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Your Donor Acquisition Process: 14 Best Practices

Supporter Engagement

There are tons of articles and information about ways to retain your donors and encourage them to keep on giving. Many of these articles claim that donor retention is much easier and more cost effective than finding brand new donors to welcome into the fold.

While these claims are true, donor acquisition is still an important piece of the nonprofit puzzle, especially for nonprofits that are just starting out and don’t have any donors to retain anyway!

Admittedly, acquisition is not as simple or quick as donor retention. But if your nonprofit wants to build strong relationships with potential and existing donors, acquisition tactics must be factored into your nonprofit’s overall strategy. 

Here are some of the best practices to help your nonprofit acquire new donors:

  1. Start close to home
  2. Try a feasibility study
  3. Don't forget about traditional methods of communication
  4. Use innovative channels to communicate
  5. Combine traditional methods with emerging technologies
  6. Host events to meet potential donors
  7. Make the most of peak giving times
  8. Look to corporate partnerships
  9. Conduct surveys
  10. Show donors what their donations are used for
  11. Target high-quality donors
  12. Ask for help from your prospective donors
  13. Start a peer-to-peer campaign
  14. Focus on your stewardship

Let's dive in!

1. Start close to home

Think about the people that are the most dedicated to your nonprofit’s mission.

They probably aren’t random people; they’re your:

  • Board members
  • Key stakeholders
  • Employees
  • And even your volunteers!

Many nonprofit organizations conduct feasibility studies to identify their most loyal stakeholders (this is especially true when preparing for a capital campaign).

2. Try a feasibility study

A feasibility study will enable your organization to map out its current donor population and identify individuals who are likely to support future fundraising campaigns.

In addition to pointing out potential donors, feasibility studies can:

  • Generate interest in your campaign. Since you'll be conducting interviews with major donors and loyal supporters, the feasibility study is an excellent opportunity to promote your event, excite your donors, and gauge their interest levels. 
  • Develop deeper donor relationships. You can never go wrong when you ask for your supporters' advice. By listening to their feedback, donors will see that you care about their opinions and are putting in the effort to make positive changes. Plus, it gives donors a chance to support your cause without having to pull out their wallets. 
  • Identify gaps in your nonprofit's infrastructure. When conducting a feasibility study, you have to be open to constructive criticism. Even negative feedback can be beneficial if you put effort into correcting the issue. 
  • Improve your marketability. Feasibility studies also help you understand your role in the community and your reputation. When you understand how the community perceives your organization, you'll be better equipped to craft communication strategies. 

All of those feasibility study benefits can help you connect with donors on a deeper level. 

Use the connections that your closest supporters have with their family members, friends, and colleagues to acquire new donors. The nephew of a board member or the aunt of a volunteer might want to support your cause. People within your organization can potentially make a large impact when they reach out to the people they’re closest to.

Remember to thank your team for connecting people they know to your organization. People like to feel appreciated, and your board members and employees are no exception. Send out thank you cards to show your gratitude and acknowledge the effort your team put in to help you acquire more donors.

3. Don't forget about traditional methods of communication

Part of the reason that donor acquisition is costly is due to the fact that nonprofits have to communicate with potential donors in many different ways.

Traditional methods have relied on:

  • Word-of-mouth
  • Cold calling
  • Direct mail

These methods, most likely best suited for your older donors form more intimate connections and are perfect for including fundraising appeals. These forms of reaching out typically lead to events or meetings with potential donors.

4. Use innovative channels to communicate

Emerging technology-based methods utilize:

  • Social media.
  • Email campaigns.
  • Blogs and website articles.

With Salsa, you'll be able to schedule and organize your nonprofit's Facebook posts, tweets, and even Pinterest boards, making social media your new favorite marketing tool.

See how Salsa's solution can help your organization with donor aquisition through social media.

You can even use donors email address to connect with them on social media by looking up their emails all thanks to Salsa.

These methods consequently drive traffic to nonprofits’ websites and online donation forms are often popular with younger donors like millennials. They'll let you share impactful and powerful content about your cause and latest projects!

5. Combine traditional methods with emerging technologies

While both methods have their pros and cons, using them in conjunction with one another in a way that works for your organization can prove beneficial when reaching out to potential donors.

For example, you may find that communicating with older supporters through direct mail generates a greater response than if you solely focus on your online presence.

Similarly, your social media strategy should appeal to the demographics that use sites like Facebook and Twitter.

And you might find that most of your supporters and donors prefer email above all:

Use your donors' preferred methods of communication to strengthen donor acquisition.

Incorporating a healthy dose of both methods will result in greater donor acquisition for your nonprofit.

6. Host events to meet potential donors

It’s easy to think of potential (and existing!) donors as no more than a name on a screen or a sheet of paper. You can remedy this distance by hosting a fundraising event!

Check out Salsa's full fundraising event list here.

When potential donors can put faces to the voices they’ve heard on the phone and the names they’ve seen at the end of emails, they are more likely to form a personal connection to your nonprofit. People respond to events that allow them to directly interact with your organization.

Luckily with help of great software, it's easy to create gorgeous event pages, like this one:

Host an event to meet potential donors.

Additionally, you can capture potential donor information at events. Having a designated area for attendees to submit their email and regular mail addresses is a great way to communicate with potential donors after the event is over.

Once you have basic information, you can also conduct a prospect screening to learn more information about your potential and existing donors. This information can help you plan your next fundraising campaign and reach out to new donors.

7. Make the most of peak giving times

Many people enjoy giving to causes they care about. Whether it’s the tax incentive or the physiological effects, donors enjoy contributing to worthy projects.

