How To Acquire New Donors

This is part 5 of our series on The Perfect Fundraising Plan. You can read the first four parts here: 

new donor acquisitionEvery single Director of Development I know worries all the time about new donor acquisition.

It’s only natural. Every year, no matter how talented you may be at fundraising, some donors will simply stop giving.

And yet, even seasoned fundraisers often fail to include a donor acquisition strategy into an overall fundraising plan. It’s true.

My colleagues often tell me that I can be too nice sometimes. So I’m going to say something that may come across a bit harsh. I hope I don’t shock them.

If you are not constantly working on donor acquisition you are not doing your job as a Development Director.

This is SO important. It must be part of your yearly development plan. Look, donor attrition is a natural part of the ebb and flow of fundraising. You need a plan to replace these lapsed donors. Otherwise, your donor file faces a sharp decline and, over time, revenue will plummet. Drastically.

Now, there are lots of quick-fix approaches you can take. These are flashy and can work quickly. But the results will only be short-term. When it comes to donor acquisition, I say dig deep and do the work necessary to really secure the future of your organization.

Here is my five-step process for doing this the right way.

Step One: Know Your Goal

You can’t just say, “We need more new donors.” That’s way too vague.

So how do you figure out an appropriate goal? Look at the data you pulled earlier, your overall donor attrition and acquisition numbers for the past five years, and the specific attrition you are seeing in each revenue area [events, direct response, major donors, etc.].

With this information in mind, you should be able to set realistic donor acquisition goals in each area.

Don’t forget to set goals even in the areas that you are seeing growth!

Donors need to be acquired in both good times and bad. Never wait until donors are walking out the door before trying to get new folks to contribute to your organization.

Step Two: Survey Your Donors

It’s just as likely that organizations don’t know why someone continues to donate as why a donor stops giving money.

While there is a lot of art in fundraising, there is an equal amount of science. A survey is a great way to figure out why an individual or organization is, or is not, supporting you.

Based on the constituency, the survey will take different forms. Direct response donors can be surveyed online or in a paper mailing. Major donors, foundations, and corporations should be talked to in person or by phone.

Also, you must talk to both current and lapsed donors. You simply won’t get the information you need by only surveying one of these groups.

And please don’t be worried about talking to lapsed donors. The worst that can happen is that they continue not to give, but I can almost guarantee that after the survey some of the lapsed donors will give again.

All supporters appreciate being asked their opinion, and the survey itself is a powerful retention strategy.

Step Three: Focus On Your Social Media Game and Your Website

It’s obvious, but let me say it anyway: people need to learn about your organization before they become donors. One of the most cost effective ways to do this is to provide, consistently, valuable and sharable content on social media.

Additionally, your website must be mobile friendly. More than half of all webpage views today are actually made on a mobile device, not on a desktop computer or laptop.

Making sure your website looks good on a smart phone or a tablet is a must to acquire new donors.

My colleague Scott Paley has a blog that focuses on how nonprofits can create a top-notch social media presence. Go there immediately – you absolutely will not regret it. Here’s a recent post his company Abstract Edge ( wrote: You Need Attention. Here’s How to Get It.

Step Four: Plan A Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Campaign

The best source of new donors are your existing donors. Utilize the power of a peer-to-peer ask to raise new money for your organization and gather new donors.

While walks and runs are often the focus of a peer ask, a campaign can be done around almost anything. Use what you learned in your donor surveys and during the next year launch a campaign where your constituents do the asking.

There are many great low cost tools to help with this. One of my favorites is Crowdrise ( because it is easy to use and has great social media integration.

Step Five: Talk to an Integrated Marketing Expert

I am a strong believer that when it comes to donor acquisition a nonprofit needs to talk with a reputable firm that specializes in direct marketing (online and hard copy) and list brokering. While in the end it may not be the right option for your nonprofit, the only way to know this is by talking to an expert and distributing an RFP.

There are lots of firms out there, but the best team I have ever worked with is at Lautman Maska Neil & Company ( In my experience Lisa Maska is the best there is and she will be totally upfront with you about if the firm can help you or not.

Once you have completed the steps above the donor acquisition strategy section of your fundraising plan will flow naturally and provide extremely powerful results.

Is doing all of this a good amount of work? Absolutely.

Is it absolutely necessary? Absolutely.

Donor acquisition is challenging, but far less so when you work the process above. These are not the only things you can do to attract new donors, but I think of them as the basic foundation necessary to grow any fundraising program.

Donor Acquisition: Next Steps

Part 6 of our series, “The Perfect Fundraising Plan,” will be available soon. If you haven’t already, make sure to provide your email address below so we can let you know when it’s ready.

And of course, if you have something to share on donor acquisition strategies, please share in the comments!

Seth Rosen
Follow me

Seth Rosen

Senior Associate at Joan Garry Consulting
With more than a decade of experience raising funds for major nonprofits, Seth now shares his fundraising expertise with readers and clients of Joan Garry Consulting. Seth lives in New York City with his husband, daughter, and two increasingly fat cats.
Seth Rosen
Follow me
  • These blog posts are great Seth! I have a big interview coming up for a donor development team, and this is really helping me round out when it comes to the bones of donor development.

    Really appreciate it.