-ask messages before you make another ask. If you’ve made a good impression, and properly done the “woo,” they’re likely to agree to become your true friend.

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