And while many donors give at different times in the year, there are definitely specific times in the calendar year when individuals are more likely to be in charitable moods.

As the year draws to a close, most people have a firmer grasp on their financial situations and know how much money they can reasonably set aside to donate to charity. During November and December, send out year-end appeals to potential donors that you have recently started talking to. The deadline will encourage them to donate to your organization sooner rather than later.

Additionally, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, commonly known as Giving Tuesday (or #givingtuesday) can be a great opportunity to broadcast your organization’s mission to potential donors who enjoy taking part in the day dedicated to giving. You can gain more donors by effectively marketing your Giving Tuesday campaigns.

8. Look to corporate partnerships

Most corporations and businesses are looking to increase and develop their culture of social responsibility and philanthropy. Some of those companies have partnerships with nonprofit organizations and regularly donate money and time.

However, nonprofits can also find potential donors within the company walls. By promoting the organization to company employees and executive leaders, nonprofits can potentially acquire new donors as well as volunteers.

Many companies offer volunteer grant programs and matching gift programs that encourage employees to become more philanthropically minded. While most of these corporate giving programs allow employees to volunteer at and give to their preferred nonprofit, your organization can still reach out to employees who work for your corporate partners and educate them about your specific projects and events.

9. Conduct surveys

Is there a better way to ask what you're doing well and where you're falling short with donor communications than asking your donors themselves?

Most supporters won't need much convincing to share their opinions and conducting these surveys will show your donor base that you care about their thoughts and comfort levels.

But if you find your supporters haven't been filling out your surveys, you can turn it into a raffle! One entry for every completed survey and one survey per donor. A good prize will be more than enticing.

Your surveys can include questions like:

  • Why did you feel connected with our organization?
  • What convinced you to contribute?
  • What did you like about the donation process?
  • What types of nonprofits do you typically contribute to?
  • How do you feel we could improve our donation process?

You'll only want to include questions your organization is interested in! Remember, the more responses you receive, the more accurate your data will be.

10. Show donors what their donations are used for

Explicitly stating what a donation will be put toward helps donors visualize the change they're making.

If your organization's latest project is to build a shelter for pets abandoned during a hurricane, your donation form might include copy like this:

  • A $15 donation purchases bowls and food containers.
  • A $30 donation buys nails and hammers.
  • A $50 donation purchases kennels and beds.

To stress the importance of even small donations, your organization can share pictures of the change you've made and work you've done so help show donors what they're helping.

These concrete examples turn donating into an actionable step for donors.

11. Target high-quality donors

As you already know, recurring donors are the most valuable supporters your organization could ask for and naturally, those who make larger contributions are more valuable than those who make smaller donations.

While all donors are incredibly important to maintain your organization's progress, you'll want to put some extra effort into focusing on high-quality donors, or donors with a lot of potential. You'll be able to tell these supporters apart from the others from their giving history with your organization and a wealth screening.

In this case, creating and strengthening postive relationships with these donors will pay off. Of course your goal is to raise money, but that will start with quality relationships. 

Be on the look-out for donors who have giving histories at other organizations, own real estate, or have substantial incomes.

One easy way to recognize high-quality donors is by adding recurring giving options to your donation forms. This lets donors know you're interested in involved supporters and this way, they can choose their level of engagement with your organization.

12. Ask for help from your prospective donors

If there are supporters out there who are vaguely familar with your organization but might be interested in volunteering, reach out to them for help with your next event!

For example, if Molly is part of your community's running club, but she's never been involved with your organization before, asking her to volunteer at your next 5K Run event is the perfect solution!

Tailoring your asks for volunteer hours is crucial to this method's success. Molly might be more inclined to help with more active events so she'd turn down an invitation to volunteer at a gala while Don would love to arrange seating charts for your gala but hate to hand out waters at your run.

13. Start a peer-to-peer campaign

Peer-to-peer fundraisers are millennials favorite way to give! (Really! 43% of millennials give through peer-to-peer campaigns!) Plus, this is the perfect way to reach new prospects.

With the combination of your networks and your current supporters' networks, your donor acquisition rates are sure to soar.

Just think about it: your current supporters love contributing to your organization and people are usually fairly similar to their friends, so imagine how much potential for prospective donors there is in their friends and their friends' friends!

Try a peer-to-peer campaign to boost donor acquisition.

Of course, you'll be able to see all this data in your reports.

With a peer-to-peer campaign, your outreach might extend further than you think it would.

14. Focus on your stewardship

You'll probably find that your organization receives the most donations online and interacts with the most donors digitally, so you'll need to step up your digital donor stewardship.

It should always be high on your priority list, but donor stewardship is key when it comes to donor acquisition. How?

Your stewardship is more than fundraising and reaching your goal. It's about connecting with your donors and sharing your passion for your cause with them. The more passionate they are, the more involved they'll become.

Throughout your methods of communication, whether that might be social media, emails, or another form, you'll want to use warm and inviting language. When asking a prospective donor to come to your next walkathon event, use copy like "Join us!" and "Together, we can change..." to show how important their participation is.

In the end, it's about treating your donors, supporters, volunteers, board members, and anyone who interacts with your organization well.


Donor acquisition isn’t a one-and-done process and is constantly evolving, but with careful planning and execution, your nonprofit can reap the benefits of having new donors. There are many other ways to acquire new donors. This list is by no means comprehensive, and your organization should use each of these tips in conjunction with one another in order to find the best method of acquiring donors for your nonprofit.

If you want to learn more about managing your donors, check out these additional resources: 

Salsa Online Fundraising Demo

Topics: Supporter Management Strategy